Tag: discussion

Discussion: Libraries

Posted 17 December, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I’m a pretty unabashed lover of libraries. Free books! And so many of them! Okay, I sometimes have trouble finding the exact books I want, but I do get exposed to all kinds of books I might not otherwise have tried. And, well, having four different local library cards helps, too. If the most local library doesn’t have a book, the next one out just might (without having to figure out the individual library’s interlibrary loan system).

And it’s great, of course, to support librarians and prove to councils that people need and use libraries. Especially given the fact that I was on the committee of and volunteered at a community library — a noble endeavour and one that did a lot of good, but also made it obvious just how important funding and backup are in running an effective and useful library. Energetic volunteers aren’t really a replacement for money, and community-led libraries are limited (though better than nothing, by a long long way!).

On the other hand, I have an entire shelf of library books, menacing me slightly with their due dates and sheer profusion. The problem with libraries is that they tempt me to bite off more than I can chew, and unlike the books I own, they don’t wait patiently. So currently I’m in the process of whittling down the number of library books hanging out on my shelves. It’s going slowly… I’m on about 30 left, though, from 60ish to begin with, so I guess I’m doing okay.

Thank goodness libraries let you renew loans…

All the same, it’s important to remember that libraries are pretty great. Librarians, you have my love!

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Discussion: Real Life

Posted 22 October, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

So both last week’s post and my question about prompts for discussion posts raised similar issues: how much do you share about yourself on your blog, and how much are you interested in other people sharing?

Personally, I’m relatively open about identity things (mental illness, being queer, being Welsh, etc) and share some snippets about my life (e.g. the bunnies, a couple of my wedding photos), while keeping it fairly low-key — just the intro to my Weekly Roundups or an aside during a review. I figure you’re here for the books, and though it’s useful to know that I have two English lit degrees in the bag and a biology degree pending, or that I’m queer, or whatever, because it informs what I read and how I review things, it’s not like you want to know what I ate for breakfast or the details of my gym routine.

On the other hand, some people think that even what I share is too much — that one should let their reviews speak for themselves, and not reveal identity, political affiliations, etc.

There’s a few different aspects of that for me: one is that I’ve never had much luck hiding my orientation or my interests. I was forcibly outed when I was thirteen and the cat’s never gone back into the bag, and I think I prefer it that way — there’s no emotional blackmail if I don’t have secrets. (The relief when I told my grandmother I was married, my goodness!) Another aspect of that is that I want people to know I’m queer because it normalises it, for people who’ve never knowingly encountered queer people and for younger queer people who might think they’re alone.

And finally, I think it’s important to know where someone stands in order to properly contextualise their reactions to books. If someone reviews a book that happens to include a gay couple and they give it two stars for “disgusting content”, then if you know they’re homophobic you know that it may not actually be about the quality of the book. Likewise, if I review a book with a serial killer and say that I found it annoying because the serial killer had OCD and that was meant to be a “warning sign” of their mental state, you know that I have OCD and this kind of thing is bound to infuriate me. If that’s not a bugbear of yours, you know that you might well enjoy the book more than I did.

Anyway, so I think I’m likely to keep on as I am in terms of personal commentary. You’ll get to know me a little through what I say about books, and you’ll know when I have an amazingly cute bunny picture — but I’m unlikely to do a weekly feature on what’s up in Nikkiland. The blog is primarily about books, after all. But if you feel super strongly about wanting to know more about me as a person and how I’m doing, maybe I can make a point of including a little more detail in my weekly roundups.

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Discussion: A Fast Read

Posted 27 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I can’t remember which author it is, but there’s someone on Twitter who gets deeply offended whenever someone says, “Hey, I found your book a really fast read, totally unputdownable!” They completely take it as an insult, because they don’t want to be the kind of author who writes books that might be classed as easy to read.

Authors: please don’t do this. If I read your book fast, it is a compliment, and you’re just willfully taking offence if you decide that it isn’t. I’m a fast reader anyway, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t take in what I’m reading or appreciate your subtleties. How fast I read a book is much less important than how long it stays with me afterwards: there are books which take me months to read and feel like a total chore — do you really want to be one of those?! Because if your book is one of those, I can almost guarantee you… I don’t like it that much.

