Tag: discussions

Discussion: What to discuss?

Posted October 8, 2018 by Nicky in General / 5 Comments

I know, this is kind of cheating. But I really was wondering — what kinds of topics would you like to see me write about? Is there anything I haven’t talked about related to books, comics, genre fiction or blogging that you’d like to see me write about? Right now my list of prompts is empty, and my brain is totally blank.

In apology for the threadbare discussion post, here’s one of my buns in their new hammock:



Discussion: How Do You Review?

Posted October 1, 2018 by Nicky in General / 13 Comments

I might have posted about this before, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve yet hit upon a way to review books that works for every book, and that really satisfies me looking back. After a while I read back some of my reviews and I’ve been so vague about what the book was about that it doesn’t remind me (although I can always tell whether I liked the book or not — but that usually sticks with me anyway) and a lot of my reviews come out the same. The past week I’ve started trying to be more descriptive: set the scene a bit more, for one thing, particularly because I don’t include the publisher’s summary when I post a review. I still don’t have a set procedure for myself, though — honestly, writing to a checklist makes my reviews feel all the same in another way, and makes the whole process even more mechanical and wooden.

How I go about writing reviews, generally… hmm: first, a sentence or two about how I came to pick up the book, or how I felt about doing so. ‘This book has been really hyped for months, so I finally succumbed when I saw it at the library’ — that kind of thing. Then I’m now trying to get in a bit of description — the major ideas of the book and what I think about that and the setting… I don’t want to put in spoilers, but I do try to give some idea of how it develops. And then last, what jumped out at me, for good or ill? Characters, plot points, did it remind me of something, did it go off the rails… And finally, I try and comment on who I think might like it, if the rest of my review hasn’t made it obvious. And at the ending, at the request of some of my earliest blog readers, a star rating out of five.

With non-fiction, of course, it’s a bit different; I try to explain why I’m interested and what my existing level of knowledge is, the stuff the book covers, whether the writing style is clear, and then maybe in the end who I’d recommend it for.

Of course, every so often I’ll lose my head and do something different, maybe even write a little story. But for the most part, the above is what I try to do, or am trying to do now.

So what do you put into your reviews?

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Discussion: Keeping Books

Posted September 24, 2018 by Nicky in General / 9 Comments

Do you hoard your books? Or do you keep everything you’ve ever bought in a massive book hoard?

While I do have quite the book hoard (ahem), it’s mostly books I haven’t read yet, or intend to read again. I try not to be overly sentimental, or precious about having spent money: even having paid full price for a book, I’m still quite happy to let it go, preferably to a charity shop or a library if I can’t recoup much of the cost. (There was a store in Belgium that bought a lot of my second-hand books as they were in good condition and in English, which people do want in Belgium but can get very expensive. I doubt that’s going to be as easy now I’m back in the UK full time!) Even having received it as a gift, I’m in line with Marie Kondo on this one: the purpose of the gift has been fulfilled, and it’s no disrespect to the gift to hand it on where it can be enjoyed more. In the case of books I bought myself, I’ve supported the author and now handing on their book has a chance of introducing someone else to their works for the first time.

I do keep a fair number of books, though. You can bet I still have Ancillary Justice and Assassin’s Apprentice and The Grand Sophy and Gaudy Night… and a whole succession of other books. If I’m pretty sure I’ll want to reread it someday, I’ll keep it. After all, there’s no point in buying it twice (though I have done that in the case of ebooks, to have a handy e-copy). Still, if it’s easy to get from the library and it wasn’t a 4-5 star read, I probably won’t keep it even if I could see myself rereading it (e.g. to finish the series). I’m not much for keeping books for pretty covers, either.

Personally, I have limited space (alas) and I always need room for more books. Donating them (or sometimes selling them, or giving them to a friend) is the best way to keep my library rotating. Okay, financially I shudder to think of the turnover, but the joy I get out of it is more than enough.

So how about you? Chronic keeper? Or do books barely touch the shelves before they’re out again?

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Discussion: Shelving

Posted September 17, 2018 by Nicky in General / 8 Comments

So I’m in the new flat and getting everything sorted, and of course the big question arises: how should I categorise my books?! I know some people who don’t bother, or even weirder to me, sort them via totally arbitrary criteria like spine colour, or the size of the book.

