Blogger Query – Bibliotropic

Ria of Bibliotropic – which is one of the awesomest blog names ever – is one of those bloggers whose tastes often match my own closely, something most evident on our shared love for anything Mercedes Lackey. She also manages to reread a lot and read older books, which might have passed me by so her reviews are always interesting. However beyond the fact that she loves to read, loves Mercedes Lackey, does crafts and lives in Canada, I didn’t know that much about her beyond what she’s occasionally posted on her blog and her updates on Facebook. What better way to find out more about her than by asking her for a Blogger Query? Here’s what I found out!

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Ria?

Ria is a late 20’s Brit who’s been living on the east coast of Canada since she was 5 years old. She has an undying love for a good cup of tea, cats, and most things Japanese. Her day job involves making travel plans for people who have way more money than she could ever hope to make, though she’s torn at the moment between pursuing her own business opportunities or getting the training to teach English in Japan. Ria in a nutshell!

What got you into blogging?

I’ve had a blog in one form or another since halfway through high school, which was mumblemumble years ago. But that was mostly personal stuff, the kind of thing that cynics will describe as, “Nobody wants to know what you ate for breakfast,” blogging. But at the end of 2009, I was just finishing a book that evoked some strong reactions in me, and I was struck with the thought that hey, maybe I should put these reactions and thoughts online! I figured I couldn’t be the only person who would think these things, and maybe it might spark some lively debate. So on January 1, 2010, my book review blog went live.

Why Bibliotropic?

Originally my blog name was “Tea and Tomes,” which encompassed two things I loved very much. But then I read Jo Walton’s Among Others, where a character uses the term “bibliotropic” to describe themselves. “Like sunflowers are heliotropic, they naturally turn towards the sun. We naturally turn towards the bookshop.” It reminded me of a joke that I had with my friends, where we said we were afflicted with a terrible condition called “Wandering Bookstore Foot,” and everytime we were near a bookstore, we would all gravitate toward it, even if we had no money to spend at the time. We just wanted to be near the books! [Ed. note: I have this, I so have this!]

After learning that term, and learning that it had really applied to me for years already, the name change seemed inevitable. I’ve been Bibliotropic ever since, and I think that name’s here to stay.

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

I have a selling point? Honestly, I don’t think I have one. I probably don’t devote as much time and energy to my blog as I ought to, so most of my content involves reviews, and rundowns of the books I’ve received for review. I don’t have any special features, or access to news that people all over don’t already have. I suppose you might consider that a selling point, though. If what you’re looking for are reviews without memes and features and whatnot scattered within, then mine is the blog for you!

What are your goals for your blog?

For starters, I want to devote more time and energy to it, so that I can make it better. I want to do more author interviews, and I have a couple of ideas for some in the future. I’ve started a couple of features in the past that got dropped due to lack of time, and I want to revive them. (My “I Would Read That” feature, for example, is going to detail video games that have incredible plots and stories that, if they were novels, I would read in a heartbeat!) I want to do more social networking for my blog, because I’ve really let that slack of late. [Ed. note: Yes, more Ria on Twitter, please.]

There are things I’ve love to do for the blog that I simply can’t at the moment. I’d love to feature different bookstores in different cities, but at the moment, I don’t have the funds to travel. I’d love to go to conventions and do coverage of those, but, well, again with the travel funds. I don’t live in a particularly popular city, so not much really comes here or comes near here. Maybe this stuff will be in the blog’s future, but if so, it won’t be for a while yet.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

I can see the benefits to both sides of the debate. Some people avoid giving ratings because it can be very hard to make such judgment calls. And two books that could be theoretically rated 4-star books might be vastly different from each other, their pros and cons so different that a simple quick-and-easy rating doesn’t really tell potential readers much at all.

Personally, though, I like rating systems, and find them very useful. They help me decide which book might be worth reading next. They help me solidify my thoughts for a review. “Hmm, I know I enjoyed this book a lot, but it had its flaws and so won’t be a 5-star book. As for its flaws…” Maybe that’s just the way my mind works and my thought processes go, but being able to narrow things down at a glance helps me expand upon them later.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

Negative reviews, yay! I’m not the kind of person who shies away from negative reviews, and I can get more than a little snarky when I write them. When something bothers me, it bothers me!

Whenever I think about this issue, once again, I can see both sides of the debate. I know that if I were an author, I’d hate to read negative reviews about my book. I know that by writing a negative review myself, I might be steering people away from something they might otherwise enjoy. The review might bring down the book’s sales, hurting an author’s paycheque. (I’m not being callous when I say that – authors work as hard as anyone else, maybe moreso, and they deserve the money that they get and I don’t begrudge them that.)

But then I think back to the reason I started bookblogging in the first place. I have thoughts and opinions, and I want to share them. That includes the negative opinions too. I can’t — and shouldn’t — just pretend that I never read a bad book, that I don’t have thoughts about said books, and that my thoughts aren’t worthy of being shared. It happens. Everyone’s read a book that they hated, and they know why they hated it. Keeping it to themselves doesn’t do much good.

I like to look at my reviews as a kind of constructive criticism that can reach two audiences. Readers: If I didn’t like a book for a certain reason, then chances are somebody else wouldn’t like it for the same reason, and isn’t it better to know beforehand than after? Authors: Reviewers can provide a lot of feedback and tips for improvement, if you’re open to it. If I didn’t look a book because characterization was inconsistent and the plot made no sense, then that could be looked on as something to improve upon for next time. I’ve written before, and constructive feedback is a writer’s best friend. It helps us improve, advance, and enhance. It makes us better, and makes us stronger.

Reviewers are echoes of non-reviewers – we’re the voices that are saying exactly what hundreds of other readers will be thinking. I see no reason to pretend that dissenters have no voice.

