Welcome, returning and new readers alike, to Curiosity Quills’ weekly foray into the wild lands of book review sites! Review blogs are well established by now as one of the best and most popular routes by which readers find recommendations for good quality books in the endless slush pile of new and otherwise unknown authors.
This is word of mouth, made grand and far-reaching by the power of the internet age, and in this column we will spotlight a different blog each week to talk about what they review, how and why, helping you find new places to scour for awesome books.
This week, to celebrate the start of National Poetry Month, I’d like to introduce Serena Agusto-Cox of poetry and fiction blog Savvy Verse & Wit. I first had the pleasure of meeting Serena through her participation in the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour earlier this year. She also co-authors the rather wonderful War Through the Generations and is an all-round productive lady.
CQ: To start us off, can you tell us a bit about your site and what new readers can expect?
SAC: Savvy Verse & Wit is mainly a book review blog, with a sprinkling of interviews, reading challenges and events, and some guest posts from authors and giveaways. I often use the site to explore my own reading and thoughts about books, and to entice others to read more poetry and read more outside of their comfort zones. I also love bringing recaps of local Washington, D.C., and Maryland events to my readers, though I’ve been known to recap some broader events like Book Expo America. I love discussion, so I’d love to hear from commenters about what they thought about the books.
CQ: What made you start the blog?
SAC: I started the blog as a way to keep track of my books and what I thought about them…to talk about them with others since I didn’t have a successful book club to share them with. That was back in 2007.
CQ: How long is your To Be Read pile at the moment? Is a large TBR pile exciting or daunting?
SAC: I’m probably one of the few book blogs that does not have a physical or even “virtual” list of TBR books; I have a list of the books I want to read on GoodReads, but it is far from complete given the books I’ve collected over the years that sit on my shelves. I don’t think much about the pile…I tend to just select books as I am in the mood to read them.
CQ: Savvy Verse & Wit reviews poetry, which is quite unusual. What have your experiences been, and how is it different to reviewing novels?
SAC: I’ve read poetry for as long as I can remember, and that’s mostly because my Nana loved it as well and often put poetry in my hands at a young age. I also had great teachers who loved poetry and never once said that an interpretation was incorrect, so long as you could support it through the text and images in the poem. As for reading and reviewing poetry collections, it is daunting for me because I’m a poet and I understand how hard it is when someone does not understand your poem and you are left trying to explain it to them. However, I also think by discussing poems and my experiences with them, I can demonstrate that they are like novels in that they tell a story. While the stories are oftentimes more personal, they are still there for readers to understand and enjoy and to take away something deeper that they can apply to their own lives and perspectives. Reviewing novels is not easier by any stretch of the imagination because there are devices and elements in novels that authors try that they think will work and don’t on occasion, which makes readers confused or less enthusiastic. The same can be said for poetry.
CQ: There seem to be some intentions toward making Savvy Verse & Wit self-funding in the form of a cafe-press site and a donation button. Have you had any success turning the blog into a paying hobby, and is there any advice you’d give to bloggers attempting the same thing?
SAC: I would love to earn money with the blog to make it self-funding, but that is not happening. Amazon affiliate links are where most of the earnings come from and it does not even cover the self-hosting costs. Cafe Press has not earned a dime, but there was one occasion where I did receive a donation and I am still awed by it. I honestly have no advice because it hasn’t been a successful part of blogging for me, but I’d love to hear if others have advice.
CQ: What was your hidden gem of 2011 – the book you hadn’t been heard of till an author/publisher asked you to review it or a friend shoved a copy under your nose?
SAC: O gosh, the hidden gem for me in 2011? I think that would have to be We the Animals by Justin Torres, which was a book I wouldn’t have picked up if it weren’t for Ti’s review at Book Chatter. She said that she had mixed feelings about the book, but the writing won her over….I just had to know what made the writing enough to overcome her reservations about recommending the book.
CQ: Conversely, was there a book were you really looking forward to and hyped for, and then didn’t really enjoy?
SAC: Of the books I read in 2011 that I looked forward to, the one that didn’t live up to the hype for me was Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate, which I read as part of an online book club. There were too many POVs and too heavy a focus on racial bias or perceived racial bias as a motivation for how the main character, Josie Henderson, reacted to everything. Here’s what I said in my review about it, “Meanwhile, there seems to be a particular emphasis on race, but its connection to the addiction story line is not clearly drawn and leaves readers wondering what truths Southgate is trying to uncover. It almost feels as though race is a crutch being used by the main character to justify her actions, which is bothersome.”
CQ: You do author interviews as well as reviews. Are these fun to do? Which authors’ answers really stick out in your memory?
SAC: I love doing interviews with authors and poets; to get inside each person’s writing process is to discover another technique. I don’t really have any answers stick out, but broadly speaking, I enjoy the wide range of answers to questions about whether they like quiet or music when writing and some say they enjoy it but only with certain writing projects. I also love the wide range of perspectives I receive from poets on whether or not they have an obligation to dispel myths about the inaccessibility of poetry and how they would go about tackling that problem.
CQ: And finally, use this space to give a shout-out to one of your own favourite book blogs.
SAC: I have so many favorite blogs, but I want to mention just a few:
Anna at Diary of an Eccentric has a unique combination of reviews on her blog, with some of her favorite books set during WWII and those that are inspired or continue Jane Austen’s stories. I love that her reviews are plain spoken without being snarky or rude to the authors. Her reviews have expanded my knowledge of WWII and the pervasiveness of the Nazi regime and called my attention to more fun Austen novels. Plus, she’s been my buddy for about 10+ years.
Jill of Rhapsody in Books makes me think — all of the time — when I read her reviews, which are often full of links to other information about the topics discussed in the books and she’s really got a knack for writing up intelligent discussions of books that she dislikes and backs up those statements with not only text from the books but also other resources that refute claims made in the books (particularly for non-fiction titles). I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I love that she makes me want to read it and occasionally, she convinces me to in just a few words. We often have similar thoughts about books (i.e. Martha Southgate’s book), but sometimes we disagree and that’s OK too. She strives for intelligent conversation.
Ti of Book Chatter often calls my attention to books that are outside my comfort zone. She often reads books that are unsettling and disturbing, like We the Animals, but these are the books I should be reading because they make me think and question my own perspective on the world. She reminds me of myself in that I attempt to call readers’ attention to poetry as a way of broadening their horizons — she does that with literary fiction reviews. I appreciate her reviews and recommendations even more.
Janel of Janel’s Jumble is a different blog in that reviews are fewer than they have been in the past, with a greater focus on her writing. She writes excellent flash fiction and short stories, and reading about her own writing/publication journey has inspired me to begin again with my own poetry. It also reminds me that there are “real” people behind the words that we read between the covers of these published books and that they struggle with the stories they create. These people have put their heart and soul into their books, and they should be commended for that even if their book didn’t suit my tastes or mood or included devices and language that left me confused.
Other blogs I could go on and on about include Wendy at Caribousmom , Kathy at Bermudaonion, Dawn at She Is Too Fond of Books, Sandy at You’ve Gotta Read This!, and Staci at Life in the Thumb.
Well! That was a flexible definition of ‘one’, Serena! It’s fine, we forgive you.
If you’d like you blog featured on the Book Blog Spotlight, email me at email@example.com