Friday, June 29, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Cristine Hutcison-Jones

Today at the reader round table is friend Dr. Crissy Hutchison-Jones. We've known each other for a number of years and founded our friendship on a love of food (another passion of mine). That friendship evolved into one where movies and books quite naturally became shared passion. I was a reader and writer and she was destined for academia in one of the most academic cities in the U.S. -- Boston. Now, what we're reading and what we're working on is always of common interest. With a very different take on reading and books than you've seen up to now (which is what makes this so interesting to me), here's what she had to say...

M:What kind of a reader do you consider yourself? What kinds of books do you read and why?

Crissy: Voracious and adventurous. I read all the time, and I'll try almost anything at least once. I love taking recommendations for things that I wouldn't have picked up myself. I divide up my reading based on time and situation. I read mostly research-related academic prose during the day. But I had to make a rule: no research within an hour of bedtime. If I read something purely for the sake of absorbing new information or deeply analyzing the content too close to sleep... I don't get any. The same goes for relaxation: if my brain is buzzing with research... I don't relax. So no academic books when I'm lounging on the beach!

My "fun" reading runs the gamut. Sometimes I pick up old favorites like Jane Austen or Anne of Green Gables or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy or some sort of religious scripture (I can't help myself -- I'm an academic, and many scriptures are fantastic reading!). Sometimes I go for intellectually stimulating histories or memoirs that teach me something about American culture: for example, last summer I read Annette Gordon-Reed's The Hemingses of Monticello, about Thomas Jefferson's family with his slave Sally Hemings; I recently finished Henry Louis Gates's memoir Colored People, about growing up black in West Virginia in the '50s and '60s. Sometimes it's critically acclaimed literature (most recently, Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Prize winner My Name Is Red). And sometimes it's just a great story, like Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books or a lot of the YA I read.

The key for me with fun reading is that there be a strong, coherent narrative (I am NOT po-mo) and a good story. It doesn't really matter what the specific shape of the story is, or if it's real or fictional. There just have to be characters I care about, circumstances I can somehow relate to, and situations in which I see the character changing. I don't say growing, because not all great characters "grow" -- just like real people, they don't always learn positive lessons from their experiences. But I have to know and care about the characters and see them grappling with life in a believable way.

I suppose, at bottom, that I want to learn something from everything I read. I've recently completed a PhD in religious studies with a focus on American religious history, and not surprisingly much of my reading focuses on related themes. I want the stories that I read -- real or imagined -- to teach me something about American culture, the human longing for belief in something greater than ourselves, or human nature. But if I don't walk away feeling like a book has taught me something, I'm not satisfied.

M: As a reader, what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading?

Crissy: I want a good, coherent story that shows me how people interact and how they are shaped by the world around them. And, in my fun reading at least, I want to see people trying to do what they should, and not just what's easy.

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

Crissy: My fun reading habits haven't been affected by e-books. I don't own an e-reader, or an iPad. I probably should, given that I'm allergic to book dust. [Insert joke here about historians who can't handle old books.] But I like books and libraries and bookstores – real objects provided to me by real people.

I will say, though, that as a scholar, I ADORE Internet databases. I frequently turn to Google Books, which has worked with major university libraries around the US to get materials online for all to see. I find nearly everything I need for research dating before World War I there. I also use searchable online databases to find and retrieve thousands of newspaper articles and audio-visual materials. To be able to do so saves me countless hours in the library poring over microfiche, and immeasurable time and energy locating, requesting, and ordering materials via interlibrary loan.

(That said, I want to say that the amazing interlibrary loan staff at Boston University got me ALL of the dozens of books, videos/DVDs, and articles that I requested that are still protected by copyright and aren’t online... So, in the end, the world would be a much sadder place for readers of all kinds without the expertise and support of librarians, bookstore owners and staff, and the countless other *people* who help us find materials that suit our needs.)

M: What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before?

Crissy: A compelling recommendation. I take staff picks in libraries and bookstores seriously. I've also found a number of good books (great literature or just good reads) based on NPR reviews and interviews. But the best sources are my reading friends and family -- they know me, they know good books, and they know how to pair the two things well.

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do.

Crissy: Let's be clear... there aren't just five. I don't have five "favorite" books. But here are five that immediately come to mind:

- The Bible (I prefer the New Revised Standard Version):

I grew up in the rural South. My husband is a musician inspired by the American blues and folk traditions. I'm a scholar of the history of religion in the US. I pay attention to American politics, books, movies... The books that make up the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament influence all of that. And there are also a lot of great stories and fantastic writing in those books. Pick up a copy of Robert Alter's translations of Genesis (the creation stories; the formation of the Israelite people, the foundation of contemporary Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) or The David Story (the biblical books about the fabled Israelite king David) some time. Or just grab any old copy of the Bible and read the Book of Job. You'll see what I mean.

- All things Jane Austen:

Austen was incredibly insightful and sharply funny. Her books are surprisingly clear-sighted in their portraits of her admittedly limited subjects, and they say some very universal things about people in their daily lives and relationships. And she does a remarkable job of critiquing her society in ways that are still relevant -- for instance, her assessments of tensions based on socio-economic class, and of the limits the world places on women and girls.

- Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852-53):

I had to read A Tale of Two Cities in high school and I HATED it. But after seeing the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Bleak House a few years ago, I decided I’d try him again. BH was my first attempt and remains my favorite. Like Austen, Dickens was a masterful social critic, and he created characters who are unforgettably real. He also wrote beautiful, memorable prose, but always in the service of his story.

- L. Frank Baum, The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913):

My mother has a collection of Oz books that were given to her when she was a child, and I read them all several times over when I was very young. The Patchwork Girl was always my favorite. It's about a willful, tomboyish girl who begins as a wholly selfish creature but learns to be more caring -- WITHOUT sacrificing her self-confidence or her zest for life. It's also about a young boy who undertakes a quest to save his uncle, collecting a motley crew of companions who also become his family along the way. In other words, it's about how we build our own loving communities. Finally, (spoiler alert) the little boy turns out not to be a little boy after all, but an enchanted little girl. While she resists being changed back to herself at first, she comes to realize that she is the same person, whatever the exterior, and the people who love her, love her for herself and not who she is on the outside. For me, the book is all about self-determination -- of ourselves as individuals and of the communities we build around us -- and how successfully people can make themselves good and loving and compassionate and surround themselves with the same.

- Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (1980):

Robinson, like so many of the authors I love, writes believable, human characters in wonderfully detailed prose. Although her second novel, Gilead, is the one that earned her a Pulitzer, I prefer Housekeeping. The story is told through the eyes of a young woman who is sent to live with relatives in a small town on the shores of an enormous lake in the middle of the plains. The novel's landscape, mood, characters, and plot all blend seamlessly, as Robinson tells a story of the struggles of different women to live in a culture that doesn't have a place for them outside of the home. (In one of my favorite passages, Robinson uses the story of the biblical Noah's nameless wife to image the struggles of all women. Did I mention that I'm convinced that the Bible is essential reading in order to fully appreciate Western literature??)

M: What does reading give you in your life that nothing else can?

