Book Reviewers for Hire: What does that Mean for Bloggers?

I read an article from the New York Times about a new trend – book reviewers for hire. The article tells the story of Todd Rutherford, a man who started his own business by charging authors for gauranteed positive reviews. For about $500, an author can expect 20 positive reviews, and for about $1,000, 50 positive reviews.

Now, as an aspiring writer myself and a former intern at a publishing house, I know what good reviews can do for a book. It would be wrong of me to condemn this idea wihtout admitting that I hope someday I can have 50 positive reviews of a book that I’m trying to sell. However, I would hope that those reviews would come from real, genuine readers, not some sycophant service.

And maybe calling it that is too harsh, because in terms of business, this was a brilliant idea. There was a need for positive reviews that spanned multiple websites, and Rutherford stepped in to deliver. But as someone who enjoys reading and loves to discuss books – all aspects of them, good or bad – I couldn’t help but shudder as I read about this service.

When Rutherford had too much business to handle, he hired freelancers to write reviews, but most freelancers were taking on so much work that could only read a small portion of every book they reviewed. Nonetheless, they had to give a wildly positive review, or take a pay cut. Rutherford himself called them “‘artificially embellished reviews.'”

To me, that just sounds wrong. But, I guess it eventually stopped working for Rutherford when a customer gave his business overwhelmingly negative reviews because she didn’t get her reviews fast enough. A backward taste of his own medicine?

As a book blogger, I hope to give real reviews, praising the positives but also outlining the negatives in a book. That way, my readers can make informed decisions about what they want to read based on my truthful opinion of the book.

(Speaking of reviews, more will be coming soon. I’ve read so many books lately that my list to review is getting long enough to look intimidating)

What do you think? I encourage you to read the article and even poke around Rutherford’s website, although it looks likeĀ the domain name is for sale now.

Summer Reading

Well, the summer is right around the corner (or already here, for some of you), so I thought I’d share a few of the books I want to read this summer!

One of my favorite things about summer is that all of a sudden it seems that there are more hours in the day. I can sit on a blanket outside or in a chair and just soak up the sun, enjoy the outdoors, and read. I usually read 2-3 books at the same time in the summer – something heavy, something light, and something I love to revisit.

My sister and I on a family vacation a few years back. I’m not sure what she’s doing, but I’m the one reading šŸ™‚

Here are some of the top books on my summer reading list:

  • Until I Find You by John Irving
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony
  • Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
  • When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

 

What’s on your list? What’s your favorite way to read over the summer? If you need reading suggestions, GoodReads has a pretty extensive list here.

Books in the Mail!

I absolutely love getting packages in the mail, especially when they contain good books to read! Today I received The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, and I’m very excited to start it. I read quite a few reviews that highly recommended the book and I enjoyed Middlesex, so I thought I would check it out. Review to follow…hopefully I have enough time in the next couple weeks to both finish The Constant Gardener and keep up with The Marriage Plot… because I will basically be starting TMP right after posting this!

I’m always curious – how do YOU shop for books? Typically I like to browse for hours on end until I’ve made an informed selection…but when you know what you want (and don’t have easy access to a good bookstore), ordering online is a good substitute.

NY Times: Republicans Versus Women’s Rights

I picked up a paper today after breakfast and proceeded to read it with my coffee while my roommates watched the View. Everything is, of course, SO political, especially right after the caucus (both my Iowan roommates said they were glad it was over because they got way too many phone calls). Anyways, this article caught my eye.

I don’t mean for this blog to have a slant or to veer too far off the literary path, so I won’t summarize or opinionize (yes, that is a word now…). I’m just semi-reporting that I’m working on one of my resolutions – to read the paper more.