(There are some exceptions, mood reading and such. But in general…)

Now, there is a time and a place for close-reading. 1) A literature degree, 2) understanding how something is put together because it’s just that fascinating, and 3) you enjoy doing it. I’ve done close-reading for all three reasons — it’s not an impossible thing to hope that someone might do at some point — but most readers aren’t interested in doing that, and most of us just read at our own speed, and savour the book (or not) in our own way.

It’s a compliment, I swear. Chill.

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Discussion: Half Stars

Posted 20 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

It’s come up a couple of times lately when I’ve rated a book — I experience a fleeting wish for half stars. I used to be pretty active in the Goodreads Feedback Group, and that was perennial plea: give us half stars! And I don’t really actually get it, most of the time, if I’m honest. I mean, the Goodreads rating system goes like this:

5 stars: it was amazing
4 stars: I really liked it
3 stars: I liked it
2 stars: it was OK
1 star: terrible

I can’t remember if that’s the exact wording or not, but you get the gist. Now I don’t really see how that leaves room for intermediates (unless you’re just not using the scale at all, but then you can do whatever you like anyway and state that you’re awarding half stars in your review). Making it more granular makes it harder to decide, for me at least — and yet the cry was always, “well, I need half stars because I can’t decide between four and five!” To me, I don’t see how that helps: now you have more stars and they have ambiguous meanings (“I half really liked it!”) and surely that could lead to infinite regression. Quarter stars, eighth stars, sixteenth stars…

Nah, I’ll stick to full stars. If I was rating something to suggest whether a publisher should pick it up, maybe there’d be more need for precision. But it’s not like the ratings are actually precise anyway: how many times can you say you liked two books exactly the same?

I just don’t get it, I guess. A simple five star scale is enough for me in terms of giving a sense of where I am on the continuum — and having the stars weighted towards the positive end makes sense, too, because it’s not as important to know how much someone disliked a book as how much someone liked a book.

Probably this is all just me, but hey, now you know why I don’t use half-stars and rarely talk about wanting to use them: if I do, I really am on the fence, and usually it’s because I think a book deserves a higher score for technical merit, but I didn’t like it. (And all my star ratings are based on liking, so giving some things four stars is just lying, no matter how technically brilliant I think they are.)

So how do you rate books? Do you have a system, or do you go with your gut?

And hey, happy birthday to me!

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Discussion: Who are reviews for?

Posted 13 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

I saw this on Twitter (this thread) and immediately had a ton of thoughts, especially after I saw the tweet claiming that reviews (in general) are for everyone: authors, readers, other reviewers… And in one way, that’s true; there’s no way I can stop authors coming to my blog and reading my reviews, and maybe they’ll be useful to authors too! I don’t begrudge them to authors, if they’ve got thick skins and can keep themselves from arguing with me.

But. With every piece of writing, you have an audience in mind. That’s part of what makes the writing effective: you tailor it to the people you want it to be useful to. It’s no use me posting here talking about the MIC of bedaquiline against Mycobacterium tuberculosis — you’re a smart bunch, so I’m sure some of you know what the MIC is and what it’s about, but it’s simply not relevant to most people — and likewise there’s no point in me using a chatty style in my dissertation. The audience distinction between other readers and the author of the thing being reviewed is not necessarily that large, but I’m definitely not keeping the author in mind when I review. I’m talking about what I liked and what I didn’t, and often don’t even touch on anything beyond personal taste. Now, unless an author’s planning to write a book just for me, that’s not exactly useful, is it?

Now, reading the actual thread, I don’t think me and the writer of that thread are actually too far apart in our opinions. I don’t disagree that reviews are open to and worth scrutinising, etc, etc. But all the same, I have an audience in mind for my reviews and it’s not authors (and it’s not really non-readers, either: I don’t see why a non-reader would be interested in my reviews). So sure, my reviews can be read by anyone who comes along and maybe they’ll be of interest or even useful for people whom I don’t expect to find them so.

But still, saying my reviews are for anybody I don’t think they’re for is putting a bit much of a burden on the rather slender shoulders of my typically 200-word-ish summaries of what I thought of a book. And I don’t think most people who are saying that reviews aren’t for authors or aren’t for xyz are saying that their reviews can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t be read by those people — they’re saying, fucking Christ, will authors please stop commenting on my reviews to browbeat me because I didn’t like their book. So in that sense, yeah. Reviews are for other readers. Fight me.

(Please don’t.)

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Discussion: Rites of the Reader

Posted 6 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

Because I love my puns.

