A blog I discovered more recently, I think late last year, is Battle Hymns. Its proprietor, Ryan, is a great guy and I like the sense of humour he displays in his posts. He’s also recently gained his Early Childhood Education degree, something which I think is awesome, both as a mum who thinks that you can’t have enough passionate educators out there and as someone who works at the other end of the spectrum of education; I see them once they start university. I wondered how his love of SFF came into play in his work, plus I wanted to know more about the man behind Battle Hymns, so another Blogger Query victimsubject was found. Here’s what Ryan had to say for himself.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Ryan?
I’m a thirty-one year old guy who was born and raised in Maine, but decided to swap coastlines and move to Seattle when I was 21 because Seattle seemed like a cool place to spend my twenties. It turns out I was right, ‘cause I’m still here ten years down the road.
By day, I play a number of playground sports professionally and I also have an impressive winning percentage in a variety of board games. When I’m not doing those things I’m doing all the other important tasks required of a child care director. By night, when I’m not too tuckered out, I blog.
What got you into blogging?
I started blogging because I was into all these “nerdy” things like Fantasy /SF, comics and heavy metal. No one else I knew was really all that into them so I had no one to talk to about all this great stuff that I was excited about. I was an active member on SFF World, which sorta scratched that itch, but it wasn’t quite cutting it, so I decided to start my own blog. Here I am nearly three full years later and still cracking away. It’s been such a positive experience too. I’ve made lots of friends, discovered a bunch of incredible blogs, and have built up a book wish-list that should keep me going for the next few decades.
Why Battle Hymns?
Ha! Why indeed? I often ask myself that same question.
Well, there’s this metal band called Manowar who, (and I apologize to any Manowarriors out there), are incredibly cheesy…talented, but ultimately very cheesy. Their album covers are like these ridiculous Frank Frazetta homages that depict the band members all shirtless and with shredded bods. [Ed. Note: Nothing wrong with a good Frank Frazetta hommage!] There’s usually some swords, or battle axes on the cover, not to mention flames and/or lightning going on as well. Anyway, they have the best album titles. Stuff like “Hail to England”, “Kings of Metal”, “Triumph of Steel”, and of course, “Battle Hymns”. I thought Battle Hymns would be a cool name for a blog that deals with stuff like fantasy, comics and metal. I also thought it was kinda funny. It’s one of those things that are a joke that only I laugh about.
What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?
I guess my unique selling point is that I cover multiple topics. I do book reviews, mostly fantasy novels, but also a healthy dose of science fiction and a smattering of crime and literature. I also give an equal amount of coverage to my other big love, comics. I mostly cover independent, creator owned comics and steer clear of the capes and tights stuff, but I still appreciate and cover that side of comics, just in smaller doses. The last thing I cover is metal music. I really love that stuff, but that portion of the blog is becoming increasingly less of a factor as the months and years progress.
In the past year or so, I’ve had the pleasure of conducting a couple of author interviews at the blog, and that has been a really great experience. I’m a bit shy when it comes to asking folks if they’d be up for that sort of thing, so I need to toughen up if I’m gonna keep that part of the blog going. [Ed. Note: Pro-tip: start with fellow blogger, far less intimidating ;-)]
What are your goals for your blog?
As I mentioned earlier, the original goal of having a place where I can talk about the things I love with like-minded people still stands. I also mentioned this already, but I’d like to get more author interviews on there as well. At the end of the day, my goal is to ensure that the stuff I put up on Battle Hymns focuses on quality of content over quantity.
Oh, and I can’t forget the ultimate goal: have fun. It’s not like I’m getting paid or anything, so it’d be stupid to not enjoy a leisure activity.
One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?
Personally, I’m a rater. I rate everything; the quality of my last dinner, my bus commute, the cuteness of my friend’s pet cat… Cats get rated on a scale of 1 to 100 in the areas of cuteness, softness of fur, and personality. I have yet to meet a cat that scores a perfect 300.
Anyway, as you can see, nothing is safe from my personal rating scales. That being said, I can see both sides of the issue, and have toyed with the idea of doing away with my rating system on a few occasions, but it is hard to go against my basic nature.
For my “Kicking it Old School” feature, (where I review SF/F books that were written before I was old enough to read, hence the “Old School” part), I’ve tried to make the rating a fun part of the review by making the rating itself part of the old school experience. For example, at the end of my review of Poul Anderson’s Ensign Flandry I gave it a score of 6.5 slap bracelets. [Ed. Note: Slap bracelets! Oh man, those were the bomb when I was around ten!] I’ve tried to carry on that tradition of giving all my “Kicking it Old School” reviews a grade attached to some sort of old school trendy item. I’ve covered reebok pumps, and cassette singles so far, and have barely even scraped the surface of possibilities.
Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?
Yay. But that comes with a caveat. I’m all for negative reviews where the reviewer can back up their negative opinion with plenty of evidence.
This is a situation that has popped up a couple of times for me. While it’s easy to just rip on a book, I’ve always tried to actually articulate what qualities or aspects of the book contributed to the negative experience. Sometimes this is a difficult task, but if you can do that, without being a dick, you’ve actually done something useful and contributed to the conversation about the work.
When I’m researching a new title to see if I think it is something I want to read or not, I always seek out at least one negative review, that way I’m getting a variety of opinions and can make a more well-informed purchase.
You work in education, do you get to introduce children to the wondrous world of reading? And if so, do you slip in some child-friendly SFF when you can?
Yeah, I do. And it is awesome. Every Monday is Cocoa, Comics and Cider day at my child care, and the kids all sit around sipping hot, tasty beverages and read comics. [Ed. Note: Awesome!] Some of the staff have been known to do read-alouds with the kids, and the current read-aloud book is The Black Cauldron.
In all honesty, it’s not too hard to get kids reading SFF. They love that stuff, and it has become a big part of popular culture.
On your blog you cover a lot of comics and graphic novels. Do you think these can more easily enthuse younger readers to reading for themselves and good story-telling than traditional books?
Comics definitely enthuse a young reader, that’s for sure. There are tons of great comics out there for young readers, and I think the comics medium does a great job of representing a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and cultures that any reader, young or old, can relate to… They also manage to provide a nice escape too.
In recent years I’ve started to see more and more kids reading comics so I guess they do provide an “in” to the world of reading. But traditional books, especially titles that fall under the SF/F category, are incredibly popular these days, and they’re a big reason why many kids pick up a book. In the end, I think there are more useless distractions than ever before vying for kids’ time these days so anything that gets kids reading is a good thing. [Ed. Note: Amen.]
How important are blogs to your reading choices?
When it comes to books, I would say I get first exposure to a title thanks to one of the many amazing bloggers that make up the Fantasy/Science Fiction blogging community. I’ve been following blogs for far longer than I’ve been blogging, so I’ve come to trust quite a few bloggers and their tastes. I would also say that thanks to bloggers, I’ve been exposed to books that I would never have read if not for some other blogger giving that book a review.
The best thing about the Fantasy/Science Fiction Blogging community is that we are an incredibly diverse group, and as a result, have tastes that cover the entire genre quite well. I’ve been reaping the benefits of that for years, and have a ton of awesome books on my shelves as a result.
How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?
Well, as I said above, probably 99 out of 100 books I buy I get because I discovered them while reading blogs, so from my perspective, they are a very important part of the book business. I love going into a bookstore, picking up a book, and seeing blurbs from bloggers on the covers, or inside the flaps. That’s pretty cool. It also points to the fact that bloggers are a definite piece of the book business pie.
What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?
At this moment I’m reading the third volume in the Hellboy series, The Chained Coffin and Other Stories. I haven’t decided if I’m a fan of the Hellboy stuff yet. I love the art and the way Mike Mignola ties in folklore and myth into the stories, but the narrative tends to be a bit repetitive.
I try to alternate my books and comics reading so my next book will most likely be a Haruki Murakami novel. I’m long overdue to read something by that guy.
As for the book I’m most eagerly awaiting? I’m pretty excited about Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. That guy is a hit maker.
Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?
I am definitely obsessed with NFL football. (Watching it as I type!) My Sundays during the months of September through January tend to be pretty unproductive as my ass is usually on the couch watching football.
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?
Funny you should ask. Mayhem and disorder once ruled my shelves, but not any longer. And it’s all your fault. ;)
I’ve been an avid Blogger Query reader since day one, and every time I would read your last interview question I would get these little pangs of guilt in my stomach as I envisioned how you would be appalled at the lack of order on my shelves. When I recently moved, I decided to do something about it, and when I was setting up my bookshelves in my new place, I alphabetized them once and for all. I gotta say, I’m happy with the new system. [Ed. Note: Ha! My job here is done.]
Thank you, Ryan! If you haven’t visited Ryan’s blog before, Battle Hymns is well worth a stop-over.