If there is one dynamic blogging duo out there, it is The Book Smugglers. The amount of reading and blogging Thea and Ana get done just leaves me in awe. They never fail to entertain and more importantly, they often also educate on matters such as white-washing, rape culture, diversity in literature and the portrayal of women and girls in the narrative. If ever there were two bloggers who could serve as an inspiration to any starting blogger, the Book Smugglers are it. So I was really rather stoked when they agreed to answer my questions for a Blogger Query. So this week I’m honoured to welcome to the blog Thea and Ana; let’s see what they had to say.
Let’s start with the basics. Who are Ana and Thea?
Ana: I am a Brazilian who moved to the UK because of the weather. Seriously. I work with translations in RL and spend most of my free time reading and blogging. I hate papaya – I always find that I need to share this most important piece of information about me.
Thea: I grew up in Hawaii, Japan and Indonesia but moved to California for university. Then, a few years later I moved to New York for grad school and to work in my dream industry: book publishing (naturally!). I like horror movies, am insanely competitive when it comes to any game or sport, and live in a tiny Brooklyn apartment that is gradually being consumed by books.
What got you into blogging?
Ana & Thea: Back in 2007, Ana started to search online looking for the next book to read and found out this whole new-to-her world of blogging and fell in love with the idea. At that time, we were both members of a Lost Forum (we are HUGE Lost Geeks) and often congregated at the Books thread to talk about our latest read. (We also realized that we had both – simultaneously and unbeknownst to the other – concocted the same cockamamie plan to smuggle books home…but more on that in a bit.) This was the EUREKA moment, in which Ana confided in Thea the idea of starting their very own book blog. Thea was immediately on board, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Why The Book Smugglers?
Ana & Thea: We are book addicts who spend a ridiculous amount of money buying books every month. This was true before The Book Smugglers and it is still true now, even with all the review copies and ARCs we receive (even the glorious advent of ebooks – which we both buy in large quantities – is not enough to stop the influx of physical books). The thing is: our significant others have tried to quell the compulsion with threats, mocking cynicisms, and finally with desperate pleas and interventions. There simply is NOT ENOUGH ROOM in our respective houses for the sheer amount of books purchased, our boyfriends would moan. Their constant nagging (“but WHERE are you going to put that?” “Do you really need another book?”) forced the two of us to take drastic measures. To escape the hawk-like watch of our boyfriends, we contrived a way to beat the system: we used to order books online and had the books shipped in bulk to our respective places of work. Armed with oversized handbags, we used to smuggle the books home, just a few at a time, and would slip the new booty inconspicuously into the book pile.
Here is the twist: both of us concocted and enacted the same sneaky smuggling plan completely unbeknownst to the other.
Hence, The Book Smugglers.
Of course, over the years the secret is literally out of the oversized handbag – our partners have since the inception of this blog caught on to our devious smuggling ways. And, wise men that they are, both have given up trying to dissuade us from our shared bookish obsession. They have even BUILT bookshelves for us – we knew they’d come around one day. [Ed. Note: They built you bookshelves? I need to have a talk with Wiebe about this!]
What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?
Ana & Thea: We’d say probably our in-depth, long-ass, critical reviews is our prime selling point. That, plus the fact that we are very eclectic and basically read ALL THE THINGS – from Historical MG to Contemporary YA; from Space Operas to Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy to Paranormal Romance, Graphic Novels to Murder Mysteries. You name it, we’ve read it (and reviewed it).
What are your goals for your blog?
Ana & Thea: There is and has always been a single, primary goal for The Book Smugglers: World Domination. One review at a time. Obviously.
One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?
Ana & Thea: This is a sticking point for us, and an issue on which we have never had a second thought. We have had a rating system in place from the moment we started the blog. We like ratings for several reasons: they provide our readers with an immediate gauge for how we felt about a book, especially useful in the event that a reader does not wish to be spoiled (or, you know, prefers not to read one of our typically lengthy reviews). More importantly, rating books we’ve read helps us as reviewers, as it gives us a yardstick to measure our reactions and feelings towards a text: ratings force us to be objective about the subjective.
This said, for ratings to truly be effective, a reader must be acquainted with a blogger’s rating system. We think our regular readers are familiarized with our rating methods, and while they may not agree with the rates we assign certain titles, they have a good feel for our reasoning behind rating titles.
It is also important to note that we take our rating system very seriously; we hardly ever give 9s or 10s, for example. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the other end of the spectrum.
Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?
Ana & Thea: OH HELLS YAY. How would our readers know to trust our positive reviews if they couldn’t measure glowing praise against a whole range of our reactions to books? We actually think “negative” is a bit of qualifier – we are all for critical reviews, either positive or negative. A simple “I loved this book!!!” or “I hated this piece of crap!!” are honest and worthwhile reactions, but in our opinion are not particularly helpful in helping inform a reader as to why or why not they should read a book.
You’re very outspoken on topics such as white-washing, the portrayal of strong girls and women and rape culture. Do you think the problems have become less in the years you’ve been blogging about them or have they shifted?
