Today I’d like to welcome Mike Stafford to the blog. Mike is the first guest poster and hopefully the first of many.
Wednesday will be the regular guest post spot. If you want to guest post here, then please get in touch with me via email with your idea. I’d love to hear from you. Guests will get a link back to their blog/Amazon (If a writer)/Twitter. No commercial sites though please.
Anyway, back to Mike.
Mike has been a regular contributor over at Bookgeeks since January of 2011. He reads predominantly crime, and one day hopes to make the fabled transition from blogger to author. Today’s guest post has been written about how he chooses the books he reviews. This is the first in a two part guest spot. His second post will discuss how he actually goes about reviewing a book. A post I’m sure many readers and writers will be interested in.
Over to you Mike –
Ah, the agony of choice. Supermarkets, I can handle. Put me in front of a couple of thousand different brands of toothpaste, and I can make a decision inside ten seconds (they’re all pretty much the same, right?). When it comes to books though, I spend a worrying amount of my life fretting over which to take from the inbox next.
In my early days as a Bookgeek, it was easy. I kept up with my noble mission to respect the generosity of publishers, and read everything I was sent. Starting in January, I think I lasted until April, and to manage that I had to ignore my wife for ever increasing amounts of time. These days, the turn of a final page invariably sparks off a lengthy internal debate.
Mostly, this centres on what the role of the humble book blogger is. When I first became a Bookgeek, I’ll confess I was largely in it to sustain my book addiction. Last year I must have read books with a (high) street value of over £1,000, and I’m nowhere near the most voracious reader in the blogging community. Now though, the further I fall into the crime fiction wormhole, the more seriously I find myself taking the matter of choice. Take my current TBR pile, for example. As it stands, it boasts works from heavyweights such as Pelecanos, James Ellroy, Lynda La Plante and James M. Cain, as well as gifted newcomers like Kate Rhodes and Ryan David Jahn. I also have the new Geraint Anderson, whose crime debut I thoroughly enjoyed, and a collection of poems featuring work by a close friend.
Now, I don’t imagine James Ellroy cares a fig what some limey desk jockey makes of LA Confidential, and he certainly doesn’t need my help to sell books. I’m sure James M. Cain cares even less: being dead for four decades is hardly conducive to angst about one’s popularity. To me though, setting the heavy-hitters aside in favour of up-and-coming authors is attractive, but still arguably unfair. Outside the fiercely passionate cabal of enthusiasts that make up the blogging world, there is a very real audience who come to us for quality critiquing. This isn’t to say that my own work falls into that category, but I think it’s important for reviewers to have a solid grasp of the genre as an art form, with an understanding of its history, traditions, trends and key figures. After all, you wouldn’t take art-buying advice from someone who thought Mona Lisa was the name of a Simpsons character, so why fork out two hours’ pay for a book on the advice of someone who doesn’t know their Marlowe from their Morse?
Old versus new is far from the only distinction though. I’ve tried never to lose sight of the fact that publishers are taking a hit, however small it may seem, every time they post a book to me (I know how much that costs from shipping some across the country for World Book Night – ouch!). Orion and Headline, to name but two, publish some absolutely phenomenal books, which I could quite happily read 24/7. Still, they’re not the only publishers generous enough to fill my doormat, and as much as is possible I try and ensure a decent balance. In addition to that, keeping up with buzz from other reviewers is always a challenge. There is always a nagging sensation that I might be missing something big. I’m still kicking myself at having not got around to reading the acclaimed Before I Go To Sleep, and I’ve no doubt many 2012 novel-of-the-year candidates are passing me by as we speak.
Of course, there’s always the possibility I’m being a tiny bit precious about this, and the obvious solution would seem to be to go with my gut. The problem here is that, if I left decisions regarding books up to my gut, I’d have kicked my 9-5 job into touch a long time ago and decided to eke out a living writing book reviews in exchange for food and shelter. I genuinely do love books, and for all the agonies it causes, the TBR pile is one of my favourite things in life. Being able to offer encouragement and exposure, however cosmically insignificant, to a debut author, is a fantastic pleasure, easily on a par with thumbing through the work of the greats. My gut is entirely useless on matters of book choice – I want to read them all!
In fact, it’s high time I got back to reading…