So, About ~That~ Vulture Op-Ed…

Last week, a post on Vulture.com was making the rounds in the Bookstagram community, and you may have seen it. I’m linking it here, but it honestly doesn’t deserve any extra clicks, so let me refresh your memory:

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Over the past several years, we book lovers have endured quite a bit. First there were the rainbow-hued shelves, (dis)organized by color, aesthetically pleasing but mayhem for anyone desperately hunting for one of Meg Wolitzer’s kaleidoscopically spined books. Then came the backlash to that biblio-psychedelia: books shelved spine-in, with the Scandi modern sensibility reigning supreme across a field of tawny pages, unbroken in their neutral uniformity and utterly useless as texts that one might, you know, pick up and read. (I once encountered a woman in Domino magazine who covered all her books with kraft paper and then elegantly scrawled the titles on the sides. God bless the childless.)

Well, that’s definitely a solid opening paragraph that doesn’t make the author sound condescending and bitter at all. Hillary Kelly then goes on to detail some of the specific Bookstagram trends which irk her for varying reasons, from the flat lays she describes as “cozy little scenes of domesticity that bear no resemblance to real-life moments,” (duh, that’s why it’s art, Hillary. You can take a picture of your book on your kitchen table next to last night’s pizza crusts if you want, but nobody wants to see that) to the cozy bed pictures with the “camera pointed directly down at tousled sheets, a book flipped over as if set down for just a moment, a cup of steaming coffee set to one side, wool-sock-clad feet in the frame but not a hint of pants.” theslowtraveler

Her argument essentially boils down to this: the books feel like an afterthought in these pictures to her. Sometimes you can’t see the cover. Perhaps the bookstagrammer doesn’t even bother to tell you what book it is. (For shame!) And it all leads her to this terrifying conclusion: these bookstagrammers, these people who devote hours of their time on a regular basis to taking these photos, these people who curate a social media account devoted solely to their love of books… these people totally aren’t reading. Obviously, they’re faking it for attention on Instagram!

Because they aren’t really books, you see, they’re suggestions of books, hints of how utterly devoted the Instagrammer is to her literary pursuits. I can’t pick just one book, the photos scream, and instead I shall lay myself prostrate across their textured pages to meld my body with their words, for I am a person of the mind! They’re just another object, shorn of meaning and sometimes of binding, rearranged to show that their possessors’ lives are prettier, more whimsical, more creative than yours. These people are beautiful literary hermits, dammit, Brontë sisters wandering the wild moors of the inside of your iPhone, seekers of beauty and truth and a shit ton of unearned likes.

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Okay, it should go without saying that this is asinine. I’m not one for angry rants on here (I save those for my husband because he’s sort of obligated to care about them) and I was more than willing to let this one go with an eye-roll and a snort. That is, until I started seeing some posts from people in the book blogging community whose feelings seem to be genuinely hurt by this article. Let me tell you this: Hillary Kelly does not deserve that amount of space in your brain. It is not warranted. amyflyingakite.PNG

First of all, can we talk about how gendered this is? Sure, these types of photos are very popular with female Instagrammers (although the book blogging community seems to skew towards women in general, so I don’t think that’s saying much) but Kelly’s exclusive use of female pronouns throughout her diatribe feels rather telling. While Kelly is mad about the “long and storied history of people using books as props,” I’m far more concerned about the long and storied history of people knocking anything that seems to be more popular with women, no matter how harmless. And no, Kelly is not immune from being called out on this just because she’s a woman. Girl, you’ve internalized some toxic stuff and you need to get it sorted.

Side note: James Trevino was the first Instagrammer I saw using this photo technique. I’m not saying he necessarily invented it, but he certainly helped to popularize it. I was seeing his photos all over online before I ever made an Instagram account. Now that a bunch of women have jumped on the bandwagon, it’s suddenly super problematic and a sign of some deep character flaw? Okay. #himtoo

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Furthermore, it seems ridiculously asinine to complain that content on a website that is highly focused on image has a lot of photos that are carefully curated for a specific image. Do people post book reviews and have discussions on Instagram? Sure, to an extent, but the structure of the website does not make it the best place for that. The focus is, of course, on the photos. That’s a product of the website, not a sign of a character flaw in the people participating. When people log onto a website that primarily serves the purpose of hosting photos… they want to see pretty photos. (Shocking!) If you want to read some in-depth book reviews, I’m over here on WordPress, girl.

