Book blogging challenges

So I got this email solicitation for a book review from a marketing company that scorns the power of homework (you so need a tiger mother, peeps). A cursory glance at my blog would tell the most uninterested viewer that I am the wrong sort of reviewer for a work of religious (Christian) non-fiction.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post. I get that direct marketing can’t always be accurate (hello, spam inviting me to meet single girls in Ontario); it’s the part after the book description that made me gawk.  “If you are interested in reviewing this book, please email me your current mailing address, current blog subscribers, and estimated monthly visits.”

I thought the company was asking me to review the book, but apparently, I have to request to review the book they requested me to review, and back up my request with statistics.

“There is no expectation that the reviews you post will only be favorable.  Read the book, reflect on them [sic], and then post an authentic review.”

Ah, instructions on how to write a review. Just in case I wasn’t aware the procedure consisted of reading followed by reflection, terminating in review writing.

I was first angered and then amused, but now I’m mostly depressed. Is this what book blogging has come to? I can’t help but see this email as yet another manifestation of the devaluation of writing in general, and reviewing in particular. Reviewing is fast becoming a numbers game–more reviews on Amazon or Goodreads corresponds to more buzz for a book, period. Many book bloggers seem happy to suck on the teat of the publicity machine, while the PR companies are obviously delighted to score malleable reviewers who work for free (of course, there are many many honorable exceptions in both communities).

In sum, what we’re looking at is a successful business model for book publicity. And as a former MBA/banker, I can appreciate that. But lost in the numbers is the issue of the reviews themselves, which are often questionable in terms of both skill and integrity. I suspect authors find themselves squeezed in the middle–they need publicity to drive sales, but having their books randomly farmed out to uninterested or incapable reviewers must hurt.  I don’t know what the solution is, but I believe readers and writers deserve better than much of what’s going on today in the name of reviewing.

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And here’s some good stuff from the book blogging community–two great reading challenges from bloggers I know and like.

A Year of Feminist Classics features a discussion of classic feminist works, with the aim of  gaining “a better historical understanding of the struggle for gender equality, as well as a better awareness of how the issues discussed in these now classic texts are still relevant in our times.” The discussion is hosted by four bloggers and open to all, and there is  no obligation in terms of singing up for a particular book/date.  Here’s the list:

January: A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollestonecraft AND So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba
February: The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill
March: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
April: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
May: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
June: God Dies by the Nile by Nawal Saadawi
July: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
August: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
September: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
October: Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks AND Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism Anthology
November: Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
December: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

If you have an interest in feminism, and would like to talk about any of these books in a warm, welcoming atmosphere: look no further.

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February is Black History Month, and Reading in Color is running a great book discussion called African American Read-In (A Sit-In of Sorts), in conjunction with the Twenty-Second National African American Read-In. A discussion  about an African American YA novel will take place in late February; meanwhile, you can vote for the book you’d like to read, and the date when you’d like to read it.  Vote from the following six books:

Tyrell by Coe Both
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
Jumped by Rita Williams Garcia
Yummy by G. Neri
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott
When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright

Please join and support the online read-in!

Update: Bleeding Violet won the vote, and the discussion will take place on Feb 20. Please check Reading in Color for more details.