Meanwhile, I’m reading Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner and so far it’s great. After reading all of the great reviews about it, I’m excited to be finally reading it! I’m about a quarter of the way through. I think what I like the best about it at this point is the narrator’s preoccupation with appearing to be profound and deep. He holds himself above others by not participating in conversation and, with his broken Spanish, only offers mysterious sentences that speak of a great depth of intelligence, or so he thinks. He describes how he positions his face to convey certain emotions and how he uses his cigarettes as objects to punctuate the conversation he does partake in, like a prop. When people ask him what his poetry is about, he affects a look of disdain and proclaims that “poetry isn’t about anything.” It’s mildly hilarious and it reminds me of certain people I know here at school who are more concerned with looking like the writer/poet/hipster/artist than actually creating something.

A Random Recap of 2011

I realize this is unrelated to literature or reading, but I promise I’ll sprinkle some literary aspects throughout. I just feel like, with it being the last day of 2011 and my first year writing a blog, I should make some sort of list to reflect on where the heck this year went. Just to warn you, it’s kind of long.

January

What did I do in January? Gosh, that was so long ago. I moved into a different dorm room (up three floors, away from one problem roommate and into another, even though I didn’t know the second roommate was crazy at the time!). I realized that two of my best friends had the same birthday. I’m terrible at remembering birthdays. I finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and felt that emptiness that all readers feel when a series suddenly ends.

February

Hm, I don’t think anything significant happened here.

March

Skip?

April

I know I have something interesting here! I went on tour of the midwest with the band (that is so not as cool as it sounds, I play the flute in a Wind Ensemble) and reread Pride and Prejucide for the…sixth?…year in a row. I always read P&P over my spring break, so I read it over tour week. It never fails to amaze me how deeply I get drawn into that story when I read it. Romance, gossip, balls – what more can I ask for? IĀ read Everything is Illuminated on that trip too.Ā I rememberĀ finishing it and immediately texting the friend that had recommended it to me. I think my text read something like “olaewd;lkjfa;lk. WOW.”Ā I also remember I read Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence for a project and loved the subtle irony she used to critique society.

May

So, my college does this weird thing called May Term. We have one class, every day, for three hours. I signed up for a “Writing Metropolis” class that ended up going to New York City for ten days. Before the trip, I don’t even know how much we read about the city. So much. We made it through the entire Writing New York anthology. I also frantically read The History of Love by Nicole Krauss before we went on the trip, because we got to hear her read at Hunter College. I got her to sign my copy of The History of Love, but was disappointed her husband didn’t attend the reading too. What kind of husband doesn’t support his wife by attending her reading and therefore disappointing dedicated college groupies?

(I’m not that obsessed, I promise. I just think they’re both brilliant and that it’s unfair that they get to be married to each other.)

While in New York we also got to talk with Zoraida Cordova, who has her first book coming out in March. Before talking with her, my dream of writing was waaaay in the back of my head, but after meeting and talking with her, I realized that it is possible to write books while still in school, with lots of dedication. We also talked with Benita HussainĀ who writes for Matador Sports and Travel and a few other fantastic people. New York City got in my blood when we were out there, I can tell you that for sure.

June

New York obsession continues. Jonathan Lethem, more Nicole Krauss, Hubert Selby… I also became an intern at the fabulous Coffee House Press here in Minneapolis and read lots and lots of good and not-so-good work while starting to seriously write stories of my own.

July

I ran my first 5K! Which is significant because I have asthma and never knew I could run three miles without dropping dead.

August

My internship ended, my soccer season ended (the team I coached took first place, woo!) and my online class ended (note to self: never take an online class again). Suddenly I had free time.

September

I moved back into college, this time with two great roommates, and began to read a lot of memoir for my nonfiction writing class. I also read way too much Camus and Sartre and Neitzsche for my taste in my modern fiction class. Also, lots of Chaucer and Spenser and Herrick and so many names I can’t remember for British lit.

October

I went back to New York City. And I also started this blog. So I’m not going to report what I read, because hello, go back to my October archives. Oh, and I read the Hunger Games series which led to one of my roommates pulling an almost-all-nighter because I convinced her to read the books too.