I don’t know about other people, but over time I’ve had quite a few different quirks and rituals about reading (hi, my name is Nikki, I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies). When I was a kid, I actually used to read sitting on the staircase (I don’t know why) and so the ritual was to move down a step with every chapter finished. I got through many a Famous Five book that way. The only hitch was that I couldn’t leave the stairs until I’d finished a book. That could be… awkward.

I also had a thing where I couldn’t stop on an odd-numbered chapter, or in the middle of a page. (But for some reason, it was okay to stop at the end of the first paragraph on the page, as long as it was a continuation from the previous page, and not a new paragraph.) And then there was the thing with putting bookmarks ahead of myself in the book, and then I couldn’t stop until I got to them.

I’m mostly over all of those now, actually. I do still prefer to finish a chapter, but I can be pulled away from my book when necessary. I do like putting a bookmark ahead of myself to mark a stopping point or something that I want to get to. My main rituals surrounding reading now, though, are “bookbed” — me and my wife go to bed early to read — and the fact that I inevitably can’t sleep when she does, and so normally stay awake long into the night reading! I can’t really think of anything else.

So what’re your little quirks — the things you have to do when reading, or your ways of storing books, or… anything like that?

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Discussion: Rereading

Posted 23 July, 2018 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

I’ve probably written about rereading books here before, but it bears talking about again. I can’t understand the people who feel it’s a waste of time — it seems like hubris, to imagine that for every book you read, you get absolutely everything out of it on the first try and never need to read it again. I’m an English Literature grad, and I wouldn’t claim that — and in my Natural Sciences degree, I wouldn’t presume to think I understood most papers until a third or fourth reading, though granted they tend to be technical.

I mean, that’s the fancy excuse for rereading: I want to get everything I can out of it. (And for some books that’s definitely true: I’m still getting new stuff out of The Lord of the Rings and The Dark is Rising to chew over now, and I don’t know how many times I’ve read them.) It’s a good reason, but honestly, I don’t want it to eclipse the real reason I might reread a book: because I feel like it. Because I want to revisit that world. Because it was just that good the first time and I want to re-experience it. Because I need to refresh my mind before I read the sequel.

I mean, if you don’t enjoy rereading, then that’s one thing — but if it’s just because there’s so many books and so little time, well, that’s going to be true whether you reread or not. If you feel like rereading, why not? Again it comes down to the principle I keep reminding myself of: I read for fun. I don’t read to hold the record of the most unique books read in a single lifetime, or have an impressive list of all the classics checked off. What’s the point?

There is a flipside: you can read a book until it’s too predictable, too worn through in your mind. The best books can survive this, but even a good book can get a bit threadbare. (Good Omens, I’m looking at you.) But then it’s not so fun anymore, so the fun principle still holds.

So yeah. For my money, go reread books until your physical copies are floppy and faded with age and they fall open on your favourite bits. Talk about books you’ve reread until people are sick of hearing about it (I won’t get sick of hearing about it). Take any excuse if rereading is something you enjoy. You don’t owe those other books a thing.

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Discussion: Book Fandom Friends

Posted 16 July, 2018 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

This week’s topic is about the friends we make through our blogs! Or really, the fact that we don’t know too much about each other sometimes — I feel like I know some of your tastes so well and know exactly where we dovetail in terms of what we each enjoy, but I don’t know where you’re from or whether you’re married or what you do for a living or… Sometimes, it feels like I know you so well on the level of how you respond to books, it’s a shock to realise I have no idea if you have siblings or whether you live in Montana or on the moon.

So! Here is a basic profile of some things that are important about me; does any of it surprise you? What would you like to share with me in return? (Don’t feel obligated to share the same stuff — whatever you want to reveal.)

Name: Nikki
Age: 28
Birthday: 20th August
Location: LeuvenBelgium, but only for another 15 days
Living with: Wife and six bookcases
Siblings: One sister, one dude I adopted as my brother because we needed to stick together
Marital status: Thank god she reads books too
Pets: Two rabbits, Breakfast and Hulk
Job: Freelance transcription and website support; just finishing up a full time degree (my third!) in biology
Ebook or dead tree: Both, either, depends on my mood
Night owl or morning lark: Night owl
Favourite bookshop: The American Book Center in Amsterdam
Favourite animals: Hippos, giraffes, and now rabbits
Other hobbies: Doing degrees, playing video games, crocheting, buying more books to read

That’s all a bit daft and probably doesn’t help, so hey, ask me anything you want to know! I might even answer. I love our community; let’s make it a little bit closer yet (even though I feel like I know enough about you to know we’ll get along if I know your taste in books). <3

And hey, how do you feel about the whole blog thing? Do you feel like you get to know people through their books? Do you sometimes wish you knew other folks better? Or are the books enough?



