A warm welcome to the lovely Anne Cater today, in the penultimate post in my week of book bloggers.
Anne, your blog is Random Things Through My Letterbox, and as well as reviewing books you review well, pretty much anything. What is the strangest thing you’ve reviewed?
I must admit that although I started the blog with the intention of talking about everything that arrived through the letterbox, over the years it has slowly morphed into a ‘book review’ blog and not much else. There have been a couple of very random items though; a foil blanket for use in emergencies, some Angel Delight ice cream and a packet of cat shaped paperclips stick in my mind quite clearly. My difficulty is with blogging about them, and making it entertaining for readers.
Where do your books come from, how many books do you read per month on average, and has reviewing them changed what and how you read?
Books arrive on an almost daily basis! I’ve always posted reviews of books that I’ve read on various websites; Amazon, Good Reads, Waterstones etc, and usually had a good response. Over the past year I’ve started to Tweet my reviews and this has certainly attracted lots of attention from publishers and authors. I’m now on the mailing list for various publishers who send books out randomly and I do receive lots of requests via my blog for reviews.
On average, I read around 12 books per month and this has not changed since I started reviewing, I’ve always been a quick reader. I don’t think that reviewing has changed how I read but it has certainly changed what I read. Although I still read my favourite authors, I now experiment with genres that I probably would not have considered in the past, not because I didn’t think that I would enjoy them, but purely because I wouldn’t have even heard of them. The internet is a wonderful thing, it has opened up the world of literature so freely to everyone. I often spend hours just browsing online – reading other reviews, noting down titles on my ever expanding wish-list, just totally immersing myself in the world of books and reading.
You say publishers send out books randomly. As an author this interests me – just as we are advised to approach agents who are interested in our ‘genre’, so I would have imagined publishers target their ARC mailings. Not the case then? If you were asked to advise publishers on approaching book bloggers, what advice would you give?
I’d guess that publishers do target their ARC mailings as I rarely receive books that I’m not interested in. When I say ‘randomly’, I mean that they arrive without notice and I’ll often receive 3 or 4 books from the same publisher within a couple of weeks, and then none from them for ages.
I’d advise publishers to take a look through a blogger’s reviews, to get a feel for what they like to read first, and then make their approach. It’s always good to receive a copy of the the press release, the blurb about the book and maybe a little about the author. Most bloggers are delighted to get on to a publisher’s mailing list, but I’d advise the publisher to ask about any genre of book the blogger really doesn’t want to read rather than ask what they do like.
What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?
The highs including receiving so many beautiful new books through the letterbox. I still get a tingly, joyful feeling every time a new book arrives.
As a result of my blog, last year I was invited to be part of the first Pan Macmillan Reader’s Group Panel, made up of book reviewers from around the country. We have met up three times so far, to read and discuss a book, and then help to produce the reading group guide material that will be in the paperback edition. Pan Macmillan have treated us to cocktails and afternoon tea, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet and chat to authors – it’s been wonderful, and I’m honoured to be part of it.
The low points are few, but I often feel a little anxious that I won’t be able to get a review done on time. I work full-time as a Community Development Worker, I also do voluntary work, so blogging and reviewing is very much a spare-time occupation, as much as I’d love to do it full-time. My working hours are flexible, and I’m a night-owl so many of my reviews are done late at night.
Also, I’m so aware that I’m a reader and not a writer and am often worried that my reviews will not do the book justice. I admire authors, and I could never write a novel so I always try to be as constructive with any criticism as I can.
If I really don’t have anything good to say about a book, then I won’t publish a review.
You talk about anxiety over not getting a review done on time – do you feel a pressure to time your reviews around specific dates? Do you think that readers prefer to see several reviews go up all in the same week (a big ‘push’) on a new book?
Not all publishers ask that reviews are posted in time for publication date, but I do like to try and make sure that reviews are up either before, or the same week as publication date. If a publisher or author has specifically asked me to review a book, then I will prioritise it for publication date where I can. If I’ve received a book with no prior notice, then I will review it as near to publication date as possible – it doesn’t always work that way though. I’ve noticed that there are some dates during the year when quite a few books are published, for example 14 March and 9 May this year were particularly busy publication dates, there was no way I was able to read and review all of them for the same date.