To me, the whole point of the shelves is to make the books accessible, so it needs to be useful as well. My books get roughly separated by genre and then alphabetised by the author’s surname — and within an author, I tend to go by publication order if I’m feeling really obsessive. Series definitely need to be together and sorted in order! Size and colour don’t matter to me, unless they don’t fit on the shelf, in which case taller books do go on a separate, taller shelf.

The breakdown for my books is pretty unsurprising: there’s four bookcases in the living room full to the brim with fantasy and sci-fi…

There’s a half-size bookcase in my office which is two thirds full of pop history books…

Comics go on the unit above, and I do have a separate section for library books as well…

Then the full size bookcase behind me is a bit of a miscellanea: a few shelves of crime fiction, some historical fiction, some romance, and then two shelves of pop science.

So how do you categorise your books? Please tell me it’s not by colour… (I mean, I kid. Do what you like. But what earthly use is that?!)


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Discussion: Too Many Books At Once

Posted September 10, 2018 by Nicky in General / 14 Comments

Too many books spoil the broth? Hmm… not quite right. Well, I mean, they would, but it’s not quite in the spirit of the proverb.

…Anyway, this week’s discussion post is about reading multiple books simultaneously. I know a lot of people hate doing that, feeling that they lose the thread of the plot or there’s just too much to pay attention to, and I get it. I just can’t sit still for long enough — I’m very much a mood reader, and that means if a book is taking me ages and isn’t something I’m super in the mood to read, I’ll pick up something else to fill in the gaps. The problem occurs when I then pick up another book to supplement that, and… on and on it goes.

Personally, I think you all know my Golden Rule of Reading: have fun, and don’t ever let it become a chore. I did try to reduce the number of books I had on the go at once, because sometimes it is a little stressful or I end up not making progress on a book for ages even though I was enjoying it… but overall, I prefer to give myself the flexibility to just put a book down and come back later, because I don’t ever want to feel resentful about reading or annoyed that I’m dying to pick up Book X but I’m stuck on Book Y. I don’t think it’d work if I read books all in the same genre — they might blur into each other — but maybe it helps that I’m all over the reading map.

So yeah, I refuse to have shame about my currently-reading pile. Vive la stack!

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Discussion: Buying a Series

Posted September 3, 2018 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

As with a lot of my discussion posts, this is basically prompted by authors posting on Twitter. In this case, authors are often to be found urging you not to wait for a series to be over before buying their books. There’s solid reasons for that, of course — if people don’t buy the first book in a series, publishers are probably not going to bother taking the risk of publishing the second book — let alone commit to an extended series in hopes that in ten years or so, once it’s complete, people will finally flock to buy the thing.

As a reader, though, I find authorial reproach on this topic… ugh, irritating isn’t the word, because it sounds unfair. But to me, it’s also unfair to expect readers to make an investment in a series right out of the gate, without it even being clear when the next books will come out, how long it’s going to take, how long the series might be, whether things are planned in advance… I would never bother to read the first book of a fantasy trilogy when it’s just the debut novel, for certain: I don’t want to be stuck in Scott Lynch-esque limbo. (I’m with Neil Gaiman — [author name] is not your bitch — but it’s been disappointing as a fan. And in that case, it wasn’t even after the debut novel that things slowed down. There were two books out in reasonably quick succession; it looked like a good bet!)

And of course, I don’t want to buy a book that I’m not going to read until I know when the next one is out. I have a backlog of over a thousand books; if nothing else, I don’t want to purchase something in order to have it sit there for five years inflating my counts and clogging my shelves.

Putting up a discussion post might imply I have an answer, but I really don’t. I don’t have a solid policy: I’ll buy a debut novel if it looks interesting, and I might even read it and risk spending five years waiting for the next book. But it’s something I really would like to balance out somehow: authors’ need for an audience, my desire to feel that I’m not gambling on the next book ever existing…

So hey, what do you guys do? Buy the first book and not read it? Buy the first book and read it and hope to goodness the next comes soon? Stubbornly hold out for the series’ end?

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Discussion: The Rights of the Reader

Posted July 30, 2018 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

I’m fairly sure a lot of people have heard of Daniel Pennac’s book, The Rights of the Reader, maybe without knowing quite where it comes from (since the book itself is originally in French). Quentin Blake’s illustrations help with that, given the posters of the rights plus his illustrations that you can get, and I know I have seen those around.