Crissy: I become absorbed in books in a way that isn't possible for me in any other medium. Books allow me to completely inhabit someone else's world for a time -- whether in order to better understand some real person or event, or to experience something imagined. And I get to inhabit that world on my own terms, by constructing the sights, sounds, and smells of the story (around the framework of the author's description, of course) as they work for me. I'm not subject to anyone else's vision -- like directors, cinematographers, art directors, actors, etc. Books are a highly personal and personalized way to experience a story.

M: Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you ended up becoming a reader?

Crissy: I can't remember ever NOT reading. I'm told that I was reading at age 3. I'm sure that it had everything to do with my family. Both of my parents are readers, and my mother read to my younger brother and me all the time.

The most important influence, though, was without a doubt my grandfather. We read constantly when we were together. In fact, according to family lore, I learned my letters by sitting in his lap and watching him do crossword puzzles, and my numbers by turning the pages of his books as we looked at the page numbers and counted out loud. Later, he helped teach me to read with little phonics books and children's books he ordered through a mail service (my favorite to read together was Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham). He taught me to while away long afternoons with Scrabble, and he treated my childhood illnesses with bags of books from the public library. Reading wasn't just a pleasure for him -- it was a way of life. He did a brilliant job of passing it on to me.

M: What makes a book disappointing to you?

Crissy: Cheap plot tricks will ruin a book for me faster than just about anything else. If I see it coming from a mile away and I believe that the author intended readers to see it coming -- or, perhaps worse, if I feel that the author thought they were being clever and didn't realize that the typical reader would see it coming -- I'm seriously unimpressed.

M: Do you judge a book by its cover?

Crissy: I'm not foolish enough to say no, because I'm sure that a good cover attracts me without me thinking about it. But I often go into book stores with something in mind. Great cover art is usually just a bonus. But I will say that if a book's cover is bad, it may influence me not to get it. I've been slightly involved with cover designs on a (very) few academic books, and I know how much you can manipulate a book's image -- and readers' expectations -- by changing the cover. If a book's cover looks thrown together, I'm turned off. Also, if a book's cover doesn't seem to match its contents, I'm suspicious and less likely to trust it.

M: Do author blurbs, cover jackets, and awards seals matter to you when choosing a book to read?

Crissy: Author blurbs matter a lot more to me with non-fiction than fiction. If I recognize heavy-hitting scholars among the people blurbing a work of non-fiction, I'm more likely to take it seriously.

Awards seals catch my eye, but unless it's a really big award (Pulitzer; National Book Award; Newbery; or from a specific academic organization that I recognize and respect), it's not likely to sway me.

M: Have you ever read a book that surprised you, one you didn't expect to like but did?

Crissy: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850):

I avoided reading this "American classic" all the way through high school, a dual major in American Studies and Religion in college, and my graduate coursework in American religious history. I figured it was one of those "must-reads" that's actually a crashing bore. But I finally decided a few years ago that I really ought to read it... and it's brilliant. Gripping story, great character development, wonderful descriptions (I love Hester's walk "into the mystery of the primeval forest" that surrounded colonial Boston), and a fantastically gothic story. Everyone should read it.

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain yourself.

Crissy: Off the top of my head...

Anne Rice's Cry to Heaven (forgive me... it was high school): It's incredibly sexually explicit just for the sake of being sexually explicit. I'm fine with explicit descriptions of sex... but I'm not fine with material that's there to "impress" or "shock" the reader without having any clear purpose in the story. If it doesn't help me understand the characters or their relationships, set the scene, or advance the narrative, please don't waste valuable pages that you could have put to better use actually TELLING THE STORY.

Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life: I wanted a more honest and less hagiographic biography that would step away from the usual lionizing narrative, and this isn't doing it for me. I haven't given up entirely, but it's been sitting unopened for months.

M.T. Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves: The first volume was brilliant. The second was promising to be so. But the story is committed to brutal realism, and at a certain point it got too painful. It’s still sitting on the shelf next to my bed, but I haven't gone back.

Crissy Hutchison-Jones received her PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University in 2011. She is a cultural historian of religion in the United States with a focus on the problem of intolerance. Her dissertation explored images of one minority, the Mormons, in American news, fiction, and film. She lives in Boston with her husband. You can find another of her articles here and you can check out a panel she participated in here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Genre... aka Food Groups

My fellow Peas have done such a good job covering this prompt about genre that I wasn't sure what else I could add. But as I was eating a snack after dinner last night, an idea struck me. Genre was a lot like food. So, today I'm going to talk about how I equate my perception of genre to my personal eating habits.

So, first, you have your "good-for-you" things that you know you ought to eat/read, and on occasion actually crave, but which may not always be your first choice. Like fruit and vegetables. For me, the fruit and vegetables of genre range from literary fiction -- including the classics -- and through the broad spectrum of non-fiction {including cookbooks, self-help, writing, art, etc}. In general, the farther from fiction the genre gets, the less desirable the food type. Like my genre choices, the fruit and veggies can easily be stuff I like, but which I just don't often pick up. Case in point: every non-fiction book I've picked up, I've thoroughly enjoyed... I just haven't picked up that many.

Then there's your "meat and potatoes" -- the tasty stuff. There's good-for-you and bad-for-you in this section, but overall it makes you feel good and satisfies you. That, for me, is fiction as a whole. This is where I read most often and these are the foods that rule my {exceptionally poor} diet.

Okay, so, this is where the "food groups" analogy breaks down a little bit, because I have to put dairy and sweets inside the "meat and potatoes" of fiction to get my next point across... but then again, foods have a sneaky way of "genre blending" as well {like the not-a-vegatable, corn... and the actually-a-fruit, tomato} so I'll just roll with it.

Inside fiction, we have genres like MG, YA, Horror, Thriller, Mystery, Romance, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and so on. Each of these can fit into the broad categories -- like dairy, for instance -- but can also be broken down into sub-categories -- like cheese and ice-cream. As I see it...

Middle Grade is like dairy. Assuming you aren't lactose intolerant, it's usually pretty easy to find something you like. This genre ranges from staples, like milk and eggs, to indulgences like ice-cream. MG is great as part of your diet, but it isn't practical that it be the only thing you {as an adult} read/eat. It makes you feel good, and is satisfying... but it can't sustain you by itself.

Now, for me, YA is the meat. Not everyone likes it, but it appeals to many, and it's a rich part of any reading diet. It can be lean and healthy, or thick-cut, fatty, and saturated with steak sauce. The bottom line, though, is that it is a good source of reading protein. YA encompasses many genres and is completely devourable. I can't go many "meals" without it.

Horror, Thriller, and Mystery are also what I would consider meats. {Strange, perhaps, given that I very rarely read these genres}. But they'd be more... atypical meats. Things like deer, or alligator, or squid. Some people consider these meats typical, and they may be a major percent of their average meals. But to me they are specialties... things I don't get my hands on regularly and often need to be in the mood for. And when I am in the mood for these, they turn out to be surprisingly satisfying.

Sci-Fi also fits into this atypical meat category. It, however, leans on the squid side for me. One of my favorite things to eat {and coming from me, this is mind-blowingly-weird} is squid salad at my favorite sushi restaurant. One of my all time favorite books is Sci-Fi. The thing is, I'd be hesitant to try the squid in a different restaurant, and likewise, as much as I loved that book, I'm hesitant to try another Sci-Fi unless can get a taste of it and think I would like it just as much.  