But all these issues aside, I just have to ask this: who exactly is being harmed by these photos? What truly bothers me about this is that the book blogging community is one of the only places you’ll find online that tends to be very positive and uplifting. Is there sometimes drama? Sure, because humans are involved so it’s inevitable, but book bloggers are, for the most part, just super excited to share their love of books with the world. We want to talk about our favorites and count down the days to highly anticipated releases. We want to connect with people who are like-minded. So why someone would want to take a shot at one of the most overwhelmingly positive and supporting communities online is beyond me.

Hillary Kelly, from start to finish, your op-ed sounds like the rantings of a bitter blogger who’s upset about the fact that their flatlay didn’t get enough likes on Instagram. It’s pretentious, judgmental, and smug. You have made assumptions about the intelligence and authenticity of people based purely on the style of photos they like to take. And you’ve targeted a group of (mainly) female readers over how they choose to express their love of literature. It’s gross, unnecessary, and the epitome of Not A Good Look.

In conclusion, here’s a little photo I took just for you, Hillary. So sorry you can’t see any of the covers so you can decide if I have good enough taste to be taken seriously.

f off

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October Wrap-up & November TBR

Welcome to another monthly wrap-up and TBR post!

October was a pretty good month for me. I finally got my Little Free Library installed and it’s been a huge hit with kids in the neighborhood. I’ve been trying to keep it stocked with lots of children’s books and I’ve even had some friends who were kind enough to send donations. This ended up going up just a few days after the Little Free Library founder, Tod Bol passed away. I was sad to hear of his passing but honored to be a part of something beautiful that he started. I love Little Free Library’s mission and it’s been so lovely to see kids getting excited about reading.

I also attended a Barnes and Noble book club night for the first time. There were a grand total of three attendees at the location I picked, but it was a pretty good discussion even so. It was definitely a big change of pace from my normal book club, which normally has around 20 girls attending. And I won a signed copy of the book club’s selection, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green!

Now on to the recap of October’s reviews! All hyperlinks in book titles will lead to my reviews.

Books I reviewed in October…

The standout books for this month were Not That Bad for nonfiction and Muse of Nightmares for fiction.

Not That Bad is a collection of essays about rape culture, and Roxane Gay took great care to select people from a wide variety of backgrounds. This is the epitome of intersectional feminism.

Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer and I’ve been dying to read it since the moment I finished the first book. Laini Taylor’s writing is absolutely gorgeous and I loved how this book explored a characters other than Lazlo and Sarai more deeply than the first installment did.

And now on to November…

I don’t actually have a ton planned ahead of time this month, but there are a few ARCs I’d like to finish in November.

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The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi (young adult fantasy)
The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict (historical fiction)
Before We Were Strangers, by Brenda Novak (mystery/thriller novel )
The Girls at 17 Swann Street, by Yara Zgheib (fiction, CW for anorexia)

But right now my #1 priority is my most anticipated 2019 release: Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid! I’d pretty much given up hope on getting an ARC of this one, but BookSparks and NetGalley came through for me and I’m so excited to read it!

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 And as always, I have this month’s Girly Book Club selection, On a Cold Dark Seaby Elizabeth Blackwell. Here’s the blurb:

“On April 15, 1912, three women climbed into Lifeboat 21 and watched in horror as the Titanic sank into the icy depths. They were strangers then…

Con artist Charlotte Digby lied her way through London and onto the Titanic. The disaster could be her chance at a new life—if she hides the truth about her past. Esme Harper, a wealthy American, mourns the end of a passionate affair and fears that everything beautiful is slipping from her grasp. And Anna Halversson, a Swedish farm girl in search of a fresh start in America, is tormented by the screams that ring out from the water. Is one of them calling her name?