Anyway, if you’re curious you can read my review of the book here, which is mostly about getting kids reading instead of the rules’ general applicability, but this post is actually about the rights themselves. And here they are, illustrated by Quentin Blake (click to embiggen):

  1. The right not to read.
    Seems like good sense to me. Who wants to feel forced to read? There are some situations where I guess you do have to read the book, like literature classes. Even there, I think there should be room for wriggling. I did a crime fiction course at Cardiff University, and one of the books included was a transphobic, rapey mess with tortures lovingly described in practically every chapter. I did feel that maybe we should’ve at least been given some warning about that one.
    Also, you know that feeling where everyone’s been reading a book so you should hurry up and do it too? Yeah, I think this right covers that, too. Read what you want to, when you want to. In other words, Mum, I’ll read Republic of Thieves when I’m good and ready.
  2. The right to skip.
    Read the ending first? Skip a gross scene or a boring chapter? Skip ahead to your favourite bit? All good with me, I’m all for this right.
  3. The right not to finish a book.
    I know a lot of people don’t like not finishing a book, but I’m all for it — I’ve already done a discussion post about it. Again, I just don’t see the point in feeling forced to read something you’re not enjoying. Unless you’re sort of masochistic about books, I guess. Actually, Quentin Blake’s illustration looks like he’s thinking that means just waiting to finish a book you’re enjoying, and hey, that’s valid too.
  4. The right to read it again.
    Something I’m clearly for, if you hang around here at all. Again, I have a whole post on it.
  5. The right to read anything.
    Screw the idea of guilty pleasures or feeling weird because the book’s actually aimed at middle grade readers or whatever. Read for pure joy and if it makes you happy, that’s great.
  6. The right to mistake a book for real life. 
    “It me!” Also referred to in the book as “Bovary-ism”. Because who doesn’t want to imagine they’re an interdimensional Librarian? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what this one is meant to mean anymore, but if it means getting so caught up in a book it matters more than whatever else is on your plate, I’ve been there and done that and those are some of the absolute best books.
  7. The right to read anywhere.
    Okay, don’t do anything dangerous, but if you want to read sitting in the kitchen sink (high five if you know that reference) or while walking (with a careful eye on traffic) to work, then more power to you. I’ve read in bed, on trains, on planes, sitting on the stairs, sitting on a wall, sitting in the hall… and I’ve no doubt the list will keep growing.
  8. The right to dip in.
    Sounds a bit like the right to skip, to me. Actually, I’m kind of against this one for myself — I start at the beginning and go on until I come to the end, or give up. But hey, if you like reading random chapters or the middle book of a series, why not?
  9. The right to read out loud.
    I actually like to whisper the words to myself as I read. It’s not like I read to, and I read faster silently, but I love the shape and taste of words, and I kinda hate that I have to give that up in public for fear of being weird. (Also when my sister is in the room, because the whispers annoy her.)
  10. The right to be quiet.
    Nobody should disturb you when you’re reading.

I can think of some other ones, some more silly than others — the right to fill a book with bookmarks at strategic points while I’m reading so I can track my progress. The right to babble to others about the exciting thing I’m reading. The right to give other people books you think they’ll love. The right to differ from other people about a book (I’m sorry, I just don’t get some authors).

But really, it all comes down to one golden rule, which if you read my blog you can probably guess. Everyone deserves…


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Discussion: Diversity

Posted July 9, 2018 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

I have this as a prompt in my list of potential discussions — just “diversity”. You all probably know what I mean, given it’s so often talked about in book fandom these days: characters of all types of backgrounds, in terms of culture, in terms of gender, in terms of sexuality, in terms of disability… Basically, there’s been a huge drive in the last few years to encourage books that aren’t just about white men, and books which aren’t just by white men. And I think some people struggle a lot with this and feel like it’s gone “too far”.

One example people have of things going “too far” is when the majority of characters in a book are queer. But queer people are only meant to be a small percentage of the population! someone inevitably cries. Sure, but if you look at queer people in real life… we stick together. I know queer people just because they’re queer and so am I, and it’s not just about the pool of people available for me to date. Queer people often make friends with other queer people because we share experiences that straight people don’t. So it just makes sense that a queer character would surround themselves with other queer characters.

