Tantalizing Tuesdays: Reviewer Spotlight with Michelle Shannon of That's What She Read!

Welcome to our second installment of “Tantilizing Tuesdays: Reviewer Spotlights!” on the blog. The idea is that starting in June every Tuesday we would run a Q &A with book review blogger about their work. We are only asking reviewers whose work we respect and who promote/have affiliate relationships with Independent Bookstores. Hopefully it will produce some new exposure for the reviewer and maybe become a venue for sharing what is working in independent publishing and bookselling.
This week we are talking with Michelle Shannon of
http://www.thatswhatsheread.net/, a wonderful review blog! She was kind enough to answer our questions about the reviewer life:


OBOFS: How did your book review blog come about?

MS: I used to be a member of an online book club, several members of which had started their own book blogs. I had no idea what they were or why anyone would want to start one! Granted, I was also getting my MBA and spending all of my free time studying or doing homework, so I was a bit preoccupied. During my last term of classes, I was on the lookout for something to fill my free time after I graduated, and suddenly, blogging piqued my interest. I created my blog in January of 2009, six months before graduation. In the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing and no real idea why I was doing it, other than it looked fun and different. After about a year, and many changes, things clicked and I not only figured out what I was doing and why, I had a goal. Most importantly, I found my voice. Since then, reviewing and blogging remain easy and fun, and over four years later, I love every minute of it!

OBOFS: What has been the best surprise to come from it?

MS: The biggest surprise has been how easy it seems. I am always astounded by other bloggers who complain about how much work blogging is, how tired they are, how unenthusiastic they are about it. For me, I've never had those lulls in energy or desire. I have honestly loved

OBOFS: What 3 books do you wish you had never wasted your time with?

MS: Assuming you mean since I started reviewing, they would have to be ELYNIA by David Michael Belczyk, EREKOS by A. M Tuomala, and Y by Bonnie Rozanski. All three are utterly forgettable, could have used some major editing and critiquing, and totally not worth even starting.

OBOFS: What 3 books are beyond stunning for you?

MS: Just 3? It is so difficult to narrow it down. AMERICAN PSYCHO by Bret Easton Ellis, as gory and disturbing as it is, is the first book to come to mind. I read it last year and cannot stop raving about it. THE NIGHT RAINBOW by Claire King is one I finished a few months ago and absolutely adored. Another one that I never would have even read had it not been for blogging friends is Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER. It remains my favorite one of the entire series to date. All three are books that I continually recommend and which still get me thinking.

OBOFS: What are you reading right now that you can’t put down?

MS: I'm in between books right now, but I just finished Dan Savage's newest, AMERICAN SAVAGE. I love what he has to say, and I love how he says it. He makes fun of everyone, including himself. More importantly, he presents both sides of an argument AND uses citations (correctly) when making a point. It is such a rare occurrence when reading nonfiction to see citations within the text, and yet it has a huge impact on an author's credibility IMO.

I also recently finished J. Courtney Sullivan's THE ENGAGEMENTS. That one is going to a be a hot summer read. Masterfully written and brilliantly combined, it is one that makes a reader rethink the entire ngagement/marriage industry.

OBOFS: What would you like writers to know about working with reviewers?

MS: The biggest thing I would like writers to understand is that what most book bloggers are doing is a labor of love and not something for which we are paid. We fit books in when we can and have done a decent job carving out personal time to read. The same goes for writing reviews and maintaining our websites. This is all done between full-time jobs and/or jobs as parents, spouses, sons, and daughters. We all take great pride in what we do and the service we provide authors and publishers. However, we are all voluntary.

I also want writers to understand that for me, I recognize that every book I read is also a labor of love for someone. I do my best to finish every book I start because I feel I owe it to the author to understand a story in its entirety. It's only fair, in my opinion. Statistically speaking, however, it is impossible for me to like every book I read, and there comes a time when I will have to write a critical review. For my own part, I strive for honesty and fairness in all of my reviews, and critical reviews are never personal attacks on an author. Rather, they are my own uniquely personal reactions to a book that are due to my life experiences, my values, and my opinions. I promise to read everything completely and with an open mind, and I reserve the right to express my opinions, however negative or critical, but I promise that I will do so fairly and openly.

OBOFS: What would you like readers to know about the reviewing experience?

MS: Writing reviews is not as easy as one might initial think. There are times when a review all but writes itself; those are the best types of reviews and the ones you hope you have more often than not. Most of the time, however, they take time and effort to write deliberately and fairly and can even become tedious. I called blogging a labor of love, and it really is. Why else would we struggle to write a review for a book for which we will never get paid and which may never get seen beyond a few dozen people? Still, when you make a connection with a book AND can convey that connection to others, thereby getting them to read and love that same book, it makes it completely worth all mental flogging.

OBOFS: Why did you decide to support Indies with your blog? What would you like the public to know about that decision?

MS: I was lucky enough to grow up near Anderson's Book Shop in Naperville, IL - one of the better Indie bookstores in the Midwest. As I got involved in the publishing industry and learned more about Amazon's business practices, I realized just how special bookstores like Anderson's really are and how much they build and support a community. Having lived in areas not supported by Indie bookstores in recent decades, I still want to be able to support these wonderful stores however I can, even if that means I can only do it remotely via becoming a member of IndieBound and associate of Powells'. Indie bookstores provide a much more personalized shopping experience than anything you can find in Barnes and Noble or other big box stores; kids especially need that personalized touch if we want to promote reading. More importantly, Indies really can be the heart of a community and deserve as much support as we can give them.

OBOFS: Where do you want your blog to be in 1 year? 5 years?

MS: I've been saying for the past four years that I would somehow love to be able to take what I do via blogging and turn it into a real, paying job. Reading and writing make me happy and satisfy me in a way that I never get with my actual job. I would hope that if not within the next year then perhaps within the next five years, that this dream does come true for me.

I don't see things changing all that much for me in the next year. I have found a great balance between work, family, and blogging. I am one of the founding members and media director of Bloggers Recommend, a new collective effort of bloggers to recommend new books to readers, much like Indie Next lists. I am also a member of the She Reads book club. These are all keeping me busy and fulfilled at the moment.

A five-year plan is much more difficult considering how quickly things change on the Internet. In five years, my oldest child will be in college (yikes), and my youngest will be entering high school. I know I will have more time and more energy. I really want to find that paying job in publishing, writing, editing, or anything else book-related by then. As for blogging, I imagine that I will still be here, providing insightful and honest opinions about books I've read. I love it too much to ever want to stop.

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