November

Also an extremely significant month in my life, not just in 2011. My only grandpa passed away from a heart attack. He had COPD from smoking. So, if you smoke and you’re reading this, QUIT NOW. I read an insane amount of free romance novels on my Nook because I needed to be distracted. Nothing was particularly good…in fact, I don’t remember what I read at all. Doesn’t say much for the quality of free romance downloads, does it?

Side note, I don’t read a lot of romance. I can’t handle it most of the time. But it’s quick and easy (pun intended?) and takes your mind off things.

December

Aaaaand here we are. I went back to CHP for a couple days a week over break, so I’ve read a few more hopeful manuscripts. I also have been reading a lot more political articles on nytimes.com in hopes to save myself from becoming an ignorant voter next year. Those are not so much fun. Currently, still reading Middlesex, and also just started Juliet by Anne Fortier, you know, on the side.

There were, of course, many other things that happened in my life in 2011 that I don’t quite feel like sharing, but overall it has been a good year. I really dove into the literary world, what with my internship, blogging, and my own fiction writing. Hopefully, your year has been pretty good too, and I haven’t made you yawn while reading this post (I really am sorry that it’s so long).

See you in 2012!

2012 Reading Resolutions

Here comes 2012… it seems like the year went all too fast! What are your reading resolutions for the new year?

Some of mine are:

  • Read the paper more. My college provides the NY Times for free, but I hardly ever pick one up. I want to start reading the paper and keep up to date (especially with an election coming up!).
  • Blog more! My posts are pretty erratic on here, so I want to get better about reporting what I read.
  • Tackle Proust. This is the goal that is most likely to get pushed to the side, but I really want to read Swann’s Way.
  • Read more in general. It’s too easy to let other things take up my time, so I want to make sure I read a little bit every day, even if it’s only ten minutes quick before class.
  • Read more memoir. I think this genre is my new obsession, largely due to my nonfiction writing class! I want to see more of how people express themselves and tell the stories of their lives. Research for my own possible memoir? Maybe šŸ˜‰

I also want to keep chipping away at my reading list. I add way more books to my list than I can read at one time! That seems like a common problem…

On a different note, I’m still reading Middlesex and absolutely loving it. The narrator is so compelling, and even though I’ve only read as far as Desdemonda’sĀ and Lefty’s life, I can’t wait to hear more about Callie/Cal. No wonder this book won a Pulitzer Prize! More to come about Middlesex, I promise.

Escapist or Literary Fiction?

I thought of this while in class today and decided to blog about it – what makes a book literary as opposed to just escape fiction?

When I was in high school we read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and had a discussion about whether or not it was literature or escape fiction. If I remember correctly, I took the side that it was literary.

That brings about this important question…what about A Thousand Splendid Suns? It has many of the same plot elements and themes although it is a different book entirely. I was sort of reflecting on this last night as I was writing my post about rereading it, because I found it really hard to describe the plot. I simply wanted to discuss the themes, but forced myself to lay out the events of the story. Does that make TSS more literary than escapist? I’m not sure.

On the one hand, it reads like escape fiction. The book draws you in and forces you to keep turning pages. You’re engaged the entire time you’re reading it. Now, those aren’t qualities that can’t be in literary fiction…but I think the book also had some qualities that can’t be found in escape fiction only. TSS tackled some huge themes and issues and basically gave a history of Afghanistan from the 1960’s to present-ish (it was published in 2007). It discussed the chaotic political structure (if that’s the right word to use) that the country experienced, brought up issues relating to domestic violence, caputred the destruction and devastation of war, and emphasized the power of friendship. These are all things that really make you think and reflect as you read, which are aspects not found in most escape fiction.

So I guess the argument can be made either way. I think I lean more toward the fact that TSS is literary fiction, although it has qualities of both.

What do you think? What makes a book an escape as opposed to a literary experience? Is it easy to draw a defining line between the two? Are there qualities of one or the other that can’t be found in the opposing type of book? Interesting things to consider as you read.