Discussion: Hugo for Best Series

Posted 25 June, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

I ended up having an interesting chat with one of my colleagues from Beeminder a few days ago, which prompted me to write this down as a post idea. We both follow the Hugos and try to vote, or at least decide how we would vote, and he mentioned being torn on the subject of the Hugo for Best Series.

To refresh our memories, here’s the requirements for the Best Series award:

“The best science fiction or fantasy series of at least 3 volumes and 240,000 words, with a work published in the prior calendar year.”

In some ways, it does seem a little unbalanced to have a whole series being judged at once. Sometimes the first book is amazing and the most recent book ruins everything, or vice versa, but you still want to reward the worthy book. Sometimes a series just by virtue of being a popular or long-running series gets a huge advantage — think of the Wheel of Time, for example: people were worried that it would win by default by just having had a lot of time to attract fans who would vote for it. (That didn’t turn out to be the case, though.)

In other ways, well, I love the idea of taking a step back once a series is over and thinking about whether it really hung together as a series, whether the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. There are some stories where the ending just turns everything else on its head, and I’d give all the awards to a series that really got me that way.

And yet, that’s not what the award is for: it doesn’t specify the series must be over, just that there must have been an installment published in the prior calendar year. That for me is the downfall of the series Hugo: instead of being about awarding something to a series that was really great as a whole, it becomes an award for a series which people are excited about. You have to start thinking about it in terms of just the last book, whatever that was, because you don’t know how everything is going to come together at the end.

That said, I’m really torn about the choices this year. I love both Marie Brennan’s books and Robert Jackson Bennett’s books, and I’d love to see both of them win all the awards ever — and in this case they’re both completed series, too, so they won’t have another chance next year (another thing I’m not sure I love about the series Hugo — is there anything stopping the same regular series being nominated again and again?). Gaaah.

So what do you think? Pro-Best Series award? Anti-Best Series award? Completely torn? Don’t care about the Hugos? (I’ll grant this post is, after all, really only relevant to my SF/F buddies!)

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Discussion: Interacting with Authors

Posted 18 June, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

So today’s discussion post is something that used to come up all the time when I was on Goodreads, and has happened a couple of times here: interacting with authors. On Goodreads it was nearly always a bad experience, though Tony Hays (author of Arthurian mysteries) was great and a couple of others too, plus of course authors who just wanted to offer me a copy of their books to review. But quite often the author would come by to argue with my rating.

There’s always exceptions, so it’s hard to come up with simple rules. But here’s a couple I think authors could stick to:

  • Don’t react to reviews unless people have indicated they’re willing to discuss them with you.
  • Don’t spam people with offers of copies to review.
  • Don’t spam people with anything.
  • Don’t make everything about your book — other interactions may not seem like they’re directly gonna sell your book, but I’m more likely to buy your book if I’ve had meaningful interactions with you. Even if that’s about other books. Maybe especially if that’s about other books.
  • Remember that nobody owes you interaction, nobody owes you an explanation, nobody owes you their time.

Buuut sometimes I think reviews could use some rules in reply. Mostly I think they’re common sense, but then someone always comes along and ruins my idealistic dreams. So hey:

  • Don’t beg for freebies.
  • Don’t draw the author’s attention to a review unless they’ve indicated they’re interested in reading reviews of their work.
  • Remember there’s a difference between the author’s voice and their character’s voice and even, depending on the narratorial choices they’ve made, their real opinions.
  • Don’t, for goodness’ sake, proudly announce that you’ve pirated the author’s book. There are some authors who don’t mind this much (Cory Doctorow) or have found that their books sold better after one was available free (Neil Gaiman). But for the most part, you’re telling them that they’ve lost revenue. Even if it wasn’t illegal (it is), then telling people you’ve pirated is just poor taste.
  • Review the book, not the author. (It’s fair not to read something because the author is a raging homophobe, but then you don’t need to review the book, because even doing that is getting them oxygen to keep on raging to an audience.) Sometimes biographical details can be important in understanding a book, and sometimes you’re just making douchy assumptions or being a bully.

…Not that this is an exhaustive list (either of them, actually), but these are some of my pet hates.

How about you?

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