Romance is like Halloween candy. It's fun to indulge every now and then. But too much and you feel bad about yourself afterward... start craving vegetables...

Fantasy is my bread. I love bread. Most of my favorite books have some fantasy elements in them, even if they aren't straight-up fantasy. I love granola, oatmeal, bagels, pasta, loaves of anything {except sourdough. *gag*}. I could eat that stuff for EVERY meal. But I can't expect to live a healthy, balanced life of eating/reading with bread alone. Bread is best when it's paired with other things. And that brings me to what I'm trying to say with all of this...

Genre blending is a good thing.

I have these late-night snack cravings sometimes that spiral into very un-ladylike eating binges because, basically, I didn't blend my genres. You see, I'll eat something sweet, like a hershey's bar or something, and by the time I've finished it, I feel overloaded with sugar. I start craving something salty to counteract it. So I go for a handful of chips. Half a bag later, and I've tipped the scales too far the other way. I need something sweet again. So I go for ice cream. And I put in one scoop too many. To avoid chip overdose, I go for something less salty, but not as sweet-- like string cheese. By then I'm stuffed, and all I'd wanted was a light snack! It's a vicious cycle. And the sad part is, it could easily have been avoided. All I needed was trail mix -- with salted nuts and m&m's -- or cereal with some chocolate mixed among the flakes.

The same can be said for genres. Read too much heavy stuff, like a meaty YA about death and love and friendship, and suddenly all I want is a fun, MG ice-cream read. But sooner or later, I need something with more substance, so I turn to a classic -- carrots or asparagus perhaps. Which is good, but maybe then I want something newer, fresher, sweeter... like a strawberry.  Or maybe I need some doughy, delightful bread...

Instead of this constant hopping from one craving to another, with genre blending you get several tastes together. You get a meal. And in meals, you may keep things separate on the plate, but you're still ingesting several categories in one sitting. You get a little bit of everything -- fruits topping meats or chocolate, veggies mixed with pasta, bread and butter -- and you aren't left craving something you were lacking.

So the bottom line is... genre blending, like a meal, gives you something incredibly satisfying. A mixture of many cravings that can be simple or complex. Different parts from different categories brought together to produce something extraordinary... and this makes the experience that much better.

Stay tuned next week for... something...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Katie Wood Ruffin

Today at the Reader Roundtable is a name in which you should be familiar, due to this blog. Katie Wood Ruffin and I met through Carolyn Haines a couple of years ago (as is the case with many writers in my life). After a few email exchanges, phone calls, and connections through social media we became writerly friends and colleagues. Here’s what Katie had to say when faced with my barrage of questions.

M: What kind of a reader do you consider yourself?

Katie: I used to be a very simple reader. I’d browse the library or bookstore and pick anything off the shelf that drew me in by the cover art. I’ve always read for the pure joy of escaping into the story. Since completing my own manuscript though that has started to change. Before, I’d never read or concentrated on one specific genre. I’ve always picked a book for a cool cover and interesting blurb on the inside jacket. Now I read not just to enjoy the story, but to learn and stay in touch with other writer’s works who write the same things.

M: What kinds of books do you read and why?

Katie: I tend to stick with urban fantasy, science fiction, paranormal and mystery. I have plenty of reality in my reality so I don’t want it in my books. My favorite kind of read is the one where I say to myself, “Could this really happen?” It takes an amazing writer to suck the reader in that way. After experiencing that once, now my ever-present goal is to find another book that will give me that same feeling.

Katie: Stories about strong female protagonists, creatures that are fantastical and expertly crafted by the author’s writing style and anything with a southern flavor to it are all things I seem to gravitate toward.

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

Katie: I’m anxious to see how eBook technology changes over the next five years. It’s opened the door for lots of writers that didn’t have a publishing option before. But as a reader, I’m not a huge fan of reading my books that way. There’s nothing better than holding a book in my hand, tucking into bed and snuggling down with a great story. Plus, if I fall asleep and drop my book it’s less likely to make me nauseous compared to dropping the iPad.

M: What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before?

Katie: Any great cover will draw me in; a creative hook on the flap will only make it more appealing, recommendations by friends, my librarian, or bookstore staff are all things I depend on when looking for a new book. I rarely go read reviews online. Even if I do, I’m going to decide for myself after looking the book over.

M: With so many books to read, why do you choose the books you do?

Katie: Reading is pure enjoyment for me. I won’t finish a book that doesn’t take me somewhere outside my normal. Escapism is one of my favorite things books offer. Sticking to fantasy and paranormals guarantees I don’t grab a book about mom stuff like laundry or cooking dinner.

M: Film before book, or book before film? Why?

Katie: Book before film, always. Films have major restrictions when telling a story that books don’t. Two hours for most films, lots of necessary action to translate on film, characters that are limited by CG and technology if they aren’t real are all boundaries of film. Books can accommodate any whim of the author’s imagination. Ink, paper and time are all that’s needed.

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do.


The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien because it’s the first book that when I finished I remember saying, “Wow, I’ve totally got to do that again!”

The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe because it absolutely scared the crap out of me. I loved it!

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley because the characters and story crawled under my skin and wouldn’t let me go until I finished it.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck because I’d never felt so much pity for characters before. They are all so damaged.

A Farewell to Arms by Earnest Hemingway because the overwhelming love and horrible loss the characters suffer is unforgettable.

M: Do author blurbs, cover jackets, and awards seals matter to you when choosing a book to read?

Katie: Blurbs and jackets will definitely influence whether I choose a book. Award seals, not so much. Awards are just someone else’s opinion of the book. In the end, the work has to hook me in. That happens with the blurbs and jacket information.

M: Favorite Protagonist of all time. Why?

Katie: That’s too hard to say for sure. I can tell you two that I never get tired of re-reading because they evolved over the series in ways I could’ve never anticipated. Anita Blake in Laurell K. Hamilton’s series because she has changed so much over twenty books and still keeps me guessing and Ethan Wate in the Beautiful Creatures series because he’s written splendidly written as a guy protagonist.

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain yourself.

Katie: There have been very few books I’ve given up on. I’m not a quitter so not finishing a book picks at my stubborn streak. It really takes a lot of boring swill for me to throw up my hands on a story I’ve committed to read. It has happened unfortunately but thankfully not often. One thing that I do have trouble reading is a book with super strange language or phrasing. It takes me too long to get used to the strange dialects. Those kinds of stories tire my brain.

M: Favorite villain of all time. Explain yourself.

Katie: Gollum in The Hobbit. He’s bat crap nuts and pretty evil yet I found myself wanting to like him so much. I've re-read his chapter many times and still get a kick out of him.