Twenty years later, a sudden death brings the three women back together, forcing them to face the impossible choices they made, the inconceivable loss, and the secrets they have kept for far too long.”

Lastly, a few links to some great content I saw around the web this month!

Author Shannon Hale’s Tumblr post on gendered assumptions when it comes to how we treat children’s literature.

The Radical Notion of Afro-futurism and Blackness in Sci-Fi, by jasmineshea1992.

The Girly Book Club’s author talk with Balli Kaur Jaswal, author of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. This book was such an unexpected delight for me. I don’t read erotica, and there were sections of that in this book. I thought it’d take away from my enjoyment of the book, but it was such a lovely character-driven story. It was wonderful to get to hear the author talk about her work.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading! What was your favorite book that you read in October? Are there any new releases you’re looking forward to reading in November? Share in the comments!

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Fiction Pet Peeves

Hello, friends! I’m in a grumpy Monday kind of mood, so today I’m going to talk about some of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to fiction. Let me know some of yours in the comments. What little things immediately pull you out of a scene and make you cringe? In no particular order, here are some of mine…

Over-use of Slang to Establish Setting or Mood

A prime example of this for me is Libba Bray’s Diviners series. This series seems to be super beloved in the book blogging community, and I’m not trying to trash it as a whole. I enjoyed the story itself well enough, but it got to the point where it sometimes felt like every other word was “fella” or “doll.” With a lot of authors, slang is so overused that it makes their characters feel like caricatures. Pepper in just a little bit of it and call it a day; otherwise it sticks out like a sore thumb.

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Love at first sight can be cute and done well, it’s just that it usually… isn’t. Just because the characters fall in love quickly doesn’t mean the audience doesn’t need to see the reasons they love each other. Even worse, however, is when characters who hate one another seemingly flip overnight because searing hated seems to be confused with sexual tension. Relationships between characters take as much development as the characters themselves; there are no shortcuts with this. This seems particularly prominent in YA, but I think it bothers me less in that context because I think a lot of teens are constantly “falling in love” at the drop of a hat. (I’m not judging; I was totally guilty of this.)

Gorgeous Female Characters made “Relatable” by Making Them Clumsy

Why is this such a trope? Authors write a gorgeous female protagonist (bonus points if she’s somehow blissfully unaware that she’s even remotely acceptable looking) who seems to be desired by all the male characters in sight. Then faced with the question of how to make this character feel more flawed and relatable, nine times out of ten, they just make her physically and/or socially awkward. Female characters can be flawed in just as many ways as male characters. It’s time to branch out a bit.

Male Authors with No Idea How to Write a Human Woman

We’ve all read books with female characters that would never have been written by a woman. The most recent book that had this effect on me was Artemis, by Andy Weir. I was in love with The Martian so I bought Artemis when it came out without even reading the blurb first. Then I started reading, and the female protagonist was… Mark Watney 2.0. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Mark Watney, but if I want to read about him, I can just read The Martian again. In Artemis, 99% of his personality was just imposed onto Jazz, and I couldn’t stop hearing Mark Watney’s voice through the whole book. It definitely pulled me out of the novel and diminished my ability to enjoy what was actually a pretty fun heist story.

Protagonists Internally Monologuing about Their Appearance

This is just lazy writing. We’ve all read scenes where the protagonist wakes up in the morning and goes to the bathroom mirror to begin getting ready for their day. They then take this opportunity to list all of their features for the reader’s benefit. (Bonus points if this is combined with the previous bullet point, where a male author can’t write women, and the protagonist proceeds to describe herself in an awkwardly sexual tone. No. Just no.)

A lot of the time, this awkward method of relaying information isn’t even giving us information that we need. A story doesn’t often require the reader to have an in-depth understanding of each character’s appearance. Things that impact how the character interacts with the world in a meaningful way should, of course, be prioritized. Is the character living in a society that’s racist towards their particular demographic? Are they ridiculously attractive or unattractive? Average and forgettable? Super short? This is information we probably need. What we don’t need is a female protagonist admiring the curve of her own hip as she stands in front of a full-length mirror in a nightgown. (Seriously, why do men write these kinds of scenes?)