(Also, hey, queer people are people, with the same drives and motivations as everyone else. You’re not reading about an alien with unfathomable motives: what difference does it make if most of the characters don’t share your sexual orientation? If you’re straight, you’re hardly suffering for representation in fiction — you can just pick up another book instead!)

Another worry about diversity is when people not belonging to a certain minority co-opt parts of that experience to write about it or weave a world around it or whatever. I’m not saying it can never be done well, though I’d shy away from doing it myself if I were still writing, because you should respect that experience and do a ton of research to make it right. There’s not a lot of representation of this stuff out there, historically, so adding any is bound to make an impact. Even with all the research in the world, I’d have to ask myself if I was really the best person to write about it.

And of course there’s when people not belonging to a culture outright exoticise it. I mean, there’s a certain amount of the appeal of a different culture that’s always going to be about the exotic, whether it’s actually aliens or just a culture people aren’t too familiar with. But there are right and wrong ways to handle that, when it comes to real cultures, and research is the better part of valour 100% of the time when that’s what you’re doing.

Diversity isn’t easy — it doesn’t come just because you added a couple of black people to your fantasy school body or have a Chinese scientist on your crack team of experts. It also doesn’t have to be about flipping things round and making the minority the dominant group. Reality is diverse (and if yours isn’t, maybe it’s time to consider why)… it’s only right for fiction to follow suit.

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Discussion: Deciding what to read

Posted July 2, 2018 by Nicky in General / 10 Comments

With such a massive reading list, sometimes I end up spoiled for choice. There’s a gazillion and one books I want to read at once, so how do I choose?

Welp, I’ve found that any kind of constraint tends to just make me contrary. Have to review it by next week because it releases soon? Let me ignore it altogether for at least another month. Planned to read it for a readalong? Often, that just leads to meh as well. In the end, I’ve come to terms with this — I had a really great conversation over on Beeminder’s forum about my attitude to books and goals in general a few weeks ago, which really helped elucidate that I was making it into work, and it really doesn’t need to be.

So yeah, you’ll find that I might miss review deadlines by a mile, but review something that’s been out for five years the day after I got it. Or vice versa. In the end, it comes back to something I’ve said on here a couple of times: this isn’t my job. I do this for fun. This may not always be a winning strategy with publishers (ugh, my Netgalley ratio is appalling) but it works for my brain and keeps the dreaded reading slumps mostly out of my way.

So what’s your strategy? Reading lists, never own so many books you have to make choices, whatever’s got a deadline on it…? And how on earth do you stick to it when there’s such new shinies out there?!

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Discussion: Blog Tours

Posted June 11, 2018 by Nicky in General / 8 Comments

It’s Monday morning, and though I’ve been lax lately, that does mean it’s time for a discussion post ’round these parts. This week, “blog tours” feel like an appropriate topic, as I should be taking part in one this week and I’ve put my name down for another. The thing is… I have a confession to make.

I don’t pay that much attention to blog tours. I’d rather read a review of the book. If it’s a book I don’t know anything about, then even a giveaway probably won’t tempt me to join in the feeding frenzy. There are exceptions: an author I love, content that’s actually unique or worth reading (like interviews or lists of recommendations from the author, some other kind of genuine content that sheds light on what they do), books I’m already curious about… But for the most part, I see “Blog Tour” and I scroll on by, because I’ve noticed a trend in them of people just promoting every book they’re asked to promote, books they may not even care about — sometimes multiple books in one day — and just phoning it in. Cover, blurb, Rafflcopter giveaway, done.


(Granted, most people I follow don’t do this at all, which is probably why I follow them. The same is likely to be true of people following me, since I don’t go in for publicity frenzies. Still. Sometimes you just need to say it.)

So my personal commitment with blog tours is: provide something people want to see. Genuine content, chances to win ARCs of an eagerly awaited book, a review of a book I’ve actually read and enjoyed, or at least want to discuss… I will never, I promise, just take part in a blog tour for the sake of it. There’s no point in doing it to get followers, to win brownie points, to fill in a blank space in your schedule. It’s like the boy who cried wolf: if every day you’re shouting about a brilliant new book you don’t even care about, then what’s the point? Readers never know if you’re being sincere or not, and if you’re putting out significant volumes of it, the answer is most likely not.

Be sincere in your choice of books to promote, and then the promotions you do will be more valuable — to publishers and other bloggers alike. Win/win, right?

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