Anna James is a school librarian and book blogger. She blogs at acaseforbooks.com and is Recommendations Editor at gobookyourself.co, she’s also on Twitter at @acaseforbooks. Here she writes about her work and the joy of recommending books.
The first reaction to saying you’re a book blogger is often for people to ask whether you get free books. I do, and it’s lovely, but the real joy is not that you don’t have to pay for them but that you get to read them first. I am more than happy to pay for books but it’s a huge privilege, and always exciting, to be able to read them early.
Whilst I’ve had a book blog for three years now, I only really started to build a bigger readership and get involved in the literary community, on Twitter and in real life, in the last year. I also moved from Blogspot to Tumblr and, with some help, made my blog look a little more professional and clean. I also like to think that my writing has progressed somewhat. I definitely need to have a little edit of my archives.
I had a very different experience with the other blog I’m involved in, Go Book Yourself. In October a Twitter friend, Daniel Dalton, asked if I’d be interested in helping with a new blog he had an idea for. The premise was that amidst the countless book review blogs, we would take popular books and offer recommendations for further reading. I send Dan the lists and he makes it look incredible. We launched at the end of October and two days later John Green tweeted about our The Fault in Our Stars list and we woke up to 7000 followers. BuzzFeed then found us and a combination of some high profile help and filling a gap in the book blog market means that in three months we have over 60000 followers.
I love being part of Go Book Yourself because it lets me do what I love matching readers with books they will love. In my day job as a school librarian I try to match teenagers with books that will open their eyes to the wonder of fiction as well as attempting to keep up with recommendations for my avid readers. For example, I have two Year 10 girls who after reading the whole Man Booker shortlist and discovering a love for Eleanor Catton are now nagging me to finish The Rehearsal so we can discuss it. I love it when friends or Twitter strangers who have nothing to do with the book industry ask me for recommendations. I love finding new books that I adore and championing them. I am very grateful that I get to meet authors I love and fascinating book people regularly and that I get to go to parties where there are as many books as canapes. Being at the Granta Booker party at the moment Eleanor won was an indescribably special moment and highlight.
In 2012, the chair of the then Man Booker judges, Sir Peter Stothard caused a ruckus when he wrote an article claiming that book bloggers were killing literary criticism. It’s an ongoing debate and I find myself rather straddling the fence. I sit in a middle position because I blog, I am not a paid literary critic but I do work in the book industry, albeit as a librarian. But what makes someone qualified to review a book? Is it being well read, having a background in the book industry, being able to write well? What separates critics from bloggers, other than being paid, is rather abstract. Yes, there are simplistic or unintelligent reviews on a plethora of book blogs but I would argue there are also simplistic and sensationalist reviews from professional critics. There are enlightened, intelligent reviews from professional critics, but these also exist on blogs. Bad reviews are harmful to the book industry, good reviews build it up, wherever they come from. I’m a fan of books and of people reading them. I want well written, thoughtful reviews and I want there to be as many avenues to people discovering books they love as possible.