How to Review Books

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Even though the title of this post might make you think that I’ve got my shit together and I’m going to provide you with a list of 1-10 steps to review a book…you’d be mistaken. I have no idea what I’m doing when (and if) I review a book, and the more I talk to people over on Bookstagram about this, the more I’m learning there is no right or wrong way to go about reviewing books. When I first started this Bookstagram, I spent time only periodically mentioning books, what I was reading, or books I was buying, and that was pretty much it. Taking pretty photos was the name of the game. Then, once I started receiving books from publishers in the mail, I started thinking that I needed to up my game and write more reviews on my blog and Instagram and interact more professionally on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, my blog, or wherever else book reviews are valued. These publishers are reaching out because they want to generate some buzz about a book and we are the ones to do it. I wouldn’t call us smaller accounts ‘influencers,’ but publishers are definitely looking for some buzz when they send you a book and there is some responsibility associated with this. So, after about a year or so of being pretty serious on Bookstagram, I got my shit together and I created a spreadsheet where I itemized books I received from publishers, took note of what was asked of me, marked where and how I shared about the book, gave a star review, marked if I had mentioned it in Bookstagram yet, etc. All was good and I was feeling like I was finally in control of this thing called Bookstagram (PS this is a hobby. No one pays me to do this. Sometimes, I receive a free book in the mail, but that’s it. I think I forget that sometimes). Anyways, I digress…So all felt more organized and less chaotic for this hobby of mine and that felt good. That is…until I received a book in the mail from a publisher that I thought I was going to love, but ultimately, I found problematic parts that rubbed me the wrong way. I was all prepared to create that perfectly honest post, but all of a sudden, I went down a spiral of slight panic (if I’m being honest). Here is my dilemma (also-completely 1st world problems so take this anxiety with a grain of salt but still…). 1, I want to have good relationships with publishers who send me a free book and hopefully, generate more good buzz to get the word out 2, I want to make sure I never dissuade anyone from reading a book they may like and 3, I want to review books in a 100% authentic way for all of you reading my reviews. Is there a formula for that? Is there a way to organize my reading life that will accommodate all of that? The odds of me buying a book I don’t love are slimmer, but being given a book by a publisher that I wind up not loving is more possible. Will I piss off a publisher if I give their book a negative review and that’s it for my time of receiving books to read and review? Will a reader be turned off from a book that I didn’t love but they might?! I’m telling you-I went down a crazy rabbit hole of insecurity and a bit of anxiety with this one. BUT, my best end result from a lot of thinking was this…You do you Boo. A friend of mine on Instagram (@caseythereader) mentioned that publishers know that not all books are for everyone. And that’s so true. We all know that. I might recommend a book to a friend and they wind up reading it and not liking it. It’s a bit of a bummer, but we all move on (hopefully after a good discussion if it’s your friend). Obviously, this discussion doesn’t usually happen with a publisher, but still-I’m positive Casey was right. They know not every book is for everyone. Secondly, I never want to be dishonest in a book review. Or be deceitful in any way just to save face with a publisher and therefore continue to get free books. That was the overwhelming advice I received when I threw this question out to the Bookstagram community. Be honest! Thirdly, find some good things to mention in your review. There is always some good things in every book and they are worth mentioning. After all, this book is someone’s pride and joy that they created and it’s been through a lot of eyes before it got to me. If it’s published, odds are, there are some good things worth mentioning. Fourth, if there are problematic things in a book, they are worth mentioning in a constructive way too. And lastly, I don’t have to review every book I read. That’s probably not even possible anyways, and also-most books I receive from publishers do not mention HAVING to write a review about the book anyways. In fact, they oftentimes say, if you liked the book, feel free to rate and review it. ‘Liked’ being the key word. So there you have it folks! I have come up with a plan for myself in terms of how and when I rate, review and post about books. Here is it if you’re interested:

  1. If I receive a book from a publisher, write the info down and any details I might need (follow ups, emails, pub dates, requests for review, Instagram post dates, etc) and put it in my pile on ‘books from publishers’
  2. If I purchase or get a book from the library-I do me! (it will likely sit on shelf longer than I want it to. Story of my life lol)
  3. Post a photo on Instagram upon receiving a book, purchasing a book, or starting to read a book.
  4. If I enjoy the book, read, rate, post and give it all the love (with details why). Write a blog post too! THE BEST FEELING!!
  5. If I felt meh about a book, just give it a star review on Goodreads and move on. People don’t necessarily care about a meh book. It’s always hard to articulate why I felt meh about it anyways, so just move on (unless of course I made a promise to receive a book in exchange for an honest review. In that case, give an honest review). *this rarely happens
  6. If I personally found something problematic in a book, it might be worth mentioning (but again, I don’t have to). Be truthful, find the positives and be specific. A blog post is optional, but give it a few days before I write it. Time is think is always good 🙂 Same thing as #4-if I made a promise to exchange, do that.
  7. Remember this is not a job, it’s a hobby and I’m usually under zero obligation to review a book. It’s kind of part of the unwritten deal and best practice if the book was from a publisher, but, for the most part, I’m under no obligation.

