I’m thrilled to be over at Radish Reviews, talking about a contemp romance by Sandra Antonelli. Find out whether I liked it here.
Kat of the wonderful Australian blog Book Thingo asked me to read and react to Anna Goldsworthy’s Quarterly Essay, Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny. If you’re interested, click on over.
I’ve been blogging pretty sporadically for the last year or so, but I haven’t stopped reading book blogs. I thought I’d write a short post highlighting a few of the new-ish blogs — especially romance blogs — I’ve been enjoying.
One of the nice things about blog land is that for everyone who has gone MIA, someone else has thrown her hat in to the blogging ring. Whenever I lament that Romanceland is static and boring, another new fresh-voiced blog shows up to prove me wrong.
Warning: I’ve decorated this post with more pictures of my August trip to France.
Miss Bates has been blogging in the third person since May of this year. Eschewing online drama, as a lady does, her blog is focused solely on romance reviews, but they are of the most reflective sort. She blogs about romances both old (Iris Johansen’s 1983 The Lady and the Unicorn) and new (Ruthie Knox’s Making it Last). She is often delightfully out of sync with the hyped book of the week. A big Jane Austen fan, Miss Bates’ blog is worth reading just for her imaginative rating scheme.
The only complaint I have about Miss Bates is that she tweeteth not.
I spent the last month in France with my family. Flying direct from Montreal (yes, this actually makes sense when you live as far north in Maine as I do), we landed in Paris, rented a car, and drove immediately to the charming village of Bayeux, home of the famous Bayeux tapestry:
My totally subjective and anecdotal impressions of how book blogging has changed over the past few years. My views are formed from my own blogging experience and my observations of blogs I read, mainly genre fiction blogs, especially romance, but also some SFF, YA, and general fiction blogs.
For readers who have no idea who I am, I started a book blog, Racy Romance Reviews, in August 2008. I changed its name in 2010 to Read React Review. In August 2012, I stopped blogging there altogether. I started blogging irregularly here in January of this year.
[Once I began writing this, I realized it's too long for one post. In Part One, I discuss awards and contests, ARCs, cross-platform blogging, and sponsored blogs.]
Here is another set of opinions, mostly having to do with content. I spent a decent amount of time looking at older blogs that have been around 5-10 years, and to my surprise, I found the content, especially when it comes to reviews, hasn’t changed much.
It always amazes me that the book blog review format is so uniform. The vast majority of reviews begin with the book cover and a blurb or summary (some reviewers specify publisher, year of publication, etc.), followed by the blogger’s opinion of the book. Looking beyond that relatively fixed form, reviews can be long or short, more analytical or more focused on the reviewer’s own feelings. Reviews, especially in romance, often focus on the characters and whether their actions and motivations are believable or sympathetic. Reviewers often talk about characters as if they were real people (I am one of these). A smaller group of reviewers, many of them either trained in literature or students of the craft, spend more time on language and structure. But despite these differences, I think someone who knew little about books or book blogging could learn to identify a review by being exposed to just a few.
I thought I’d share my totally subjective and anecdotal impressions of how book blogging has changed over the past few years. My views are formed mainly from my own blogging experience and my observations of blogs I read, mainly genre fiction blogs, especially romance.
For readers who have no idea who I am, I started a book blog, Racy Romance Reviews, in August 2008. I changed its name in 2010 to Read React Review. In August 2012, I stopped blogging there altogether. I started blogging irregularly here in January of this year. I would say I am in the second or third cohort of book bloggers, at least in the romance genre. I can think of several romance blogs that began around 2002-3, but I can’t think of any that are much older than that (and I mean blogs, not review sites).
[Once I began writing this, I realized it's too long for one post. Consider this part one. I cover awards and contests, ARCs, cross-platform blogging, and sponsored blogs.]
1. Awards and conferences
When I started blogging, some kind person gave me an award. Remember those? People would put these cute homemade little blog awards on their sidebars, thank the giver, and then have to pass it on. Or as Carolyn Crane’s alter ego, Little CJ put it:
If it was a real award, it would have a little something called a PRIZE that goes with it. Instead, it has a chore. Like, hey here’s a digital picture made by some freak I don’t know who probably lives in their parent’s basement and has nothing better to do than make awards. Woo-hoo! Now go ahead and copy it off my blog do a post about it and bug some people with it. And if they don’t happen to read your blog every day – there’s a shocker – then you have to email them.