Katie Wood Ruffin is a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a dental hygienist and a writer. She loves to laugh until tears run down her face, the smell of the ocean just after it rains, and a good book she can fall into. She resides in Hernando, MS and her first manuscript is Unwilling.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Genre as Marketing on the Expanding YA Shelf

I spend a lot of time beating my head against a wall where understanding genre is concerned. Especially as a writer and reader who loves a story that bends the nebulous constraints of particular genres and sub-genres. I love a book that is part Noir, Thriller, Romance, Fantasy, and Dystopian/Science Fiction. Throw in some Steam Punk elements and a High Fantasy creature and I'm sold. Even my own current writing project is difficult for me to label in those terms. When asked, I can only say it's a kind of Urban Fantasy with Military (but not really) Thriller and Sci-Fi elements. Most of the time, when asked which genre my writing projects reside, I get sideways glances from agents and other writers -- it's the you-really-need-to-figure-out-where-in-the-marketplace-your-book-is-situated look. Which is interesting, because as Jeannie pointed out last week: "Genre, at its heart, is a subjective label." And I'll add to that: in a world of consumerism, genre has become an artifact of marketplace not a fundamental standard of classification. So there's an extent in which genre labels equals marketing labels equals genre labels. Ultimately, genre is all about finding readers, A.K.A. buyers.

This is why the growth and expansion of genre and sub-genre in the YA market is so fascinating to me. YA books have grown into an entire market with its own genres and sub-genres. When you walk into a store looking for a title and have to think... okay,  it's in the New Release section of the Paranormal Romance section of the Young Adult section, it's like going to a shop inside a shop inside a shop. What's more, I can barely explain where the lines between some sub-genres and genres lie. It seems an ever-changing boundary. Some broad stroke constants exist, but when you really start talking to writers, publishers, and booksellers, it seems everyone has their own ideas on how to split those hairs. Every bookstore has its way of classifying and every website has an ever-changing classification system. Ask a dozen readers and you'll probably get a dozen different answers. Then, if that's not complicated enough, it's now an age of books labeled: X meets Y or If you liked Z you'll love Blank. Conversations about genre labels are incongruent and so very different from my childhood experience.

In the early 80s I remember getting my meager allowance or birthday card money, visiting the bookstore, and leaving with five or six Apple Paperbacks or the latest Babysitter's Club or Sweet Valley High titles. At a few dollars a pop, it was all about the branding. Occasionally, I'd find a weird ghost story in that section of the store, but mostly the middle grade/teen market was filled with these books and clearly geared toward coming-of-age stories and sweet romances for girls. After I'd outgrown that content and moved into the adult fantasy shelves, things began to change in the young readers section. A man by the name of R. L. Stine came along in the mid-80s and started altering young reader popular fiction, pushing clearer a wedge between Teen/YA books and Middle Grade. The coming-of-age and sweet romance genres that proliferated the young reader market made way for Goosebumps and many other kinds of books.

The market started to shake loose and a diversity emerged that didn't exist before -- not with this much publisher attention. Sure you had your tried and true literary classics that weren't romance or Judy Blume, but things evolved quite a bit from the mid 80's to the 90's. Then J.K. Rowling came along and blew the doors wide open. With that, adults started to read YA genre/market titles. Making YA no longer a market for only young people -- not "young people" like when I was a kid -- the stories got grittier, deeper, more complicated and broadened in genre type. YA now seems more of a classification for how old the protagonist of the book is, not the reader of it or the content.

Another interesting thing has arisen. When I was a Teen/Tween reader, books in the section were almost always mass market paperback. Go into a bookstore today and the shelves are lined with hardback new releases and trade paperbacks. Teens and Tweens like to read fiction for the same reasons adults do. They always have, but its only been in the last few decades that publishers and booksellers decided it was lucrative to do something about it (ie: really market to them). We're in a very different marketplace and the genre labels offered to young people are definitely more fine-tuned then they were ten years ago, much less twenty or thirty years ago.

In the last two decades big box bookstores pulled teen books out of the "kid's section" and gave them their own area near the general fiction section -- a section that allows younger readers to feel like they aren't reading kiddie books and where older readers can easily slide over to the YA section when they want to read young. This market has been growing ever since. Recently, the boom of Paranormal Romance in YA paved the way for Dystopian Adventure and now we find the sections within the section bearing more labels and classifications: Edgy Stories, Fantasy Adventure, Paranormal Romance. The classifications go on and on.

But pick a book under any label considered a genre and watch the same book appear under multiple  shelf labels. This offers a strange conundrum -- at the same time YA diversifies its genre labels within the section (Urban Fantasy, Thriller, Horror, High Fantasy, etc.) it's blurring those same boundaries. I was just in the bookstore the other day and noticed a new label reading Horror within the YA section. The same book was shelved within the YA area under YA Horror, YA Dark Fantasy, and YA Paranormal Romance.

What does this all mean?

Hell if I know. It seems almost counter-productive to place a book on valuable bookstore shelf space labeled differently in multiple places within a section of the bookstore. Or... is just good marketing?

Publishers and booksellers have embraced the idea of grooming readers from a young age. So have authors. Supposedly, people are more literate now then during any time before and it's no secret genre readers exist (however subjective those labels are or how those readers define and hash out the details of classification). Start them young and keep them coming back. Every time I shop for books I notice "new" old authors cropping up in YA that I hadn't ever seen before. Seasoned adult Urban Fantasy writers, Thriller writers, Paranormal Romance writers. They are all breaking into the seemingly ever-expanding YA market. It's brilliant. Hook them young and offer them an entire canon they can grow into. More and more types of books (books we see in every other section of the bookstore) are flooding into the YA Market -- a market that used to be considered a sort of age appropriate "genre" of its own when I was a kid.

In the end, it's all about authors finding an audience and publishers selling books. That said, I think any writer who tries to write to the constraints of a particular genre will find themselves in a hopeless, helpless battle that isn't unlike trying to predict what the next big thing in the market will be. YA books are expanding and diversifying because the market sees an opportunity and it doesn't know what is going to sell next... because no one can predict what everyone will be talking about next month. Genres are being created and bent and reworked and relabeled all the time in fiction, but it's only been in the last few years this process has carried over to the blossoming YA market within the publishing market. What took some time to happen in the regular/adult fiction market is happening quick and now, changing from week to week, with every new release, because there are labels that already exist alongside the new label buzz happening in marketing conference rooms across the globe.

Last week I was in the bookstore and the middle grade section was pulled forward to the center of that section where picture book new releases were once housed. The middle grade section is now twice as big as it had been one week before. Could the market be sniffing out a way to re-categorize and up-sell middle grade too? I don't doubt it. Books need readers, and summing up a book's worth of words into one or two that people will recognize or attach to and purchase is the end game, whether we want to believe and accept it or not.

Next week, Alexis dives into the intricacies of genre from her perspective.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Dean Harrison

This week at the Reader Roundtable is friend and colleague Dean Harrison. We go way back to my first fiction writing class at USA (under the direction of Carolyn Haines, of course). Dean is a horror guru and a awesome reference to the genre for me. Fast friends and admirers of each other's work, we've managed to stay in touch over the years. Here's a horror writer and readers take on my questions.

M: What kind of a reader do you consider yourself?