Ana & Thea: Honestly, we do not think these problems in fiction have lessened in frequency or severity in the years we’ve been blogging – but we do think (hope?) that people are more attuned to the pervasiveness of these very sensitive and deeply important issues. As long as we keep the conversation going – by drawing attention to issues like whitewashing, slut-shaming, and rape culture – we hope authors and publishers are taking notice. [Ed. Note: If anything, you’ve educated me on these subjects and I think that goes for many of your readers.]
Feelings and debates often run heated in the YA community — to put it mildly — do you think this is due to the often sensitive topics (bullying, abuse, discovering one’s (sexual) identity, sex) covered in the books, due to the mixed age range of its readers or something else completely?
Ana & Thea: Well, to be completely honest, none of the above. Strong feelings and heated debates are not exclusive to the YA blogging community–other communities, from the Romance and SFF blogospheres to television fandoms and comic book boards, all have similar brouhahas. As such, we can’t really say that this an age issue or a genre issue or even a topics issue. We see heated debate and strong feelings as a sign of a healthy interwebs, in which people passionately discuss, argue and debate topics that are important to them. That some of these debates end up going down the #fail route is just a sign that human beings (and the odd troll or spambot) are involved.
Beyond a love of books The Book Smugglers exudes a sense of fun. Is it always fun for you guys or do you need a blog vacation every once in a while?
Ana & Thea: We’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years, and it’s been a non-stop ride and second full time job for the both of us (Thea even finished her master’s degree whilst Book Smugglin’). Yes, we have fun but HELL yes, sometimes we need a blog vacation. This is one of the best things about having a blog partner – when one of us is burned out or caught in the jaws of Real Life, the other can step in and take over for a while.
How important are blogs to your reading choices?
Ana & Thea: VERY! We read hundreds of book blogs and we rely on loads of them to get reading recommendations or to simply put a book on our radar.
How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?
Ana & Thea: Well, this is an issue that is very important to us, and one we’ve been vocal about on our blog. The publishing industry is one that has and continues to go through a number of dramatic shifts – from the advent of the internet, to the growing market share of ebooks and digital alternatives. Book blogs are also a part of these tectonic shifts, disrupting business as usual, and are now a hugely important part of the publishing ecosystem (whether publishers want to admit that or not). Blogs are one of the few vital channels that connect readers with books, and this is the part of the book business that needs a lot of help.
A question for Thea: Has working in the publishing industry changed your views on the previous question or only strengthened them?
Thea: Working full time for a large publishing house has definitely given me a more comprehensive perspective about the industry as a whole – and it has only strengthened my belief in the importance of book blogs in the publishing ecosystem. Historically, publishers have not had to worry about forging direct relationships with end consumers as readers were neither their direct market nor their concern. Instead, publishers focused on cultivating relationships with retailers and distribution channels, from booksellers to big-mouth national media outlets. As these channels are shifting (thanks to the internet, ebooks, and other disruptive technologies), bookstores and big review outlets are disappearing – and all the while, bloggers have stepped in, quietly filling the void connecting readers to books. In order to stay relevant and viable, publishers desperately need to create these connections with their audiences. Cultivating relationships with bloggers is not only a good idea, but a necessity.
What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?
Ana: I am about to start reading The City’s Son by Tom Pollock which is a book I have been most eagerly awaiting….(see what I did here?) [Ed. Note: Very smooth, Miss Ana!]
Thea: I am currently finishing up The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand (it is AMAZING and deliciously creepy). Next up, I am reading Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell – the wonderful Marillier is one of my favorite authors of all time, making Shadowfell one of my most highly anticipated books of 2012!
Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?
Ana: YES! TV Shows. I watch far too many and often find myself doing marathons of old TV Shows. For example, I just watched the entire run of The West Wing. For the third time.
Thea: YES! TV shows. Movies of all genres, but especially horror. Professional and college basketball (and football, and baseball). I guess you could say that Ana and I have obsessive personalities…
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?
Ana: I don’t really have a system beyond separating books by how soon I NEED to read them and how soon I WANT to read them; and then several shelves for the books I have loved. For reasons of space I often only keep books I rated 8 and above.
Thea: I have an ingenious system, given my cramped NY living conditions (granted, my “system” is probably incomprehensible to anyone outside my head). I have three areas for books in my home: primary bookshelf (for books I have yet to read), closet bookshelf (for books I have yet to read and have read and loved), and bedroom bookshelf (for books I have read and especially loved). When people come over and see the primary bookshelf, they ask if I have read all of the books on there – to which I reply no, I have not read ANY of them yet. This bookshelf is organized by priority – from top shelf (far future ARCs/Review Copies) to bottom shelf (past releases that I have not yet found the time to read, but desperately want/need to read).
Thank you for a very interesting interview, Ana and Thea! For the two people out there that aren’t familiar with The Book Smugglers, go check it out! You can also follow our intrepid duo on Twitter and Facebook. In addition, Ana and Thea have a weekly column over at Kirkus Reviews.