So that’s my plan from now on. Praise the good, possibly mention the problematic and leave the meh alone. *this may all change tomorrow and I’m okay with that too 🙂 But also-this is a hobby and I need to stop worrying so much about this and start reading! That’s what brought me here to begin with.

What is your method of reviewing books? Do you feel you need to review every book you read? Are you more choosy with book reviews? Is my anxiety at fault for all of this?! 😉 Head over to Instagram and let’s chat! Find me @bookishfolk

bookishfolk…read instead.

My Current Bookish Life

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I thought I’d give you a little update on my reading life, what I’ve been up to in the literary world, and some exciting things coming down the pipe! The last few months have been a fantastic time for me and my reading life. I’ve read some great books, heard some fantastic authors speak, received some wonderful books in the mail and signed up to participate in some exciting literary events! Here is a little synopsis of a few of those things!

What I’ve been reading recently:

-Loads of queer books and I’ve never felt so at home as I do within this genre. Representation matters and I’ve always know that concept, but reading so many books this past month where I can recognize myself-that has made me feel more whole. A few fantastic books I’ve read are: Red, White and Royal Blue, Rubyfruit Jungle, The Lost Coast, Annie on My Mind and Tomorrow Will Be Different, to name a few.

What I’ve been up to (literary version):

-I saw Casey McQuiston (author of Red, White and Royal Blue) speak and it was fantastic! I honestly couldn’t love this book more if I tried, but listening to her speak about it was the icing on the cake!

-I also heard Kali Fajardo-Anstine speak (author of Sabrina and Corina) and she was real, honest and SO inspiring! Her book is magical and I highly recommend grabbing a copy!

What’s coming up for me:

-I just purchased tickets to Literary Sojourn Festival of Authors and I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself! Andrew Sean Greer, John Burnham Schwartz, Madeline Miller, Jennifer Clement, Esi Edugyan and Rebecca Makkai will be there and I might pee myself just thinking about all of those amazing authors in one place and that I get to hear them speak! Now I better get reading the large reading list ahead of me 🙂

-I also volunteer with the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association for their trade show and I’m absurdly excited for that as well!

-I purchased a Little Free Library and I’m pumped to build it and put it up in the front yard! I’m equally terrified to see how my dog will handle the extra foot traffic in the front of the house, but we’ll have to wait and see how that part goes.

What books I’m excited to dig into:

Beautiful Liars, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Under the Udala Trees, China Dream, The Bookish Life, We Love Anderson Cooper, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, A Little Life and soooooo many more!

That’s it folks! If I could just surround myself with books, bookish friends, bookstagram and book events 24/7, I’d be a happy human. So far, I’m doing a pretty good job of making that a reality 😉

Happy reading! As always…come find me on Instagram or comment here with what your reading life looks like!

bookishfolk…read instead.

Book Club Recap

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I participated in a book club last year at my local library and I get so many questions about it on Instagram, so I thought I’d write a post and share my wealth of knowledge with you all! JK about the ‘wealth of information,’ but I did think you might like to hear more about my book club in specific, how I liked the experience, and how we do things. I LOVED participating in this book club.  This is the first time that I’ve stuck with and actually read all the books assigned to us in a book club and it made such a difference for me. I know, I know…you’re thinking, ‘duh Melissa. Actually reading the books makes a HUGE difference’ but what I mean is, reading the books, taking notes while reading, thinking critically, and then discussing the themes, authors and ideas the book brought up in me felt like I was an actual participant in the club not only that day, but all the weeks leading up to the book discussion. It felt like an enjoyable flashback to my college days (high five to all the English majors out there).

DETAILS:

  1. Everyone emailed a list of 1-3 books that they want to talk about for the upcoming year
  2. We all voted (via email) and the moderator picked the top 6 books that would be discussed (we meet every 6ish weeks with summers off)
  3. Then we met for our first meeting to hear the top 6 books, got the future meeting dates, and talked about who the leaders for each discussion would be. We also got the first book (because we are amazingly lucky to receive all of the books for free via a donation from out local Friends of the Library)

That’s the general details of how we set up the year’s worth of meetings and the process we took to get there.

