Meet Justine Bergman - book blogger
In the first of a series, I approached Justine to tell us about why she blogs about books. People who read, review and blog about books are the lifeblood of the writing industry. How else would we discover new authors and discover material that matches our tastes? It's a massive obligation, not just in terms of time and effort but the responsibility of managing the comments that go into the review. So why do it? Here's Justine to tell you.
It's not very often reviewers and bloggers are asked to discuss the whats and whys of writing reviews. As I sat down to write this, I found it was quite difficult to answer the questions Phil proposed when he initially reached out about this feature. Much easier to write about someone else's work than your own, I guess. Let's give it a go!
My love of reviewing books sparked a few years ago when I became involved in the Self-Published community on Twitter. Prior to that I was a serial rater and maaaybe a this-book-is-fantastic-you-should-read-it kind of gal. I remember turning the final page of the book I was reading and spotting “If you enjoyed this story, considering leaving a review. Every bit helps,” and I immediately thought, I CAN DO THAT! So…I did. And I haven’t stopped since.
Reviews are integral in the lifecycle of a book, and being able to take part by not only gushing about a great story, but also providing constructive criticism for authors is what makes being a reviewer so great. I’ve heard the argument that reviews are for readers, not authors. I’ve heard the argument that reviews are for authors, not readers. I’m a firm believer in reviews being for both. Other than taking a chance on a book based on its cover (I don’t care what anyone says, we all judge a book by its cover) and blurb, potential readers may scan a few reviews to see if that book is for them. On the other hand, if an author is passionate about the craft of writing, they should always strive to strengthen their skillset. Comprehensive reviews can help them pinpoint where they need a bit of work, all while (hopefully) getting some praise along the way.
Side note: I don’t believe in combative, fully negative reviews whatsoever, unless there’s legitimate cause (the content is completely offensive, the author shows no pride in their work, etc.). I personally don’t finish books that I don’t mesh well with, because reading is meant to bring joy, and life is far too short to add yet another item to the list of things we have to unwillingly force ourselves through.
Back on track, Justine.
So, why do I blog?
The best part of blogging is that instance where that one person reaches out telling you they loved a book you’ve recommended. I adore this. I adore this more than I could possibly express. I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those overly enthusiastic gift givers, and hearing this is akin to giving a homemade gift that costs nothing but a little bit of love and time. And vice versa, really. If I learn about a book from a review I’ve read and end up loving it, I just want to give the reviewer a huge hug for introducing me to something wonderful.
Another great aspect of blogging is meeting others in the community, both readers and writers alike. I’ve had a blast over the past few years (digitally) meeting some incredible people, and I’m always excited to meet more through a mutual love of books. I was a judge on the Fantasy Book Critic team for SPFBO5, and words can’t even express how amazing the sprawling community truly is.
There are, however, a few uncomfortable cons to being a reviewer/blogger. There’s A LOT of pressure if you’re one that accepts review requests. When I first started Whispers & Wonder I couldn’t say no to these requests – I’m still trying to catch up. For those of you I’ve promised a review to who are reading this, I haven’t forgotten about you…I HAVE A LIST AND I NEED MORE HOURS IN THE DAY, PLEASE. And NetGalley? Let’s not even go there.
Other than that, and this is a very rare occurrence, it is utterly awkward when an author feels the need to contact me (publicly or privately) defensively questioning points I’ve made in my reviews. This is bad. Don’t do this. It’s a surefire way to ensure I’ll never read another word you ever write – and I’m not afraid to let other readers know so, as well. My reviews are my space, and I’ll write whatever the hell I please. That is all.
Onto what I enjoy and what keeps me engaged in reading and reviewing.
I consider myself a dark fantasy enthusiast. I love dark, violent, tragic stories, and I believe Lee C Conley can even quote me challenging him “the darker, the better” (which I like to believe he took to heart, then absolutely killed it with A Ritual of Flesh). Give me ALL the dark fantasy books.
I love books that push me to delve deep into ethical and philosophical debates. I’m an academic at heart, and I always appreciate questioning the things I believe I know. Change my mind, I welcome your attempt with open arms.
I love complex stories and characters. Sure, straightforward narratives are great, but I cherish those moments after closing a book, staring off into the middle ground, and whispering “what the f*ck did I just read?” – Luke Tarzian is a pro at making me do this.
All of these things keep me going. I do enjoy simple palate cleansers every once in a while, but I generally crave complexity. If an author makes me think, then I’ll have so much to say in my reviews – it may be nonsensical brain spew, but I try to keep that to a minimum. Storytelling is an art, and just as one would view and study a painting, written word deserves the same respect. And it also helps when authors get involved/respond, even if it’s just so I can let them know how much I appreciate what they’ve shared with the world.
And finally – don’t know how so many words appeared on this page – the books that have had the largest impact on me while I’ve been blogging. In no particular order, these are some of my favorites over the past couple years.
Michael R. Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions: This series opened my eyes to what the Grimdark fantasy subgenre really has to offer. These books are vile and visceral, yet so thoroughly intriguing. Plunging deep into base human instincts with focus on mental illness, Fletcher pulls no punches here. It’ll undoubtedly make you uncomfortable, but that’s the point, isn’t it?
The Song of the Ash Tree by T L Greylock – A Norse-inspired epic fantasy series that portrays some of my favorite characters ever created. The story is stunning, perfectly plotted, and so full of heartrending emotion…whenever I read a story that falls into the same subgenre, it always pales in comparison to this. I love this series to pieces.
The World Maker Parable by Luke Tarzian – As with his dark/surreal fantasy debut, Vultures, The World Maker Parable is a book that blew my mind. Tarzian’s craft is flawless and highly imaginative, and he refuses to adhere to the “rules”, which is something I’ll always admire. His ability to gift his non-human characters with such tragic humanity is breathtaking. Gah, I need more.
Ok, I think I’ve talked your ear off enough here. Go pick up a book, and if you enjoy it, let the world know about it. There are tons of people out there that are looking forward to hearing what you have to say.
Want to find out more about Justine? Look no further...
Web developer by trade, book blogger by passion. I have an insatiable hunger for stories that will transport me to other worlds, all from the comfort of my living room. In my scant free time, I enjoy building things of questionable robustness, dabbling in photography, and gaming while fueled by copious amounts of strong coffee. Always on the hunt for those hidden gems.
Justine is also half of the partnership behind the brilliant Storytellers On Tour that help showcase the work of writers with new books coming on to the market. I feature my contributions on this site.
I'm immensely grateful to Justine for taking time out to write this post. So much of what she said resonates with me. I agree with her about the value of the writing community, it is full of great people, bloggers and authors alike. It is supportive and encouraging, essential qualities when you're in the lonely business of writing!
I also found myself agreeing with Justin's point about art and writing being similar, the more there is to analyse in a story, the better as far as I'm concerned.
Please visit Justine's blog to read her reviews, she is insightful, honest and fair. Likewise look out for Storytellers on Tour! And if you blog/review, why not sign up to join the tour?