Dean: I am a loyal reader. I tend to stick to the works of certain authors, but I will branch out to other authors when I’m ready for something new. I mostly read horror novels because, unlike mystery, crime and romance, horror is an umbrella genre that encompasses a whole host of subgenres such as supernatural horror, psychological horror, splatter punk and quiet horror. Horror is a broad genre and can include elements of other genres, such as crime, mystery and romance. The stories are therefore deeper, richer, and more character driven than run-of-the-mill crime, mystery and romance. Also, I read horror novels because I love stories about people rising (or struggling to rise) above hardship and adversity. Horror as a genre provides this—it’s illustrates the good and the bad in human nature. 

M: What authors (or stories) do you return to again and again? Why?

Dean: John Farris and Tom Piccirilli. I enjoy the stories they tell and the way they tell them. They write they way I wish to write, and write the kind of stories I wish to write. They are my literary heroes.

M: As a reader, what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading?

Dean: I expect a story that is well written and well structured, and a story that keeps me engaged until the last page. Because I enjoy character-driven stories, I also expect characters that are fleshed out and believable, and characters I can care about. 

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books? 

Dean: I’ve yet to jump aboard the eBook train, but it’s only a matter of time. I buy most of my books online or in used bookstores. This is because it’s hard to find many of the books I care to read at Barnes & Nobles and Books-A-Million anymore. eBooks are partly to blame for this, since the major publisher of horror fiction in the US (Dorchester) had stripped away its mass-market paperback line a couple of years ago and switched to an all digital/trade paperback model. Mass-market paperback horror is hard to come by in bookstores these days, unless of course you read the brand names such as King, Koontz and Straub, which I often don’t. 

M: What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before? 

Dean: Word-of-mouth. The books and authors I’ve read have come mostly via recommendation or the review of a respected author. For example, I picked up, and read, a copy of Ramsey Campbell’s The Influence because of a blurb by John Farris that was on the front cover. And though I don’t care much for Campbell’s style, I enjoyed the story. And award seals don’t influence me, because some of the crappiest books have award seals. Cover jackets do to an extent. But you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

M: Film before book or book before film? 

Dean: I prefer book before movie because the books is usually always better. Case in point, Stephen King’s Carrie. I watched the film adaptation a dozen times before ever reading the book. When I finally made myself read the book I wondered why the hell I never had before. The book was much better, and so was the ending. However, the film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was much better than the book. The ending of the novel was very anti-climactic. Stoker’s style of writing was also very flowery, which made it almost unbearable. 

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do. 

1) John Farris’ Son of the Endless Night
2) Tom Piccirilli’s The Deceased
3) Douglas Clegg’s The Halloween Man
4) Stephen King’s Bag of Bones
5) Peter Straub’s Ghost Story
The above five books have stuck with me because they are the books that I literally found difficult to put down. They are also the ones that come to mind when thinking about examples of good storytelling and engaging characters. They are a source of inspiration for me.

M: Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you ended up becoming a reader?

Dean: I became a reader because I love stories (especially stories that aren’t censored by news editors or the FCC). I also love writing stories. And to write stories you have to read stories, and love reading stories. Otherwise, why do it?

M: Do judge a book by its cover?

Dean: Unfortunately, sometimes I do. However, I’ve learned that this is a mistake, because my favorite novel of all time, Farris’ Son of the Endless Night, has a pretty lousy cover but the story is phenomenal.

M: Have you ever read a book that surprised you, one you didn't expect to like but did?

Dean: Yes. Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury. Though Faulkner doesn’t write or structure his novels well, the story was fascinating enough that it held me in its clumsy grip.

M: Favorite Protagonist and Villain of all time? Why?

Protagonist. Conor Devon in Farris’ Son of the Endless Night. He is a former-priest turned professional wrestler whose demon-possessed brother is on trial for his life. I’m not going to get into the details of the novel’s epic plot, but Conor Devon is my favorite character for all the right reasons: he is a sympathetic, well-fleshed out, and believable character. You cheer him on throughout the novel. You care about him. And you hope nothing bad happens to him.
Villain. Hyde. Because he is the dark side within use all. The monster we deny but all too often give in to. He is the beast in human nature, the devil on your shoulder, the part of you that just wants to be bad. He can be found in such novels as Stephen King’s The Dark Half, John Farris’ Sharp Practice, and my current work-in-progress, These Unquiet Bones.

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain.

Dean: Yes, plenty, and usually because they’ve failed to hold my interest and were so dumb, boring, or poorly written that I couldn’t waste my time and read on anymore. I’m not, however, going to name names. OK, just one: Faulkner, who ironically is one of my favorite writers in classic literature, and only because he often tells dark and fascinating stories (i.e., As I Lay Dying, Light in August, Sanctuary), not because of his writing style.

Dean Harrison is a longtime reader and writer of horror fiction. He’s had stories published in the following anthologies: Fell Beasts, Fem-Fangs, and Twisted Tales from the Torchlight Inn. He’s currently working on his first novel.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Genre is in the Eye of the Reader

This week the Peas are taking a look at genre. As I write this article I have the first of Ridley Scott's Alien movies playing in the background. I know we're writers and I should really focus on genre as it applies to books but I think Alien is a good example of my chosen topic.

With regards to Alien, a debate has raged since its first theatrical appearance in 1979: Is it science fiction or is it horror? Strong arguments are made for both genres. Obviously it's science fiction since it features a futuristic setting full of murderous aliens running amok on space ships. However, an often cited tag line associated with the film is "In space no one can hear you scream." That is a straight-up promise of horror. When you truly analyze the film you realize it's a haunted house in space. The hapless humans are trapped with a greater-than-human foe in an inescapable location and with limited resources at their disposal to combat the threat. Alien is an almost perfect blend of sci-fi and horror. And yet, the debate continues as to its genre despite the evidence pointing to its hybrid nature. So why does the debate continue? The simplest reason is also the topic of my post: Genre is in the eye of the viewer/reader. We see what we want to see in books and film.

What is the point of genres if we're just going to argue a work's placement in a particular category? There is no easy answer to this question. Genre, at its heart, is a subjective label. Books often cross the boundaries of genre. Diana Gabaldon's Outlander is a prime example. It's a time traveling fantasy as well as a historical romance. In my wanderings through countless bookstores, I've seen Outlander shelved in general fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and romance. Why? Because it appeals to readers of those genres. Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series are often shelved much like Gabaldon's and appear in general fiction, romance, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery sections. The same is true for authors like Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, Anne Rice, and Stephen King.

Genre is a useful tool for booksellers, publishers, and authors. It provides a common ground between "us" and readers. It's a contract between "us" and the reader that basically states you can expect a certain type of story. If you, the reader, picks up a book in the romance section, you expect two people to fall in love. Yes, they will face challenges but ultimately true love triumphs. If you pick up a book from the fantasy section, you expect to find epic landscapes, fantastical creatures and/or magic, and a hero's journey. A mystery involves a crime that must be solved. But if this contract is breached, then the reader will feel cheated. If a book is labeled a romance but the couple doesn't live happily ever after at the end, then no amount of challenges and triumphs will make up for the frustration felt by the reader. However, another reader may pick up the same book and read it as a thriller or suspense novel and love it for that reason. The romance is secondary to them. This is when genre becomes the slippery subjective label that is both the life's blood and bane of the publishing (and film) industry.

Be sure to some back next week when M tackles the murky world of emerging genres in the rapidly growing young adult market. Until then...

