Reflections on the BEA Blogger Con 2012

**UPDATED: As more excellent recaps come in, I will be adding them at the bottom**

On Monday I attended the BEA Blogger Con. I had a great time meeting friends old and new, but the conference itself was a mixed bag. Here’s an assessment with links at the end to other viewpoints.

8:45 am – 9:45 am: Continental Networking Breakfast + Swag Bag

I came in at the tail end of this.  Bloggers were sitting at round table and authors rotated every few minutes from table to table. When a lone author sits down at a table full of blogger-reviewers, her natural inclination is to talk about her books. I heard from other bloggers that they spent most of the hour discussing the author and her work. Some bloggers who had written critical reviews of the author felt uncomfortable making small talk with someone whose book they had panned.  Every blogger I spoke to said she would rather have just talked with other bloggers.

10:00 am – 11:00 am:  Opening Day Keynote: Jennifer Weiner

This event began with the presentation of the First Annual AAP Book Blogger Awards Winners. I think having blogger awards is a great idea. Some of the rules were head-scratchers, though, like this one: “iii) Materials which contain profanities, vulgar language, lewd behavior, extensive or gratuitous violence, or are otherwise obscene or inappropriate for a general audience.” Funnily enough, one of the winners is called Insatiable Booksluts.

Weiner’s keynote started late. I was at a table with Kristen of Fantasy Cafe, my partner in crime for the trip, and seven publishing company employees, either editors or publicists.  While waiting for Weiner’s talk to begin, we had a really nice chat with the folks from Norton, who were genuinely interested in what bloggers do. Still, I was stunned we were the only bloggers at the table. This turned out to be foreshadowing.

Weiner posted a transcript, and for the entire video click here. Everything you need to know about this talk can be summed up in in the first ten seconds, when she asks the audience to let her know if her bra straps become visible. She started with a chat about one of her booksignings a few years back, and spent the bulk of the talk on her fraught relationship with The New York Times. Noting that she is an odd choice for the keynote — because she is not a publisher (huh?) — she claims that what she brings to us is her success as an author who is an expert at social media.

Weiner made an interesting claim that Oprah was one of the first people to model a new kind of horizontal reader-author interaction, with an unselfconscious style. But then, sadly, Oprah got Franzened. Weiner theorized that the Franzen debacle took the wind out of Oprah’s natural, casual, peer to peer book blog style, and turned her into a New Yorker wannabe. That was unfortunate for Oprah. More unfortunate for me as an attendee, the rest of the talk was devoted to Weiner’s personal journey as a one of the first wave of author bloggers, and how that affected her relationship with the New York literary establishment.

I would have been interested to hear about her relationship with book bloggers, and how that has evolved. Weiner was funny, and this might have been a good talk in another setting. But I was in New York to hear about book blogging. I had the rest of BEA to meet and fawn over authors and their books.

Continue reading

What I'm Up To, Politics Fatigue, and Links

This is week two of my two week uni spring break. I’ve been working pretty hard and not breaking at all, but it’s nice to do so without teaching at the same time. The only day I’ve taken completely off was yesterday, when I dragged an arm chair in front of the wood stove and sat with a cup of tea, my pets, and my kindle all day. It was so nice.

I got a call from the hospital yesterday (where I work as an ethicist, and am always, more or less, on call). The doctor asked, “Are you here right now?” in a tone I know well,  and I knew I could either say, “No, I’m not” in my apologetic voice, or “No, but I can be there in ten.” I went with option A, and am still feeling a little guilty about it today. But I know there are others who are well-equipped to help him with his issue, and I wasn’t reneging on my “day off” promise to myself.

It’s that time of year in Maine when you’re really ready for spring, but it’s a good month away. It’s sort of gray, the snow is still in dirty piles everywhere, but receding enough so that you can see that you really ought to have protected your dangling and wilted shrubbery a bit better. It’s not quite freezing yet not exactly warm, but you’re so sick of your overcoat that you’d rather freeze without it.  It snows an inch or two every few days just as a reminder that one more big storm may yet happen.  The family’s winter gear is covered in mud and needs a good washing, but you feel winter is almost over, so it can wait.