Toxic, Creepy Relationships in YA

It’s 2018 and I’m still mad about Twilight, you guys. But honestly, petition for a genre marketed to young girls to stop romanticizing stalking, controlling behavior, men with anger issues, ridiculous power imbalances, etc. Give teenage girls healthy relationships as examples. Give teenage girls examples of female characters running the other way when they see these giant red flags waving all over the place.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these were some things that were on my mind today. Let’s discuss in the comments! What are some of your biggest pet peeves? Do you feel differently about any of the things I’ve listed here?

Thanks for reading!

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On the Value of Negative Reviews

When I first started blogging, I didn’t give much thought to writing negative reviews. I was excited to discuss books that I love and share them with other people. I wanted to gush about Neil Gaiman books, talk about the latest film adaptations of books I love, and get hyped up about new releases.

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32940867And sure, there’s been plenty of that, but lately, I’ve been thinking about the necessary evil of writing… less than glowing reviews. Sometimes these are easy to write; I gleefully tore into Stephenie Meyer’s The Chemist on this blog a while back, and I have no regrets. Stephenie Meyer is enjoying heaps of success and I can be relatively sure her eyes will never cross my little blog. Stephenie Meyer absolutely does not care what I think, and that’s fine by me.

But when the writer in question is an indie author, the situation becomes fraught. If the book only has 5 or 10 reviews up on GoodReads and you’re the first naysayer in the crowd, it becomes difficult not to picture the author’s face when they inevitably read a review that can essentially be summed up with this gif:

I don’t want to take the wind out of anyone’s sails, least of all someone who is just getting started in a writing career. I try to ask myself with each review, “Who would enjoy this book?” But what do I say when the only answer that comes to mind is, “No one?”

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: there are two inherent agreements in running a book review blog. In accepting review copies of books, we agree to read and review them. Full stop. Bloggers may be used as a marketing tool, but we are not at the beck and call of the author’s marketing team.

The second unspoken agreement is equally important, and that is with our readers. I will never recommend that you spend your time and money on a book that I don’t believe deserves it. In the interest of keeping my reviews balanced, I generally try to find something nice to say about every book; surely every book has done something right. But I will never waste my readers’ time in the interest of sparing an author’s feelings.

I’ve sometimes seen drama over on GoodReads, when negative reviews are met with people lashing out about “haters.” No book will appeal to every reader. Dismissing every naysayer as a “hater” is ultimately missing the point. Are there pointlessly negative reviews which don’t offer any analysis, but simply choose 15 or 20 different ways to say “I hated this?” Sure. But if a reviewer is articulating why book didn’t work for them, they are providing valuable information for other readers, regardless of their personal taste. Maybe they gave it two stars because the whole story revolved a trope they can’t stand, like love triangles, but love triangles are totally up your alley. Then grab that book and have a blast! And appreciate the fact that another reviewer took the time to let you know what was in store.

Happy reading, everyone! Here’s hoping there are many five star books in your future!

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Thanks for reading, friends! I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Do you feel uncomfortable when posting negative reviews? How do you deal with these?

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Find me on Instagram!

Hello, friends!

This is my shameless self-promotion post where I ask you to go follow my Instagram account. I’m super new to IG and looking for new blogs to follow as much as I’m looking for followers for myself. I want to see your book pictures! If your IG is primarily a bookstagram account, odds are I will follow you back. Plus, you’ll get to see my cat, which is always a plus. Her name is Wendy Darling and she’s a peach. Capture.PNG

I’ve been trying to post every day and usually include some of my favorite book quotes with each photo. I’m a super amateur photographer and trying to figure things out by trial and error, but I like to think some of these are pretty.

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Hope to see you over on Instagram! Let me know some of your favorite bookstagram accounts in the comments!