Then from 2008-2012, there was the Book Blogger Appreciation Week with its corresponding awards. This was a little more official, with committees, nomination forms, and prizes donated by authors and publishers (I was a finalist one year for romance). There was usually some disagreement, like whether a blogger who charged cash for reviews should be eligible, or whether a blogger had to agree to be nominated, but overall it seemed like a positive event. Then in 2012, Goodreads and the American Association of Publishers began to sponsor the Independent Book Blogger Awards, with the winners getting a free trip to Book Expo America in New York. Some bloggers disagreed with the restrictions placed on these awards by Goodreads.
With respect to conferences, although book bloggers have attended conferences and met informally for years, the first “official” book blogger conferences in 2010 and 2011 were hosted by a small group of bloggers in conjunction with the annual Book Expo America event in NYC. In 2012 and 2013, the book blogger con was sold to BEA and became an official part of that massive publishing event. In recent years, this event has been criticized by attendees (including me) for being too focused on publishers and authors.
In the romance community, there have always been a number of fan events, but it was not until this year, coinciding with RT ’13 that there has been a one day bloggers event sponsored by bloggers. If online chatter is any indication, it did not seem to garner much interest its first year, but these events usually take a few years to get up to speed.
Partly I’m a little sad that there is less of the homegrown type of award, and I worry that this means that the community has possibly become less cooperative and more competitive, but on balance I am pleased bloggers do get recognition, one way or another.
I think a challenge remains with any blogging conference to accommodate the many diverse book blogs out there. Some bloggers have a vision of a book blog as a kind of reading journal and discussion forum with other readers, while others are hoping it can become a hobby that pays for itself ,or even more, a career that allows for the end of the dreaded day job. Some reviewers think a reprint of the book blurb and a couple of lines of reaction constitute a review, while others take days and 2000 words to analyze a book. Some bloggers, especially those with a more visually creative bent, want to have complete technical control over every aspect of their blogs, while others are happy in the safe but limited environment of Blogger or WordPress.com. Some bloggers have been doing this for a decade and have a ”been there, done that” attitude about many topics that fascinate or mystify newbie bloggers. Those challenges aside, I do hope conference organizers continue to try to find a balance that works.
Back in the day, only certain bloggers got advance reader copies of forthcoming titles. I know that when I started blogging in 2008, I thought (probably not accurately) a blogger had to be very famous or influential to get ARCs. Then two things changed. First, digital books made distribution cheaper and easier. Second, there was a recognition by authors and publishers of the value of blogger reviews, especially for titles that don’t get reviewed in major media outlets. Netgalley launched in 2008 and Edelweiss (already well known among publishers for its e-catalogs) began offering e-galleys to bloggers soon after. I was on Netgalley for about a year (20011-12), and also accepted paper ARCs offered to me email by publicists during the time period I now refer to as “my failed experiment.”
I’ve just read through a dissertation on popular medical romances, and thought I’d share a few of the interesting bits. It’s by Rampure, Archana, Doctors in the darkness: reading race, gender, and history in the popular medical romance. Thesis (Ph. D.)–University of Toronto, 2005.
Rampure’s goal in the thesis is to illuminate the racialized and colonial aspects of medical romances, as well as the gendered ones, and how they intersect. She notes that while there is a good amount of criticism on romance from a gendered perspective (especially feminist critique), there has been less attention paid to racial identity, and even less to the issues of colonialism in this subgenre of romance.
The author identifies as a romance reader and fan. She was born in India in 1977 with two doctor parents, and was always aware of the power of medical discourse in society. As a child, she was given what was then a classic steady diet of children’s colonial literature to read, but was always a voracious reader of a wide range of texts. She “really encountered North American popular culture” when her parents moved to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, and shares a memory of buying a box of 500 old books in Red Water in 2000, containing Anne Vinton’s The Hospital in Buwambo, Juliet Shore’s Doctor Memsahib and Jane Arbor’s Desert Nurse. These days, if my Google fu hasn’t failed me, Rampure works as a researcher for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Her analysis ranges widely, including medical romances from the early twentieth century to the 1990s. She looks at romances published in England and North America. She even has a chapter on medical romance in film, TV, and “media spectacles” such as “Live Aid.” Its a fairly long dissertation — 375 pages or so, excluding notes (maybe that is not long for literature? It’s long for philosophy!). I’ll just share a few interesting bits.
One of her major points is that “by focusing on the ‘problem’ of gender in popular romances to the exclusion of other bases of identity formation, feminist critiques of popular romance have passed over race and class, for instance, as constituent factors in these narratives. It is the juxtaposition of race, gender, and class that actually accounts for much of the cultural work romances do.” (p. 87).