You and I share a deep and abiding love for Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books. For me this extends to most of her other works. Is yours limited to Valdemar or do you love her other books as well?

Just about anything I read from Lackey, I enjoy. Some things I enjoy more than others, but as a general rule, if I see a new book by Mercedes Lackey, I’m going to enjoy reading it.

There’s one big exception to this rule, however. And that is zombies. I know she’s recently written a zombie apocalypse novel. I won’t touch it. I regret that I won’t touch it, because I love what she does so much, but I’ve been working for years now to get over an honest-to-goodness zombie phobia. Not the kind of thing that makes me shudder when I watch zombie movies. I mean the kind of phobia that stops me from sleeping at night because if something were to happen and zombies were real and they were here, my apartment isn’t defensible, and I know I’d die, and I have to keep peeking out from behind the curtains to make sure they aren’t coming down the street, and when I do manage to sleep I have nightmares that wake me up whimpering. [Ed. note: Zombies don’t terrify me quite that much, but the only reason I’ve contemplated reading a zombie book is because Lackey and Edghill wrote one.]

… Hey, some people get like this around elevators. We’ve all got our issues.

And building on the Mercedes Lackey love, are there any other series of books that you love as much? If not, what is it about the Lackey books that generates this devotion?

Oh my, that’s a tough question! A couple of months ago, I don’t think I would have been able to answer this. But now, I think I can safely say that N K Jemisin’s “Inheritance” trilogy has made it to a spot pretty close to Lackey’s books. [Ed. note: Ooh! Good answer!] I’ve walked down the street with my roommate having discussions and debates about Jemisin’s characters, something that previously only happened with Valdemar stuff.

That isn’t to say that Jemisin has unseated Lackey. But it’s pretty close, let’s put it that way.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Very important. I’m far more likely to want to buy a book if I’ve seen it get favourable reviews on blogs that I trust or by bloggers whose tastes I know are close to my own. Thanks to other book review blogs, I’ve discovered books and authors that I might have overlooked otherwise, and they’ve helped expand my literary world!

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

In an essential place that many take for granted. As I said earlier, I believe that reviewers are the voices of readers, that we get the chance to say things that many others are only thinking.

The reviews we write can make a world of difference to an author’s book sales. I’ve seen this firsthand. My roommate is an avid reader too, with much the same taste in books, and very often asks my advice on which books she should buy. In this apartment, there are plenty of duplicate books: my review copy, and her copy that she went out and spent money on. A review copy sent to me by the publisher or author directly resulted in at least one more sale for them. And that’s just one sale that I’m aware of. I’ve bought books on the advice of other bloggers, or sequels to books where I received the first one for review. Without reviewers as the intermediary, this may not have happened.

The reason I say that many people take what we do for granted is because we do this as a hobby, and we don’t get paid for it. Some of us are lucky enough to get review copies, and that’s a great perk, but it’s not a paycheque, and the grocery store doesn’t accept books in exchange for carrots. It’s a hobby, no matter how professionally we may approach it. So we’re less likely to be taken seriously than a professional who does earn his wage by reviewing books for major publications.

But we reach huge audiences, and we make a difference. We provide low-cost publicity to hundreds — sometimes thousands! We help authors and publishers reach more people, we encourage people to take a chance on a book where they might otherwise not have, and we make the publishing world an approachable and tangible thing that people can be a greater part of.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

Currently I’m reading Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night, the sequel to A Discovery of Witches. [Ed. note: Oh! That’s on my To Read Soon pile as well!] Not my usual fare, since it’s heavy on the romance and I’m usually not too keen on that, but the characters remind me so much of people I know that it’s eerie, and I can’t help but be amused. After that, I think I’m going to tackle Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed.

I couldn’t possibly tell which book I’m most eagerly awaiting. There are so many of them!

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

You mean other than tea? :)

Crafts. I’m a big crafter. I have a craft blog in addition to my book review blog (as well as an online store, if anyone’s curious), and I spend a good chunk of my time sewing, knitting, beading, all sorts of things. Crafts relax me and make me feel productive and creative. I’m in the process of making my first quilt!

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

The way I shelve my books might make you have a fit! I don’t really have a system. This is mostly because I have more books than shelf space, so I have to double-stack everything and still keep some things in tote bins and cardboard boxes. One of these days, I’m going to buy enough book shelves to hold everything! [Ed. note: I’ve done this. Unfortunately, said situation only lasted about two months before I ran out of shelf space again!] Then I’ll probably do it all alphabetically. :)
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Thanks for the answers, Ria! If you’re not following Ria’s reviews already, mosey on over to Bibliotropic, sit down with a cup of tea and have a look around. Ria reviews diversely with the SFF genre, so there’s bound to be something to interest you. You can also follow Ria on Twitter.

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  • I'm a fan of both your blog and Bibliotropic, so it was great to see you interview Ria here. I hope you don't mind, but I have a question for you two Valdemar fans. For a Valdemar newbie like myself…where should I start reading the series? Should I read it according to the series' internal chronology or by publishing date? Thanks for your help!

  • It reminded me of a joke that I had with my friends, where we said we were afflicted with a terrible condition called “Wandering Bookstore Foot,” and everytime we were near a bookstore, we would all gravitate toward it, even if we had no money to spend at the time. We just wanted to be near the books! [Ed. note: I have this, I so have this!]

    So do I. :)

    Pleased to meet you, Ria!

  • @Snip: Thank you for your kind words! I think the best starting point is Arrows of the Queen, the first book published. Another good entry point is Magic's Pawn. I would recommend reading The Heralds of Valdemar, The Mage Winds, The Mage Storms trilogies in order, as they form somewhat of a continuous narrative. In all the other cases I'd follow the internal timeline. But Ria might have a differing view!

    @Paul: I think most of us suffer from it, don't we?