I have to admit that a couple of months ago, I actually started a ‘review spreadsheet’! It sounds a big geeky, but it has made it easier for me!
As a reader, I tend to read reviews by bloggers/reviewers that I follow and trust, so lots of reviews of the same book can be really interesting – it’s interesting to compare views and thoughts.
What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?
My book tastes are wide and varied and I will give pretty much anything a go. I enjoy non-fiction as well as fiction, although I don’t tend to read as many non-fiction titles.
I guess that contemporary, modern fiction is my favourite genre – a bit of a cop-out really as that would cover a range. I enjoy crime fiction and a good psychological thriller that makes me think will always be a winner.
Over the past few years, I’ve started to read more and more Young Adult fiction, although I have passed on the vampire/werewolf fad. I prefer gritty and real over witches and magic.
What makes a book good? A book that stays with me for a while, that makes me think and that I enjoy reading. The subject matter doesn’t have to be ‘pleasant’ as long as the writing is engaging.
What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?
Personally, I’d rather do without the star ratings. I don’t use them on my blog but have no choice if I want to post my reviews on sites such as Amazon and Good Reads. I rarely take any notice of a star rating either, preferring to read reviews by bloggers/reviewers whose tastes I already know and trust. Star ratings are so subjective. I may have loved the reading experience although the writing may not have been great.
I really enjoyed The Da Vinci Code – it kept me up until the small hours, yet I appreciate that the writing is not brilliant. So what do I do? Give it 5 stars because I really enjoyed it, or 3 stars because the writing is not perfect?
I know exactly what you mean. There’s such a difference between a critical review and a rating which says how much you enjoyed a book. Great point.
Anne, You don’t read ebooks, is that correct? Do you think that the market will eventually push you in that direction? What for you is the difference between reading on paper and on a screen?
Ah! The BIG issue! No, I don’t read e-books, although I do have the Kindle app on my iPad and have tried it – I’ve read 2 books on there and although both books were very good, I really didn’t enjoy the experience. I am not against ebooks and ereaders at all, I think that for people who love gadgets (stereotypically, probably men and young people), ebooks are wonderful and will encourage new readers.
I’m not sure that the market will push me in the direction of ebooks – not in my lifetime anyway, but I’ve love to be around in 100 years, to see the world of books then. I have over 1200 books on my TBR (to be read) pile – yes, that is crazy, and yes they take up space in my (small) house – but I love being surrounded by books, I love browsing through them, reading the backs, looking at the covers, re-arranging them, just anticipating them. People always try to sell the Kindle for travelling, but one of my favourite parts of preparing to go on holiday, is choosing which books to take. I usually take books that have been on the shelf for ages, usually quite easy reads. I love discovering the bookshelves in the apartments and bars when we are in Greece, and leaving my books there for someone else to enjoy – and taking a couple away myself.
Reading on paper v reading on screen? For me, there is no comparison – it’s not so much the actual reading, but just holding a book. I’ve had a book on my person at all times since I was 10 years old and would feel lost without one. An ereader just doesn’t feel ‘right’ to me, or smell right! I love that book smell – whether it’s a brand-new book or an old, battered paperback.
Recommend me three books that have blown you away.
I could name more than three, but the following are the ones that always spring to mind when asked this question:
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – This book was a turning-point for me in terms of what I read. My boss lent it to me and urged me to read it, back in 2006. Although I’d always been an avid reader, until then I usually read best-sellers and the sort of fiction found on the supermarket shelves. The Shadow of the Wind changed my reading habits forever. I was transfixed, it was like nothing I’d ever read before – totally magic.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – I’d read The Kite Runner and enjoyed it. My friend Teresa (Lovely Treez Reads) gave me her copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns and I still treasure it. It takes the reader on an emotional journey that I found physically painful at times, yet so important, and so beautifully written. I think one of the main reasons that this novel blew me away is because the author is male, yet the story is told through female eyes – very clever, and incredibly well done.
Room by Emma Donoghue – I’d been a fan of Emma Donoghue for a while and bought Room as soon as it was published in hardback – more because of the author, than because of the blurb. It is a work of genius, she is a genius! Her ability to weave a story never ceases to amaze me. The language is astounding, the impact of the story is long-lasting. This should be a classic in years to come.
Thank you, Anne for coming by to chat!
If you’ve enjoyed this post, don’t miss the others in the series: