Entries in SummerBooks (29)


New SummerBooks podcast coming soon!

Yes, it's weird to say "SummerBooks" so close to Christmas and New Years, with potential snow coming. So take a break from all that and take a listen. New episode will be posted on iTunes and summerbooks.podbean.com before Christmas Eve. Natalie and I will ruminate on the Best American Short Stories and Essays as our Year in Review.


Obsolescence: A Response

One of the things I’ve devoted my time to is books. With projects like SummerBooks, the book discussion podcast I co-host with fellow writer and friend Natalie Sypolt (a low-fi, DYI endeavor that's still evolving), regular book reviews in venues like Los Angeles Review, and often in other literary journals or other publications (the most widely distributed was probably a book review I did for Paste), and occasionally on my own website, I feel I have a voice and venues to discuss books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and, occasionally, hybrid forms. It’s work I enjoy doing, but also hope adds value in some small way to the literary landscape.

I also write dance criticism and reviews, from time to time, often about ballet, which was and still is my first love. And I hope that contributes in some small way to the dance artists, companies and choreographers out there producing performances and promoting their art.

While I indulge in these activities, and I have to think the right word is indulge—from the Latin indulgere meaning to be lenient, accede, to take pleasure in—I accept that my reach is small, and that the overall culture isn’t all that interested, perhaps, in my reviews, books or otherwise. I like to think I have a following, friends and colleagues, who are interested in what I have to say, and from time to time I have evidence that this is in fact the case. When a friend listened to a SummerBooks podcast and contacted Natalie and me to say she bought the book of the author because our discussion prompted her to want to read it, or when a colleague sent a nice note about a review I did of a book he’d also recently read, I get a sense of someone else being connected to this work I’m doing. I call it work, but, like many things in the arts, most of it is unpaid, and perhaps, not really valued, as you will see below.

So, I have very mixed feelings about an article (post? I’m not sure which is most accurate) on the literary blog HTMLGiant, titled, “The Obsolescence of Publish or Perish: How to Get (and Keep) Attention." The piece was prompted by another posted on Dalkey Archive’s site, titled “Dalkey Archive Press, or How to Publish Writers No One Reads.”

Yes, depressing.

In the HTMLGiant piece, I found myself reacting to this:

I’m convinced that even when books are reviewed, very few people read the reviews. I know that often I won’t read a review of a book I haven’t read unless one of three things occurs: 1) I’ve heard of the book already and am interested in it, 2) The title or the cover is appealing & 3) I’ve heard the author mentioned somewhere else. So, I guess book reviews at least, to support an authors egotism, support the idea that their book has actually been read, but unless it’s a review that pops up in a very large venue, I can’t imagine they’re helping to sell books much. It’d be pretty awesome if someone were to prove me wrong.

First, I’m not sure if I’m annoyed or flat out angry at this author for being so flippant towards reviewers like myself. No, I’m not often in “big” venues, but that doesn’t mean that I put any less time, care, or attention into my reviews. And let me say this: if you don’t read my reviews, or reviews by others like me, fine, but do NOT expect me to pay any attention to your book(s). I have never written reviews to “support an author’s egotism,” nor do I write them to support my own—something that I think happens in those “big venues” where, as of late, is seems a spate of negative reviews have been more about the author of the review making a name for himself (yes, usually written by a he), rather than adding to the discussion of the book. And no, I don’t think that reviews must be glowing, and that flaws can’t be discussed, but whether praise or not, reviewing shouldn’t be about ego of the author of the books or the author of the reviews.

What annoys me most about the above viewpoint is the lack of sense of literary community. If the culture at large isn’t acknowledging the value of the literary arts in the way that literary artists like, then perhaps it is our responsibility to create a community where value can be talked about, assessed, discussed in smart and meaningful ways. If you don’t read my reviews—fine. But if your literary curiosity is so insular that you don’t look outside those three criteria above, I find it sad. One of the great benefits of reviewing is that I’m often asked to read certain books I don’t choose for myself. And as a part of this process, I’ve found writers who have written wonderful, fine books I might not have read had I not reviewed them. And this also makes me interested in seeking out other reviewers, engaging in a vaster array of literary voices.

Reading broadly takes time, and that, to me, is tougher than any other aspect of reviewing. Because I split my time among many projects, including my own writing, teaching, as well as non-literary pursuits, such as family, coaching young ballet dancers, etc., the time I have for books is more limited than I wish it to be. There are more books I want to read than there is time in which to do it. And perhaps, as I felt when reading this piece about reviewing, my time is misplaced on an activity that isn’t appreciated or valued. What keeps me going, though, is that articulating the project of a book feels like a worthwhile endeavor, and that I’m constantly learning and growing from it. And if that’s egotistical, or overly idealistic, or whatever else, then I will politely tell you to go screw yourself.

It frustrates me that I cannot prove this author wrong in his assessment of the value of reviews, as it would, in fact, be “awesome,” and sadly I grant him that point. In fact, I think that there are many authors that simply don’t feel that they need to engage in regular reading or reading of reviews (or listening to literary/book/author podcasts) other than their own. There are authors, and probably more than want to admit it, who feel so entitled that they believe we should all read and write and discuss their books, but aren’t interested in engaging with any others in the same way (or only a limited few). The Me-Me-Me authors. It’s clichéd to say “do onto others as you would have done onto you,” but it doesn’t negate its truth.  However, I will also include this hopeful tidbit—the reviews editor at Los Angeles Review sent his reviewers a message a few months ago, letting us know that the hits to the LAR site jump up significantly after the new reviews are posted. So some are at least hitting our work, and hopefully engaging.

As a reviewer and podcaster, I don’t often get a lot of feedback as to what I’m doing. Occasionally an author will contact LAR with a note of thanks about a review. A few of the authors we’ve discussed on SummerBooks have become literary friends, which has been very rewarding. These are writers we didn’t know when we read their books, but who now we consider part of our literary community, and who are smart, interesting people who wrote smart, interesting books. I never expect to hear from or get to know an author, but it is a treat when it happens. 

For the record, every book I review, and every book I discuss on the SummerBooks podcast I have read cover to cover. So perhaps not all book reviews can be taken as a “read” book, but mine can. And, I will say the quality of my reviews support it. But decide for yourself. You can listen to SummerBooks via our website or on iTunes, and you can find my reviews at LAR.



Celebrate Thanksgiving with SummerBooks

Episode eleven is live at the Summerbooks website, or on iTunes, and features a wonderful book by Clifford Garstang, What the Zhang Boys Know.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving! When you're full of turkey, read a book.


Winter Wheat Festival of Writing

One of my favorite annual events is the Winter Wheat Festival of Writing, sponsored by Mid American Review at Bowling Green State University in Northwest Ohio. This year Natalie Sypolt and I will present on SummerBooks.

Radio Girls: Our Journey as Book Podcasters

Looking for a way to broaden your experience in books or arts culture? Join SummerBooks literary podcast co-hosts Natalie Sypolt and Renée Nicholson as they discuss how a love of reading, a history of discussing books informally, and a nifty mp3 recorder started an arts-entrepreneurship project that grew from an idea to over 700 hits in one short summer. Get ideas on how to expand your own projects, how to talk about books and reviewing, and roundtable discussions on how to use the Internet to connect to and create literary community.


SummerBooks Episode Nine is Live

For those of you who listen in to the quirky podcast, SummerBooks, Natalie and I (dubbed the "Radio Girls" when we attended the Press 53 Gathering of Writers--a nickname we LOVE) discuss Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub.

Trying to live up to our tagline--read like it's summer all year--we are going to a once a month format for the academic year, and then back to our three a month schedule for summer. Our next episodes will feature:

  • October, Episode 10: Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell

  • November, Episode 11: What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang

  • December, Episode 12: Selections from the Best American series