Peas out.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Weldon Anderson

Today at the Reader Roundtable I have the pleasure of introducing you to best friend and Dungeon Master Weldon Anderson, whom I've know for nearly twenty years. (That's right, I used to play D&D... because that is what all the cool kids did.) This cat is someone, along with our small group of BFFs, who shared in my love of reading and storytelling even through the angsty teens years. No matter how much time passes, we pick right back up where we left off, and book talk has always been a part of that relationship. My friend... and perhaps the only man my husband would trust to send me alone on a European vacation with (not that we've managed it yet)... Mr. Weldon Anderson.

M: What kind of a reader do you consider yourself? 

Weldon: I consider myself a voracious reader. I read approximately a book a day. It's the way I escape from stress at work and at home. I will read any type or genre of book available but I primarily read science fiction and fantasy. I am able to reread books and series in that genre. I have probably read every one of my fantasy novels at least twenty-five times.

M: As a reader of different genres, what attracts you to each and what does each give you the others don't?

Weldon: While I don't consider myself a specific genre reader, I like science fiction and fantasy the most because I can continually come back to the same story and discover something new every time I read it. The foreshadowing in a trilogy appeals more to me than reading a thriller where, once I find out who committed the crime, the book loses all appeal to read it again.

M: With that in mind, what authors (or stories) do you return to again and again? What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before?

Weldon: I have multiple authors that I continually reread. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman in the Dragon Lance series are among my favorites. L.E. Modesitt and the Recluce series, Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time series, Mercedes Lackey and the Valdemar books are a few of the authors and series I continually read. The excerpt on the back of the cover or the synopsis online is my primary means of finding new books. I also rely on my friends for new book ideas.

M: As a reader, what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading?

Weldon: As a reader, I expect to be entertained. The story can be extremely technical or a quick, easy read. I find all types of stories entertaining. I really enjoy the evolution of the characters during the story. I continually find the endings anti-climatic.

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

Weldon: I have loved the eBook revolution. I didn't think I would enjoy giving up my hard copies of my books but the ease of ordering and reading any book I want far outweighs that loss. I work nights and can't tell you how many times I've ordered and read a new book while at work. I recently went on a cruise. I normally would have brought ten books. Now I just bring my Nook.

M: Film before book, or book before film? Why?

Weldon: I always read the book before I see the film. In fact, there are many times when I don't even watch the film. Even the best film ever done from a book has failed to live up to the book and I am always disappointed.

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do.

Weldon: It's difficult for me to pick a book. I can pick series that I consider all one story. The Lord of The Rings trilogy is the first fantasy series I ever read and it remains my favorite to this day. The way Tolkien created a whole new universe with it's own languages is still amazing to me. The Chronicles trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman were my first introduction to Dragonlance and the different realms in that massive fantasy setting. The characters from this trilogy became some of my favorites of all time. I still cry when two of the main characters die during the series. The Dragonlance Legends trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman have always impressed me with the way they were able to continue the evolvement of the characters from the Chronicles. This series took characters that I loved and were able to give me a way to understand them without ever losing the sense of wonder.

M: Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you ended up becoming a reader?

Weldon: Honestly, I was put on restriction a lot as a child. As I had no TV or radio in my room, reading was the only thing to do. Now, reading provides a means of escape from everything that stresses me in my life. I used to read primarily when I was upset. Now I have to force myself to do all the things I'm supposed to do before I start reading. Reading is the only thing that I can get lost in and forget where I'm at or what I'm doing.

M: What makes a book disappointing to you?

Weldon: I love the journey taken during a book. I don't like when the author takes a character from point A to point B and skips everything that happens in between. R.A. Salvatore has started doing that recently in some of his novels.

M: Do author blurbs, cover jackets, and awards seals matter to you when choosing a book to read?

Weldon: Author blurbs matter a little bit. If it's an author I enjoy reading, I'll usually pay attention if he or she recommends another book. And I don't pay much attention to the Internet of book reviews. I can usually tell within a few minutes of reading if I'm going to like the book. I do have friends that recommend books to me. I almost always try and read those.

M: Favorite protagonist and villain of all time? Why?

Weldon: Drizzt Do'urden is probably my favorite protagonist. I started reading the series at a young age and identified with the self-introspection of the character. Drizzt was much more of a thinking character and his thought processes and sense of identity intrigued and impressed me. I'm not sure if Raistlin from the Dragon Lance series counts as a villain. He ultimately redeems himself at the end but only after staining his soul black. If so, he is my favorite. He was easy to identify and sympathize with.

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain.

Weldon: The only series I never finished was the Game of Thrones. I started reading it when it first came out and remember feeling depressed while reading it. The sense of despair throughout the first several books never appealed to me and I never finished reading the series.

Weldon Anderson is thirty-three years old and works as a RN; in the emergency department at Ocean Springs Hospital. Besides reading, he likes to fish and golf and is an avid sports fan. He recently moved back to the MS Gulf Coast after travel nursing for several years.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Plotting... a route through the bookstore

When my husband dropped me off at Barnes & Noble last weekend, he was worried that I wouldn't be able to entertain myself for possibly two hours while he ran his errands. I laughed, asking how much time he could spend in Home Depot. To which he responded, "Four hours, easily." I nodded. "Bookstores are my Home Depot, baby," I said. 
When he returned to collect me {and the eight new books I'd bought}, he asked about the books. That day, I had a non-fiction memoir, a middle-grade boys' book, a middle-grade girls' book, an adult fantasy, a classic, something semi-religious, and something from YA. This prompted him to wonder, based on the variety of genres I hit, how I chose to venture through the store. Did I have those books in mind and walk there purposefully, or did I just happen to walk past them in that section and they caught my eye? And what about J and M? Did their patterns match mine? 

Josh's prompt prompted us Peas to take a look at ourselves and our book-shopping patterns. So here we are!

{Below: A quick, rough sketch of my Barnes & Noble route...not to say that I don't venture into other sections now and then, of course}

Sometimes I enter the store with an idea of a book I'd like to search for, but more often than not, I've come just to browse and be surprised. {This is dangerous because I tend to buy more books when I don't have any in mind}.

An important part of my pattern is the effect of time constraints. Why? Because I gravitate toward the sections I want to peruse the longest, and that determines which direction I go.

When I first enter the store, I'm staring at ebooks, which I avoid like my grandma avoids email. {Yes, I'm a sentimental sap and I love my real, tangible books}. I've recently discovered a couple small tables of new release books tucked between the games and the coffee. It has an assortment of genres, and I find it gets me in an open and adventurous mood. {In fact, since I've been doing this, I've opened myself up a lot to genres I only occasionally wandered through}.

Once I've woven through the tables, I wander past the bestsellers shelf, curious as to whether my favorites are still there and if any of my lesser-known favorites have reached the spot they deserve. Then I hit the leatherbound classics, noting which I don't have, which I want, and any new titles I need to add to my wishlist.