When picking the books, we also have some criteria that the book must adhere to:

  • title must be available in paperback in the US (cost reasons)
  • no more than 400-500 pages
  • no themes, authors or books that are discriminatory in nature
  • must provide for good discussion (strong themes, diverse and complex characters, hold some literary merit, etc. are all great things to keep in mind)

DURING DISCUSSION:

The person leading the discussion would give us a little background information about the author and/or book and then start the discussion off with a question or just a general, “How did you like this one?” or “What did you think?” and we would go from there. Many times there was a handout with whatever was needed for that discussion (character list, definitions, maps, etc.) or with thinking questions about the book. This was a group of diverse participants and we often had differing views a lot of the time, which led to some fantastic discussions. Periodically, the leader would have to get us back on track, but they really let us take the reigns of the discussion. I will say, I think it depends on how “spirited” your group is, but a group of adults should be able to talk, take turns and respect one another pretty well, but if not, that’s why there was always a designated leader for the day to drive the conversation back to the book and the current discussion. And there was always a snack (we had one person who was a great baker and always brought in delicious cookies. She moved away, so maybe I’ll step up next year? We’ll see-I don’t know if I’m ready for that commitment yet ;)) We had a lot of people, probably around 20-25 or so at each meeting, but it was never chaotic and always a really enjoyable conversation.

I really enjoyed each and every book and discussion, even when I thought for sure I was not going to like the book. In fact, each discussion opened my eyes to things I might not have thought about while reading, and made me enjoy the book even MORE-every single time. We have a wide range of ages, backgrounds and genders in this group (I think that is the great thing about joining a book club through your local library, or a public space rather than just having one with your friends) and I can’t wait for the next year’s to begin! In case you’re interested, here is the list of books we read this past year (click the title to get more info and purchase the book). Each and every one held up on it’s own merit and I feel like a better person after having read and discussed each one. Some I enjoyed more than others, but all provided to be fantastic for a discussion and I’m happy to have read them all.

  1. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
  2. Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif
  3. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  5. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
  6. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

I hope you have a chance to join a book club if that’s something you think you would enjoy or something you’ve been thinking about. Although there are 100’s of ways to go about starting, joining, or participating in a book club, this worked wonderfully for us! Plus, my wife and I joined it together last year and that made it even more fantastic 🙂

So, there you have it! Let me know if you participate in a book club and if so, what books you’ve read and how you like it. If you aren’t a part of one now, would you like to join one? As always, find me over on Instagram or comment here!

bookishfolk..read instead.

 

 

 

Independent Bookstore Day!

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 2.47.14 PMThis Saturday is one of my favorite days of the year!  It’s Independent Bookstore Day! Okay, I love the first snow of the year almost as much, and most holidays, and pizza nights…but you get my point 😉 This is a day to celebrate all things indie, visit your local bookstores, make purchases from local shops, put money back into your community, talk about the importance of independent bookstores, and celebrate all the reasons why local indies mean so much to you. I live in a great city, with a few fantastic independent bookstores, so I plan to visit those this year, but I was trying to think of other ways we can all celebrate the day! Here is a list of ways to show your love of independent bookstores on Saturday regardless of your location, ability, finances, work schedules, etc!

  1. Visit your local indie bookstore and put some money back into your community
  2. Order online from your closest independent bookstore! I always try to keep my dollars as close to me as possible. Here is a link to help.
  3. Follow some indie bookstores on social media and give them some love
  4. Check out Powell’s online (or MANY other bookstores that also have online shops) when your instinct is just to click on Amazon. I totally get it, Amazon serves a purpose, but sometimes Powells/other indie bookstores have fantastic deals and some sell used books too!
  5. Get a literary tattoo (this might be a stretch, but I love a good literary tattoo)
  6. Research your local indie for author visits/signings happening this year and get those dates on your calendars.
  7. Get online and talk about books with your fellow bookstagrammers. I’ll be hanging out in the world and always love to chat! (@bookishfolk) Use the hashtag #bookstoreday
  8. Plan to include local indie visits when you travel. There is literally nothing better than this in my humble opinion 🙂
  9. Leave reviews for your favorite independent bookstores on Yelp or FB
  10. Talk to your friends, in person, about books and local bookstores
  11. Bring your family/out of town visitors to your local bookstore
  12. Introduce a young person to the love of reading by bringing them a book or taking them to visit your local indie
  13. Start a book club. A lot of indie bookstores will give your club a discount on your book too
  14. If you listen to audiobooks, consider a subscription to Libro.fm. It’s a monthly subscription like audible, but the money goes to your local bookstore.
  15. If you can’t afford a book, that’s totally okay! Head to your local bookstore and grab a chocolate bar, a cup of coffee, a print, a pencil, bookmark, or anything else that you can afford. Every bit counts!

