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L.T. Suzuki

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Part Two of the Caroline Leavitt Interview:
9/3/2009 6:28:27 AM
How books are chosen for reviews, what writers should be aware of to avoid the dreaded negative review, what it really means to judge a book by its cover and more!


Thank you for returning to share in your knowledge & experience as a professional book reviewer, Caroline. Part Two of your guest blog promises to be just as interesting as the first part as you reveal how books are chosen for reviews, what writers should be aware of to avoid the dreaded negative review, what it really means to judge a book by its cover and the changing landscape of publishing with the growing popularity of e-books!

LS: When you are reading to prepare a review for the Boston Globe or People are the books assigned to you by the newspaper/magazine editor? If not, does the author or a publishing house forward the book to you or do you get the luxury of picking and choosing the books you review?

CL: I pick and choose the books I want to review for the Globe. People assigns them to me. The author is always out of the picture. It is considered a breach of ethics to review a book from an author that I know or have had contact with so I always call the publicist from the publishing house to request a book. On my blog, itís a little different, because itís much more informal. Iíll do Q and As with writers I know, with full disclosure that I know them. Publishers also send me tons of books in hopes one will pique my interest and I will review it. I have relationships with a lot of terrific publicists at publishing houses who know what I like and what I review, and they often call to tell me about a new title, which I really appreciate. I depend on the publicists! Publishers also send me book catalogues for upcoming seasons and I request the books I think I might like to review.

LS: For the many seasoned and aspiring writers reading this blog, can you please share with us some of the elements of a novel that would compel you to give it a rave review?

CL: I have to be pulled in by the first page. There has to be a character I really care about, a person that I would follow anywhere. It doesnít matter what the genre is or if I know the work of the author. I want the writing to pull me into the world of the story and not call attention to the writer (usually, overly flowery language kills a book for me.) Basically, I want to fall in love with the story.

LS: Can you share with our readers the last book youíve reviewed that was worthy of such praise?

CL: Iím not sure why, but lately, Iíve been reviewing mostly non-fiction, so I try to review fiction on my blog. One book I loved, which I am about to post about was Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline, about marriage, friendship, and a betrayal. She got inside the heads of all her characters so you can feel their hearts beating on the page, and I loved the way she writes about those moments that change everything in life, those small events that can transform. The writing was gorgeous, the pace never faltered and the ending was a knockout. I finished the book a week ago, but I am still thinking about it and admiring it.

LS: On the flip side of the coin, what are some of the elements of a novel youíd like to warn our readers about to avoid receiving those dreaded reviews that shine a negative light on the book?

CL: As an author, I recognize that no one sets out to deliberately write a bad book or to annoy reviewers! I try not to bash books because there is such limited space and I would rather call attention to a book I love. If a book is full of flowery language, I wonít read it. If the first pages donít hook me and feel alive, I wonít read it. If it doesnít feel true, I put it down. Gimmicky plot twists make my teeth itch. Unbelievable characters do me in. An unsatisfying or unearned ending can ruin a wonderful book.
I think when writing a book, authors should not think about reviews or even readers, but they should just write the book they themselves are obsessed with reading. They should write from that inner core with passion and commitment, and that will make the book universal to others.

LS: I know reviews are subjective, but without naming the author or the book, one of the things that disappoints me the most is when a story introduces fascinating characters and an intriguing plotline, but the last chapter sputters to a less-than-stunning conclusion. Either that, or it is so far-fetched in a bid to build the climax it becomes rather unbelievable. Have you experienced a similar situation before, especially when a book is heavily hyped as a potential bestseller or the authorís previous novels were wonderful, but their latest title falls short of expectations?

CL: Yes, I have. Iím not sure why this happens. Did the author refuse to change something the editor wanted her/him to? Sometimes, editors leave a house before a book is published, which is usually bad news for the author, and the book becomes an orphan and does not get the care it needs, and things slip by. Thatís why I never believe the hype about a particular book. I always have to read for myself. One great thing about being a critic is you come to realize that a review is simply one personís opinion. There have been highly regarded books that I have really hated, and books that got so Ėso reviews that I loved and championed.

LS: I find the old adage ďnever judge of book by its coverĒ does not necessarily apply to books. With the number of self-published books available now, Iíve noticed some of these authors also fancy themselves as artists. Theyíve created the artwork for the book cover that they believe is beautiful (especially according to their mother or grandmother), but in reality, it lacks that professional, polished look. How much of the cover design influences your decision to buy or read a book? Or if the cover art is substandard, but the book synopsis is very intriguing, will this be enough to divert your eyes from the cover, enough to persuade you to take a read?

CL: Covers are very, very important. There are so many books on the bookshelves these days that sometime an eye-catching cover is what separates a book being picked up and looked at or ignored. An unprofessional looking cover seems to indicate that no one really cared about the book. Cover design, for me, draws me to a book I donít know about. The cover should be evocative. But then I read the first page! If the first page doesnít grab me, then the book can have the best cover in the world, and I wonít buy it.
On the other hand, often review books are sent to me as galleys, with colored paper covers without anything on them but the title. A good title might make me pick up a book and see what it is about. The title should tell you something about what the book is about and not be confusing. But again, I read the first pageóthatís the key for me.

LS: With the evolution of the e-books, do you feel they will change the landscape of publishing? Some love while others loathe the e-book. Where do you stand and why?

CL: I donít love e-books. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the paper, the cover, the smell of the book. I love turning page by hand. When Iím reading on the subway, I like to look up and see what someone else is reading and maybe even talk to him or her about the book if I know it, and I canít do that if he or she is holding a Kindle. I just am a traditionalist! I think e-books are changing publishing right now by appealing to people who just love the technology involved. If they get more people reading, then I have to say that I am all for themóbut personally? Give me a regular book.

LS: Aside from the book you are reviewing now, what are you reading for pleasure and how did this book make it on your must-read list?

CL: I just finished Dan Chaonís Await Your Reply, which I loved. I had read and blurbed his book You Remind Me Of Me and was knocked out. Itís brilliantly written, dark and it weaves together the stories of a group of people grappling with identity theft. Iíve never read anything like it, and I admire his writing so much, Iíd read his grocery list.

LS: Thank you so much for sharing in your work and wisdom, Caroline! I do believe our readers would love to see a follow-up interview with Caroline Leavitt the author, especially with the anticipated release of your latest novel ďBreatheĒ by Algonquin Books in August 2010.

CL: Thank you so muchóthis has been really fun.

For more information about Caroline Leavitt check out:
Website link: http://www.carolineleavitt.com
Blog: http://carolineleavittville.blospot.com
Where to buy the books: Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Twitter: Leavittnovelist.twitter
Facebook: Caroline Leavitt


Comments (3)

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