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There’s a lot going on online. Responding to the latest data on gender bias in books journalism,  Jennifer Weiner wrote about the need for an all girls book network at The Guardian. Then she did some “rom fail” style tweeting E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, and some tweeps who liked that book responded negatively to her. So Weiner tweeted that she just wasn’t going to say anything negative about other women’s books, which I thought had to be a joke, until I read her blog post, that confirmed it. This is all happening at the same time the romance Fever by Joan Swan is getting a lot of criticism for featuring a racist character who uses racist language in an objectionable way. See the review that started the discussion, Mandi’s at Good Reads (which the author gave her some grief over), and then see Jane’s review at Dear Author.  Over at Something More, Liz has some thoughts on How Mean is Too Mean When We Talk About Books?

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If you are interested in pursuing the fan fic question around Fifty Shades of Grey further, here is a good post and thread by PNR author Jami Gold.

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Continue reading

Links: Book Blogger Con, Being Wrong, Chick Lit Dies Again

Links of interest:

Ana of Things Mean A Lot on Being Wrong:

What occasionally does worry me are all the other things that inevitably come up in the process of talking about books. A book review is seldom only about the book in question – it’s also a piece of writing that requires the reader to engage with and position him or herself before a number of themes and ideas. In the process of doing this, I have often betrayed my ignorance, said thoughtless or insensitive things, been hasty or unfair, and so on and so forth. The existence of this blog means that anyone can access an old post of mine and think that it’s an accurate and up-to-date reflection of my thinking – which is a scary thing.

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Liz at Something More on Reading (About) Bodies: Links on the Body, Feminism, Romance. Liz reflects a bit on the Awl article (Maria Bustillos’ Romance Novels: The Last Great Bastion of Underground Writing) that was making the rounds last week. Don’t miss the comments.

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This is Your Brain in Love, via Open Culture. A short video from Stanford documenting people, aged 10 to 75, thinking about their loved ones while spending a few minutes in an fMRI machine.

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The Decline of Chick Lit from the U-T San Diego. Many anecdotes like this one:

San Diego author Whitney Lyles, who wrote five chick-lit titles, says she doesn’t think the genre is dead, but “it has a serious hangover.” In 2003, her first book, “Always the Bridesmaid,” had three editors vying for publishing rights. Today’s market is quite different. Her publisher declined her last chick-lit proposal, so she has moved on to writing young adult novels.

Interesting responses, including this one from Karla Brady:

Chick lit is not dead. It’s called romantic comedy. It’s called funny women’s fiction. It’s called contemporary romance. It just isn’t called chick lit anymore–except by those of us who still see no shame in the term. And it still sells…and I know this because my debut novel The Bum Magnet–which I originally self published and S&S picked it up and published it last year–would certainly be characterized as chick lit if it were published ten years ago. It’s sold as a contemporary romance–even though it’s more about the character’s personal journey to find her own personal truth than romance.

For more on Chick Lit, see The Guardian’s The Only Thing Wrong with Chick Lit is the Name (warning: this is an article that may set you off).

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The Wonderful and Terrible Habit of Buying New Books, at PW. All of you who are slightly guilty about your TBR pile, read it for this line:

A library of mostly unread books is far more inspiring than a library of books already read.

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I’ve never read crime fiction writer Jo Nesbo, but I enjoyed this interview in The Millions:

RB: Besides gruesome deaths, what would define and distinguish Scandinavian crime literature? As opposed to American?

JN: Hopefully, Scandinavian crime has — the quality is good. You do have bad Scandinavian crime lit — but I think what separates it from not only American, but the rest of Europe also, is there is a tradition stemming from the ’70s that it was OK to write crime literature. It was prestigious. Sjöwall and Wahlöö sort of moved the crime novel from the kiosks into the bookstores, meaning that young talented writers would use the crime novel as vehicles for their storytelling talents. And so you have had good crime novelists, good writers, who would, from time to time, write so-called serious literature and almost all the well-known, established serious writers in Scandinavia have at one time written a crime novel. It’s sort of a thing that you do. You must have a go at genre.

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This article made me nervous about Pinterest and copyright infringement:

A year ago, I thought pins fell under Fair Use, but now…I don’t know. Where’s the FAQ section for this? The Etiquette page says nothing about asking permission to post. (Though it does say original sources are “always preferable to a secondary source such as Google Image Search” – Really? )

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the rights, license, consent or release for 98% of what I’ve pinned, thinking that what I was doing was OK. I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, only I don’t know if I am and could use some clarification.