From there, I waste little time getting to my favorite chunk of the store: Fiction. Now, while I am always eager to see what's new in YA, I have at times spent my entire time in that section. So, I will usually start in Sci-fi and Fantasy. {Part of this is because I'm waiting for Brent Weeks' second novel in his new series, and I know from experience with Way of Shadows that I will devour these books, so I will not read the first -- which I bought the first week it came out -- until I at least own the second one!} From here, I stalk methodically down every aisle until I reach romance and mystery, which, I find, either make me laugh {some of those romance covers... *eyeroll*} or don't catch my interest. {I'm working on this. Because I enjoy a good mystery on TV or in movies, so why wouldn't I like them in books, too?} Then I resume the shelf-by-shelf perusal when I hit general fiction.

Often, by the time I hit YA, you will inevitably find me scooting down the aisle on my ass, because I want to make sure I see all the books and it's SO much easier to check the bottom shelves when you aren't bent over at the waist.

Once I get back up, I detour through the young readers' section, hoping to score another fun or entertaining story like the gems I've picked up there in the past, and hoping also that I -- a grown, childless woman giggling at the backs of the books while I read them -- am not creeping out the moms or kids in the section with me.

Depending on where I am on time, I will repeat the process through the Fiction Chunk -- just in case I missed something -- and then head to the bargains/journals/stationery, where I bide my time until I get a call that Josh is headed my way. If I drove myself, I'll wander this section for however long my arms -- usually loaded down with books by then -- can endure. Then head to the checkout.

And there you have it! My Barnes & Noble road map :)

My book shopping experience is much different from A's. For starters, I don't avoid ebooks. Since I've literally run out of room in my house for more books, I must be selective with the physical books I bring into the fold. Therefore, most of my recent fiction purchases have come from the following route: 1) Log on to Barnes & Noble website. 2) Search for specific title/author. 3) Click "download." 4) Power up the Nook Color. 5) Read.

Now, even though I'm selective with my physical book purchases, this is not to say I don't go to the bookstore. I live in Mobile, Alabama and our B&N was an unfortunate causality of "downsizing" a few years ago. Therefore, we're left with two Books-a-Million stores and Bienville Books, a quirky indie store downtown specializing in mostly secondhand and antique books. I like Bienville Books even though I tend to avoid downtown Mobile like the plague for various reasons. (Namely, I drive a large SUV and parking in downtown anywhere is not large SUV friendly.) I've scored some really great antique and reference books from Bienville so I try to stop in whenever I'm downtown.

Books-a-Million is a different story. My normal routine with BAM is to hit the Sci-fi/Fantasy section first. Since it's next to the YA section, I usually cruise those aisles second. Then I backtrack to the General Fiction section. At this point, if my husband is with me, I tend to wonder where he's wandered off and go in search of him. My husband search path takes me through the discount/bargain/clearance and magazines and often ends in the computer books. (He's a geek. *eye roll*) If he's not in the computer section, I widen my search to the cookbooks and reference sections. Eventually we meet and unless I'm still in search of a specific book, we usually head to the cafe for coffee and checkout. I tend to avoid the middle school/young readers and religion sections unless I'm after a particular title. Just not my cup of reading tea.

That's my bookstore trips in a nutshell. Of course if I'm with my fellow Peas, these routes are subject to change...and much lingering and discussion in the aisles.

My book shopping experience is pretty indulgent. I primarily shop at my local B&N but sometimes venture toward the beach to the regional BaM. I'm even known to make a day trip to a neighboring cities to their Indie stores, often times on a whim. And everywhere I travel -- if there's a bookstore, I'm in it. I also shop online -- a lot. More than I care to admit. Enough that Ben, our UPS guy,  has an inkling when my latest pre-orders will arrive and says stuff like, "Hey, Chel. I think this is the one you've been waiting for." *hangs head* Yes. I'm on a first name basis with my UPS guy. And Carol, our mail lady, she's terrific. She parks the truck in front of my mailbox and hand carries my "hard to find" and "old book" purchases to the door. She's the best. Needless to say, I keep my finger pretty tight on the pulse of when my favorite authors' new releases drop and what the national book retailer buzz is humming about.

But my usual tour through the store? (Assuming I'm without spouse because he taps out after an hour...) I check my list on my handy iPhone -- a wish list. These are the books that are waiting for my next sum of book buying allowance to hit the bank. Often, those are the titles I seek out first as I hit those shelving areas. If nothing is currently on the list (which can happen sometimes) I head straight back to YA. I scan the shelves there, looking for unexpected authors (often adult genre authors publishing their first YA). This is a genre that intrigues me -- because this market is exploding. I'll also peruse the shelves for covers and titles that are different than I expect. I tend toward lots of adventure and genre-bending thriller/fantasies and gritty, emotional literary stories.

Once I've piled my arms with several YA titles, I walk my way through the general fiction section. This usually takes a long time. I tend to read blurbs, backs, first pages, and sometimes whole chapters. If it's a classic or a book some academic in my life swears I must read, I usually look up a few reviews on my iPhone. Yes. I am one of those people who sits on the floor, surrounded by books, in everyone's way... Googling. All the while, my book pile grows. Usually I resort to sliding the piles to the next aisle and apologizing to the other patrons and employees for taking up so much floor space.

Three of a dozen bookshelves the hubs has build. 
Unless I'm in a particularly lusty mood or looking for a recommended read... I skip the Romance section entirely. I tend to buy those titles on eBook. Next, I scan the new release shelves for Mystery/Thriller. By now I have two fair piles of books and I stack them at the end of the Sci/Fi Fantasy aisle. And here is where I stay until (much later) the desire to get a cup of coffee becomes too great.

At this point, I have to bring my stacks to the front counter. Usually the employees are obliging. I scan through my huge stacks, consider the monetary tally, and select a few to put back. Not before taking an iPhone photo of the cover so I can add it to my list.

With my few returns, I leave my culled stack with the kind and capable employee and return the books to their shelves myself. But I stop to get my coffee first. I return the titles to where I found them, often snapping photos of books I missed the first time through. Then, I wander back to the Young Reader section. Here, I spend another large swath of time reading blurbs, backs, first pages, and first chapters. And then I end up generally with a few more books in hand.

On a rare occasion, I swing into the History or Philosophy and Religion aisle. Sometimes even Poetry and Screenplays -- if I'm not tired yet. If there's something I have been thinking of or wondering about, I'll usually pick up a carefully selected title (carefully selected because I scan reviews and synopses online while sitting in the aisle).

On my way back to the counter... I finally skim by the Bestsellers shelves and tables. Normally, I've already read it, bought it long ago, or just have no interest at all. I run buy the New Releases table. Pick ups and photos often happen here too. Finally... I get back to the counter.

Three to six hours have passed. It varies on my energy level.

$150 to $300 later, my shopping trip is complete. Which is why I tend to go to the bookstore with my spouse or meet a friend with a low threshold for book shopping. But if left to my own devices, that's what happens. Thus, I try to keep my bookstore visits to once a month.

Next week starts the first of three Pea Prompts on genre and other nebulous bookish topics. Who will be up first? Not sure... we haven't decided. But it'll be great! See you then.