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July Wrap-Up and August TBR

Where did July go? Asking for a friend. It seems like I was just writing up my June wrap-up post, and here we are again.

July was a pretty good reading month for me. While I read some pretty mediocre books, I also discovered some new favorites and had time for some ARCs.

In July I read…

The standout book of this month was easily Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineThis book had me ugly crying in my living room on at least three separate occasions. Eleanor will stay with me for a very long time.

The biggest flop for me was The ChemistI really wanted to give Stephenie Meyer another chance. She’s so wildly successful while at the same time being on the receiving end of loads of criticism. I thought she may have taken some of that criticism to heart and improved as a writer, but The Chemist was simply cringe-inducing for me.

Review Links, in case you missed them: The Favorite Sister ~ Battle Royale ~ The Wife Between Us ~ I’ll Be Gone in The Dark ~ The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper ~ The War of the Worlds ~ Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine ~ The Chemist ~ Before I Go to Sleep ~ The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Review are still to come for the following: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle ~ When Elephants Fly ~ Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom ~ Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating ~  Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton ~ Good Me Bad Me

On to August…

I’ve been trying to work through my ridiculous shelf of unread books lately, so I’ve been choosing book titles at random from a jar (with the exception of the audio books I get from the library and my NetGalley ARCs.) This month, I’m taking a break from that to dedicate some time to my Book of The Month picks, which I haven’t had time to touch yet. Here’s what I have so far…

I also have a couple of galleys read to read this month:

I got The Rule of One through my book club’s blogging program, and I won Goodbye, Paris in a GoodReads giveaway.

Finally, there’s this month’s pick for my book club, Tin Man, by Sarah Winman.

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This is all I have planned for August so far. Hopefully I’ll have some ARC requests come through on Netgalley as well, and of course there will be library books, as always!

Thanks for reading! Did you find any new favorites in July? What are you most anticipating in August? Please share in the comments!

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WWW Wednesday 07/25/2018

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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So, let’s begin!

I’m currently reading…

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth
The movie adaptation of this comes out August 3rd! I thought it would be nice to get a review up before the movie comes out. Always read the book before you watch the movie!

Before I Go to Sleep, by S. J. Watson
This is a thriller about a woman who is unable to form new long-term memories and loses her memory each night as she sleeps. I should have anticipated this problem with the premise, but this book feel mind-numbingly repetitive. A full review should be up soon, but the short version is that I don’t recommend it.

Beside A Burning Sea, by John Shors
I’m admittedly not very far into this historical fiction novel, but it’s really not grabbing me so far. It doesn’t help that between this and Before I Go to Sleep, I’ve been hit with two lackluster novels at once. This will probably be the first one I’ve DNF’ed in months. I have too many exciting books waiting on the shelves.

I recently finished reading…

Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton, by Tilar J. Mazzeo
I received an ARC of this through NetGalley and it was stunning. A full review will be up when the book comes out in September.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren
Another ARC I received which is coming out in September. This was a romance novel that kind of oscillates between cutesy and steamy. Full review to come in September closer to the release date.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
This book destroyed me and I’d do it all over again. A beautiful story and mental health, love, and loneliness, this novel is totally deserving of all the hype. A review will be up tomorrow.

The Chemist, by Stephenie Meyer
Yes, I’m a grown woman and I willingly subjected myself to Stephenie Meyer’s latest work. It went… about as well as I expected. Review to come later this week.

Up next…

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’ve mostly randomized my TBR lately when it comes to books I already own, but I’ve decided I’m going to take a short break to catch up on my Book of The Month books. I received this in June and I’m dying to see what all the fuss is about.

On Burning Mirrors, by Jamie Klinger-Krebs
I recently received a copy of this courtesy of NetGalley.
Jules Kanter is a wife, a mother and a successful journalist; but she’s completely fallen for the subject of her latest story—a talented musician/bartender named Erin. While plagued with guilt over an affair that causes her to question her sexuality, coupled with the fear of hurting everyone she loves, Jules pours her emotions into her writing. But, she never imagined her words would be discovered when she wasn’t there to explain them.”

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What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!