Pinterest tells us to pin with abandon but clearly states that they are not responsible if images that shouldn’t be there are. They simply provide the hypothetical push pins.

I actually deleted my Pinterest account, but mostly because it was just hanging there doing nothing.

***

Some interesting writing about romance by male writers who don’t write romance:

Romance as the Emotional B-Plot in Speculative Fiction, via @merrianow:

In realistic literary fiction, love is often the central pillar of the story. Conflict is internally generated by the characters, and with its emotional highs and lows, love is an effective source of both conflict and pathos. In speculative fiction, however, we have much wider options for generating conflict: the fate of the universe can and often does hang in the balance. And with tremendous adventure, danger, and excitement it’s tempting to quote Short-round and say “No time for Love, Doctor Jones!” but as Indy shows us: there is always time for love, even if it’s just a side plot.

That’s because when it is shunted into a story’s side plot, the romance can then buttress the story’s entire emotional journey.

And What Do Jane Austen and Contemporary Romance Have in Common? (Via @meganf) (this one may well annoy):

Likewise, contemporary romance — particularly some of its more seamy sides — have become cliches for the entire genre.

Which is why Historical Romance seems like a far distant relative to its contemporary counterparts.

So while I totally agree with Jody that romances are a valid and important form of literature, the Pride and Prejudices of the world are as far removed from dime-store romances as The Haunting of Hill House is from Hostel.

Erotica has done to Romance what Splatter has done to Horror… made it difficult for a writer to avoid being stereotyped.

As you can see, there are problems.

***

I was going to link to a lame NYT story about airplane fiction, because this is a book blog, but, you know what? I’d rather share an absolutely incredible, mindblowing story of a kidney transplant chain:

What made the domino chain of 60 operations possible was the willingness of a Good Samaritan, Mr. Ruzzamenti, to give the initial kidney, expecting nothing in return. Its momentum was then fueled by a mix of selflessness and self-interest among donors who gave a kidney to a stranger after learning they could not donate to a loved one because of incompatible blood types or antibodies. Their loved ones, in turn, were offered compatible kidneys as part of the exchange.

Chain 124, as it was labeled by the nonprofit National Kidney Registry, required lockstep coordination over four months among 17 hospitals in 11 states. It was born of innovations in computer matching, surgical technique and organ shipping, as well as the determination of a Long Island businessman named Garet Hil, who was inspired by his own daughter’s illness to supercharge the notion of “paying it forward.”

***

And in case you’re curious, this is exactly how I feel about the NYT piece:

Apparently they are because there are already 50 glowing comments.

***

BEA Bloggers Con update:

Jennifer Weiner will be the keynote speaker at this year’s BEA Bloggers Conference. I have no objections to having an author keynote an event for book bloggers, as long as that author is supportive of book bloggers, but which I mostly mean, doesn’t go after negative reviewers. Weiner’s willingness to get into public scrapes (Franzenfreude, #Fridayreads) will likely translate into an exciting talk.

My sources tell me that select book bloggers (BEA Online Focus Group) have been invited to an online chat this Friday afternoon with the BEA organizers to offer feedback on the event. I’m glad BEA is seeking input from bloggers about a blogger event.

***

A terrific article on audiobooks at n+1:

The possibility of reading while also doing something else produces one of the stranger phenomenological characteristics of audio book reading: you can have a whole set of unrelated and real (if only partially attended) experiences while simultaneously experiencing a book. You live in two worlds at once.

***

What we do genuinely disdain is a third thing—that third category of art and culture that the critic Dwight Macdonald described as the middlebrow. Middlebrow art, for Macdonald, came between kitsch (which Macdonald called “lowbrow”) and avant-garde (which he called “highbrow”); it is art that tries too hard and ends up being too easy. It tries to make everyone cultured. It does not discriminate. It is vulgar because it reaches beyond its station. It’s for people who want to read the complete works of Balzac even though they also have to cook dinner.

This, I think, is our real problem with audio books…

Personal:

This is the last week before our two week spring break, and it’s a busy one. As per usual, my children are on break while we are not. Grrrrr. So there’s the nanny scramble. For years, my department has enjoyed having the teaching abilities of a very special adjunct, who was just named our university system’s chancellor, so we are trying to get those vital courses covered for next year, and thinking about what his absence may mean long term for our program. I’m grading, grading, grading, as is typical mid-semester. And, horrors!, the ethics committee has been “discovered” by the quality committee at the hospital, which means I am working on a report. One of many, I am guessing.

