12 May 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

It was an extraordinary feeling, standing alongside Haweya and demanding something from a total stranger. Together, I found, we could both be strong.

From Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, p. 119.

06 May 2009

Weekly Geeks: Review Stylin’

Weekly Geeks

Courtesy of Care: Do one, some, all or none of the following:

1. Explain your review format - if you have one. Or maybe your rating system?

2. Highlight another book-blogger's review format by linking to a favorite example - don't forget to tell us why they are a fave!

3. Do a review in another book-blogger's format of your latest read. I did this just the other day when I had read a great post discussing what makes a good review and 'borrowing' from a comment by Ramya. That post was one of Bethany's and my example giving Ramya the credit is here.

4. Highlight a past review that you are particularly proud of and why the format or structure may have had something to do with it.

1. I wouldn’t say that I have a review format - more of a review layout. Title, author, and the words “book review” in the title; a picture of the cover; a summary of the plot (or subject, in the case of a non-fiction book); my thoughts on the book; my grading.

I always write my own summary of the plot - sans spoilers. Copying from the back wouldn’t be as much fun; I often find bits and pieces of outline popping into my head as I read. It can be challenging for non-fiction books, but I generally find it easy for fiction (much easier than actually reviewing!). Once I’ve described it, I say what I thought about it. I don’t have a specific list of points to consider, and I’m a little in awe of people like Tasses who do. My mind works in a much more disorganised way - starts with the basic questions of whether I liked the book, what I did or didn’t like, and why, then moves on closer examinations of whatever aspect takes its fancy. Somehow a complete review emerges from all this random musing. The process begins as I’m reading and can continue for days thereafter; some books take more thought than others. (And some books get stuck in read-but-not-reviewed limbo when I get busy with other things, like now - there’ll be more reviews soon, I promise!)

When I put my thoughts down on screen there are three things I always try to do: keep everything in reasonably coherent order, put the positives before the negatives, and not forget anything :-) Then I assign a grade. I use a thirteen-point system - A+ to E - which in practice is a twelve-point one as I’ve never met an E book yet. This method seemed obvious to me; I’m of an academic turn of mind, so grades are things that make immediate sense. A’s are the ones that would be missed on being handed back to the library; B’s I would recommend but don’t mind parting with; D’s I actively disliked. C’s are everything else - the dull, the dead ordinary, the not bad per se but not my cup of tea. Sometimes I know a book’s grade when I finish it, but sometimes it requires more thought. So I devised a numerical conversion system to help out - where A+ is 100, E is 0, C is 50, and all points in between are evenly distributed. Turning grades into percentages can clarify things.

The only time I don’t assign a grade is when I don’t finish the book. I had once assumed that any book I couldn’t read would be an E, but I revised that opinion after recenty failing to finish Lovesong by Elizabeth Jolley. An E, by definition, would be an unbearably atrocious book; Lovesong was simply an unbearably boring book. So I came up with my DNF review variation: marked it as DNF in the post title, and instead of a grade stated the number of pages I’d read before giving up. I think it would be interesting, when reading DNF reviews, to see what fraction of the way through the book the blogger managed to get.

4. I’ve decided to highlight one review from each letter of the grading system. I don’t know that the format makes much difference - it’s so basic it’s hard to imagine that it could affect the quality one way or another. Rather I’ll attribute these to good writing days:

A: Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon
B: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
C: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
D: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

05 May 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

One thing even the Black Death could not damage was Venetian self-esteem. On being awarded an annuity for his valorous services to the city during the pestilence, the municipal physician Francesco of Rome declared, "I would rather die here than live anywhere else."

From The Great Mortality by John Kelly, p. 95.

03 May 2009

Blog Improvement Project: Task 8

Blog Improvement Project And now, here’s the task:

Take a tally of where your comments are today. Compare this number to the total you took at the beginning of BIP #7. I just realized this might be totally skewed because of the Read-a-Thon, but we’ll just try and deal with messy data :)

Read article about leaving quality comments and do some online searching for other useful articles. Link to those articles on your blog or in the comments here. Think about how you might implement some of these ideas.

Set some goals about leaving better comments, then implement those goals by leaving as many high-quality comments as you can.

At the end of the next two weeks, task stock of how your comments have changed — has our focus on comments this month gotten you more visitors and good comments on your blog?

Well ... talk about mixed results! After leaving 20 comments in 11 days (pretty good for me, especially since I wasn’t online every day) the number of comments per post went down, the number of visits required to get a comment shot up, but the number of visitors per day increased. I’m not sure what this means, except perhaps that the experimental period was too short to produce meaningful results. Probably the fact that the eleven days included only two reviews - near the end of the period - had something to do with it. Also my omission of Saturday Review of Books link-ups. (I got distracted by the tv - Bringing Up Baby was on.)

So I plan to extend this little experiment. I’m keeping my stats from these comment-related tasks, and I’ll continue challenging myself to leave comments wherever I can. Later in the year I’ll crunch the numbers again, and hopefully they’ll make more sense!

01 May 2009

DNF: Lovesong by Elizabeth Jolley

Lovesong Dalton Foster, newly returned to the community, takes up residence in Mrs Porter’s guest house, a Home away from Home for Homeless Gentlemen. Not only gentlemen - also among the lodger is Miss Emily Vales, who still has not given up hope that Mr Right could be right around the corner. A short walk away is a house where Dalton once lived as a child, during one of his father the trade consul’s overseas postings. As he drifts through his new life he also drifts through his memories of his parents and his Aunt Dalton and their lives together.

There’s a lesson here about judging books by covers. I picked it up at a charity book sale because it’s just gorgeous - the picture really doesn’t do it justice, and my own scan was worse. Hardcover, shades of blue, silver print, a lovely quote from Rilke on the back ... I couldn’t resist. Nor, as it turned out, could I read it. It’s never a good sign when you find yourself reading twenty pages at a time, then putting it down for days during which you only think about it to think, I should read some more of that. Which is what happened here - that, and the discovery of a potential cure for insomnia.

It wasn’t a bad book, and except when Mrs Porter was rambling without full stops I didn’t actively dislike it - I was simply bored by it. Fragments of life at Mrs Porter’s were jumbled up with fragments of memories and Dalton’s efforts to resist the temptation to follow children, and it all seemed totally pointless. (And because I’m midway through Bleak House, I kept wanting to read Vales as Vholes.) None of the characters interested me, not even the puzzle of whether Dalton harboured any criminal intentions toward the children he watched. If he actually was a paedophile he was sick and creepy, if he was just misunderstood he was sad and creepy; either way I didn’t care to read about him. For a while I got some entertainment value by speculating as to where and when it was set (a matter so vague that after nearly 80 pages contemporary Perth is still only a best guess) but I finally decided that there are too many good books out there to waste any more time on this one.

Read: 78 of 240 pages.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776