Peas Out. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alexis Read a Book

New review up at Witty Title Here! {Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved The U.S. Presidential Election From a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger}

Friday, June 1, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Marc Mullinex

For your pleasure, and with my dismay, today Inside the Pod at the Reader Roundtable we have Marc Mullinex. I was first introduced to Marc by complete accident. A long story short, it was all due to a tweet gone wrong and a result of my poor mastery of all things tech. He's British. And he can't help it -- for he was born that way. For almost two years, via social media, myself and the other Peas have bantered with and been assaulted by his dry wit and snark. He's a character for sure... and I had very little to do with the runaway train that ended up this blog post. I give you... MarcUpdates.

Marc: Well, hello there! Thanks for having me round. I must say the Blogʼs looking very shiny. Ooh, cookies... uh... I’m starting to feel tire...

(Marc wakes up with a bright light shining in his face.)

Marc: “Uh... what’s happening? Mickey?”

M: “Silence silly Brit! Answer the questions and we, the Ninja Peas, might let you out in one piece!”

Marc: “Uh... o.k.”

M: Question one. With so many books to read, why do you choose the books you do?

Marc: Mood. Mood plays a major part in what I want to read. If I’m being overwhelmed by the mundane, then I want something fantastic to lift me out it. If I’m down, I want something that will make me laugh, which is when I turn to Pratchett. Sometimes I just want some comfort reading, thatʼs when I turn to old favorites and sometimes itʼs plain old curiosity.

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

Marc: How has it changed? Well, its made traveling a lot easier. In the past any time I went anywhere I’d have a suitcase of books. Not these days. For the most part the majority of the books I buy are e-books, but I try to go with the most economical option. Often that means you can find me hunting in thrift stores and online second hand bookstores.

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do.

Marc: Um... Five books that stick with me. It varies a lot, but I’d say Her Majesty’s Wizard by Christopher Stasheff, And Eternity by Piers Anthony, Love Bites by Lynsay Sands, Guards! Guards! By Terry Pratchett and The Belgariad By David Eddings. Her Majesty’s Wizard because it deals with the world swap trope really well, And Eternity because it provides a fantastic unifying theory of evolution and creationism, Love Bites because it’s a really fun take on the traditional vampires. Guards! Guards! because it helps with that most maligned of fantasy tropes, The City Guard, the poor guys that the barbarian hero usually dispatched quicker then ale and The Belgariad because it’s one of the most enjoyable epic fantasies I’ve ever read.

M: Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you ended up becoming a reader?

Marc: I was encouraged from an early age to read, I started with British comics like The Beano And The Dandy, moved on to 2000AD and then moved into books and kept going. I had trouble reading as a kid, but my mum spent hours with me with flash cards helping to teach me in defiance of what the school had said.

M: What makes a book disappointing to you?

Marc: Hm... I think if it’s tired, worn out, riddled with clichés and repetition, that can really do me in. There are a series of books out there, where we are repeatedly told that so-and-so carries X, Y and Z and that substance A reminds them of person B. Enough already, we get it. We got it the first five times. Repeating it every other chapter book after book for five books is just annoying. Another thing that gets me is bad pacing and weak endings. If the pace isn’t at least reasonably consistent, I’m going to get bored. If I get bored, I’m not going to finish. Weak endings. If your book doesn’t so much as finish as wind down, leaving me unsatisfied, then the chances are I won’t buy the next one. Oh, and this is a biggie. If you’ve written a dozen books in a series, don’t finish one on a cliffhanger. That’s a cheap trick, you’re better than that.

M: If you see yourself as a genre specific reader, what about that genre keeps you coming back and why do you feel the others don't attract you?

Marc: Bit of a tough one this. I read a few genres, but they tend to overlap. Your traditional whodunits don’t generally have a whole lot of action, it’s all about the deduction. Your paranormal romances don’t always have a lot of deduction or action. No fiction based genre as a whole fails to completely attract me, but I do like my stuff to be removed from reality. For example, I’m not going to read a fictional book about someone’s life during WW2 and their family and all that. I need an element of the fantastic, be it spaceships, vampires or wizards with amusingly long beards.

M: Does the Internet (Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads), book reviews (blogs, Amazon, and B&N), or any media buzz influence your desire to read a book? How or how not?

Marc: Ha! If they did, then I should have read Twilight a dozen times by now. Reviews can help especially by someone that I know has similar tastes and opinions to me. However, too much social media can turn me right off a book. Authors of Twitter heed me! Spamming everyone to buy your book 30 times a day? Not a good idea!

M: What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before? And do you judge a book by its cover?

Marc: At the risk of sounding incredibly shallow, cover art goes one hell of a long way towards my choice. Other then that, I’ll go by the title or the description, if it sounds interesting, I’ll give it a shot. Sometimes, yes, I do judge a book by its cover. I know I have a preference of style when it comes to covers. Often the cover can be the tipping point on whether I’ll buy a book or go to the library. Awesome cover doesn’t always mean awesome book, but as the French say “The first bite is with the eye.” Meaning, if it doesn’t look good no one’s going to taste it to see.

M:Favorite Protagonist of all time. Why?

Marc: Batman. Because he’s Batman.(grins and ducks out of Mickeyʼs reach)While I do have a deep and possibly unhealthy love of Batman, I think I might be tempted to go with Ben Aaronovitchʼs Constable Peter Grant. He’s a fun character that is very down to earth and is doing his damnedest to deal with being dropped into a crazy world he wasn’t aware of. Sometimes he does better than others. I like that more than those that smoothly take it in their stride. Failing him, I’d have to go with Mercury Smith, I think he’s gr—Ow! Ow! Stop hitting me, Mickey, I get it! I get it! O.K., apparently, I’m not allowed to talk about that.

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain yourself.

Marc: There’s been quite a few books I haven’t finished over time. Lord Of The Rings was almost one of them. As I said earlier, if the pacing is off or the material fails to hold my interest or the book just keeps repeating itself ad nauseum then the chances are I’m not going to finish it. Alternatively, if I see a series going in a direction that I don’t care for, i.e, it changes from kick butt to nigh on constant paranormal sex... yeah, that’s an auto DNF.

M: Favorite villain of all time. Explain yourself. Marc: Favourite villain. This might technically be cheating, but I’m going to go with Jack the Ripper, no one really knows who he was, and he’s been written about so much in various fiction I think he’s outstripped his bloody origins. If that’s not allowed, I’ve got to go with the classic nemesis, the archetype of villainy, the professor of crime, Dr. James Moriarty. He’s everything you could want. Villainous, completely amoral, willing to do anything he has to achieve his end, no matter how many bodies pile up. As long as he gets what he wants that is all that matters to him.

M: What does reading give you in your life that nothing else can?

Marc: Space. It gives me the space to tune out the rest of the world and my own thoughts and just drop into another, often, simpler (but not always nicer!) world.

Marc: O.k., I’ve answered your questions now? Can I go? Why are you bringing that black hood over? What are you dommphe maple mhhmmff

(Marc wakes up several hours later, with his t-shirt on back to front, sitting on a roadside in Missouri with a voucher for a free happy meal that expired in 1986.)

Marc Mullinex (AKA MarcUpdates) lives in the United Kingdom. He plays with toy soldiers and pretends to write. He has a better collection of books then his local library (in some subjects). He’s grumpy, cantankerous, and highly opinionated. The Peas discovered and were discovered by him via Twitter and he has a talent for engaging them in snarky banter at any given moment through out the day.