In good news, my older son was chosen for the state’s Olympic Development team, and we will be heading to New Jersey in June for that.

I’ve been struggling to read fiction lately, but I’m still hoping to write some reviews this week on books I’ve read in the last month.

Happy week!

Links of ire, links of joy, Fresh links, Stale links, Links Ahoy

At the Millions, Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-12

I was surprised to see what ire the post generated. Sample comment:

I really hate “articles” like this. Sorry, Edan. There is whiff of anti-technology and that old MFA brainwashing of “if you don’t publish with a real press then you aren’t a REAL writer” mentality going on here.

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In case you aren’t finished making fun of Twilight, Reasoning With Vampires (via @deadwhiteguys)

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A really nice list of Twenty-one Midwinter reads from Nath at Things Mean a Lot, including Max Jones, Connie Willis, and Susanna Clarke.

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William Morrow sent a letter to bloggers that has given a lot of bloggers, including Katiebabs of Babbling About Books, serious pause. For example, review within a month of release or no more ARCs for you!

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I’ve been enjoying reading Fangs for The Fantasy. Today they have a post on The Difference Between a Negative and a Bad Review which addresses the Anne R. Allen Amazon Reader Reviews: 12 Things Everybody and His Grandmother Needs to Know kerfuffle.

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Angela Toscano posted her McDaniel Popular Romance Conference Paper, The Liturgy of the Cliche:

Romance is a genre that deals in the ineffable—the ineffable nature of love, the ineffable nature of sex, of identity, of God, of beauty. Yet, how does one tell a story about something that cannot be uttered? How does one narrate the experience of, the encounter with the ineffable?

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As did Amy Burge, on her Hands on Harlequin Workshop.

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And Jonathan A. Allen at Teach Me Tonight on his paper Romance, Readers, Affect:

What romance does differently than lived romances is that it guarantees a happily ever after, but that happily ever after is only possible because the relation is itself a journey in which the reader and the heroine encounter barriers to the relationship, conflicts intrinsic to the relationship (which often enough reflect very real conflicts that can translate to the reader’s own life), and points of ritual death. The point of romance fiction, I argued, is less the happily ever after (though we demand this) and more the journey towards the happily ever after.

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And the world’s TOP NORA ROBERTS SCHOLAR, An Goris, another conference participant, is now Dr. An Goris:

Congrats!

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Why Heroines Die in Classic Fiction, from BBC NEWS, about Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility and others.

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From Big Think, Top Ten Relationship Words that aren’t translatable to English, like this one:

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

I have no idea how accurate it is, but I loved reading through the words.

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Bethanne “oops, it became a business when I wasn’t looking!” Patrick addresses the #Fridayreads fritatta here. (seriously, though, I think she handled it as well as anyone could, once she realized there was something that had to be handled.)

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I linked to Wendy (Caribousmom) in my last links post, but her comment on the Patrick post was so thought-provoking, I’m giving it its own link.

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Jennifer “dog with a bone that says #Fridayreads” Weiner, here (and kudos to her for admitting why this particular bone is so personally tasty)

I do have one question. Some folks I follow on Twitter said that just as the displays in bookstores do not have a disclosure that placement is paid for by publishers, so #Fridaysreads did not need disclosure. Maybe I am thick, but when I walk into a bookstore, I  know every single aspect of that place, including the locations of the bathrooms and colors on the walls, is designed to get me to buy product. Entering Twitter is not exactly the same as entering a retail space. Is it?

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At the Guardian, Fan Fiction Can Be an Eloquent Tribute — It Deserves More Respect (via @victoriajanssen)

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This one is more for my memory than for you guys, but here’s a link to Michael Zimmer’s presentaton Advancing Ethical Research from the conference held by Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R).

I’m actually quite interested in this. I was chatting with a fellow bioethicist last year, and she casually said she planned to use posts from an infertility discussion board in which she participated for a paper, without explicit consent. That struck me as a potentially problematic thing to do. I am glad folks are working on this.

***

And finally, a picture of my new office chairs. I’ve been sitting on these babies since I was about 7 years old (thanks Mom!). Yes that’s my office. Can you see Krusty the Clown?

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