What really matters here folks is getting out, supporting your local indies any way you can and spreading the word that community matters, spending your dollars locally matters, and independent bookstores matter, not only on Saturday, but every day of the year! I hope you enjoy the day and please, let me know here or on Instagram, how you spent your day celebrating!

bookishfolk…read instead.

Why I’m breaking up with the TBR list

Do you create a monthly TBR list at the beginning of the month and stick with it? I have so many good intentions to do so, but low and behold, the end of the month comes and generally speaking, I haven’t read a.single.one of the books in that pile. What is wrong with me?! That’s what I think every month when this happens. I see everyone’s TBR piles on Instagram at the beginning of the month and then their checked off lists at the end of the month and I’m all like, welp…another month bites the dust. And that’s not right. In fact, I’ve been reading fantastic books all month. I’ve been talking about books to everyone I see. I’ve been loving what I read. That’s where the focus should be but instead, this TBR piles staring at me from the dresser is where my focus often lands. So…this got me thinking about my personal reading habits, unique personality traits, the way I create intentions and why the heck I can’t seem to stick with a list of books to read to save my life. Here is what I came up with. If you are anything like me, this post might help you feel less guilty about your TBR list and instead, embrace the lack of that pile knowing you’re just doing you!

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  1. I get a lot of books from my local library and I’m at the mercy of the library as to when those books come in. So there are months when I get 8 books ready for me and usually, I only have a few weeks to read and return them. I LOVE MY LIBRARY and am always here to support them in any way possible. Public libraries raised me and they will always hold a special place in my heart. Supporting them in the least I can do. Plus, books are free for the borrowing!! 🙂
  2. I get a fair amount of ARCs from publishers and I try to read and review them before they are actually published. They just show up in the mail so I’m never sure what is coming at me month to month. I COULDN’T LOVE THIS MORE IF I TRIED and feel so honored to receive the best mail a lady could ask for. Literally. Book mail is my love language.
  3. I love to get new books and am always on the lookout for my new favorite read. With that, comes impulsive buys and impulse holds at the library. And then I must read said impulse book. Apparently, I’m slightly impulsive lol. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I stay up to date with books and publishing trends and feel in the know about it (for once in my life I’m in the know because seriously, anything else-that has NEVER been the case for me).
  4. I LOVE to read bookish blogs and follow a TON of fantastic bookstagrammers over on Instagram. I’m always getting excited over another book someone has mentioned and must find a way to read it asap. Seriously, my phone is FULL of screenshots of books I must read ASAP. Spreading the love of book and finding ‘my people’ has been the best gift I’ve ever received and I’m here for it.
  5. I’m a mood reader for sure! I often find myself with a pile of books I’ve brought on vacation with me or think I’ll tackle over the  long weekend, and yet,my mood has me heading to the bookstore or perusing my shelves to find a specific genre that I’m in the mood for. That doesn’t bode well for a TBR list. Following my moods has ALWAYS led me to great reading experiences though, so I would never want that to change. It works for me and I’m so happy about that.
  6. I can often be found perusing my local bookstores and making purchases if I find something I want. And then I must rush home and get down to business (aka reading the book I just bought). My wife and I often go on bookstore dates and it’s our absolute favorite! Again, not great for a TBR pile, but FANTASTIC for my local community! I love to support my local small businesses. It’s the heartbeat of the community and keeping your dollars local is always good for everyone involved.
  7. Lastly, I join a lot of large buddy reads over on Instagram because I love talking about books with other book lovers and those tend to pop up randomly. Some great ongoing buddy reads that I really enjoy happen with @readwithkat (I just read ‘Five Feet Apart’ with her and loved it) and @nycbookgirl (I just finished ’84, Charing Cross Road’ with her and also LOVED it. Books about books and bookstores-yes please). Plus…making more bookish friends is seriously changing my life for the better. I’m in, always, for that!

So…if anyone is like me and can’t seem to stick with a TBR list, here are some possible reasons why but also, the beauty of it. Thinking about it has helped me just acknowledge that I might not be that person who has a photo of a pretty pile of books at the beginning of the month to get through. And after working that out, that’s okay with me. I hope you find some solace with loving however it is that you read. And now…off to read a book that wasn’t part of this month’s TBR list and couldn’t be happier about that 🙂

bookishfolk…read instead.