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Apricot blossoms

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Lately, there is a lot of kerfluffle about the future of the book review. HuffPost had an article where major critics commented on the relevance of the book review today Anis Shivani: Book Reviews: Major Critics Speak On How To Keep Them Relevant (PHOTOS). The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog has commentary by Mary Halford on Zadie Smith’s new post as reviewer of books at Harper’s. Over on The Millions, novelist (and reviewer) Emily St. John Mandel talks about how she handles bad reviews.  The Millions : On Bad Reviews. A blow to my heart, New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger talks about the problems with memoirs The Problem With Memoirs – NYTimes.com. Why all the fuss?

It seems the Internet is changing the way books are reviewed. No longer is it a choice of either questionable reviews on Amazon or long, well-crafted critiques in newspapers such as The New York Times or the UK’s Guardian. Now, we have bloggers — anyone from the more widely read HuffPost Books, The Book Beast, The Millions and The Book Bench to smaller sites such as Sparkling Reviews, Nancy Pearl and Beth Fish Reads. How does a reader sift through all of these opinions to determine which books to buy?

Bloggers are getting their opinions out there while helping promote authors who might otherwise miss out on an audience, but does the quality of the review suffer?  It seems these bloggers are democratizing the process of choosing books for the public, taking the choice from a select few albeit high quality reviewers and broadening the number of books represented.

Zadie Smith, in her new position at Harper’s is trying to address this change. She believes the book review is being reinvented thanks to the Internet. She’s even chosen the more middlebrow title of reviewer because she will review three to four books per month in 2000 words or less rather than the longer pieces traditionally put forth by critics who use the space to make big arguments and to put more of themselves into the pieces. Now, readers want shorter reviews without compromising on quality. Currently, quality can suffer and even worse an inconsiderate reader has the power to post a negative review and wreak considerable damage. However, readers enjoy the intimacy of the Internet where they might befriend a writer from anywhere in the world within minutes. Interestingly, although Smith is addressing changes wrought by the Internet, her online reviews will be available by paid subscription only.

An organic curation process seems to be happening where talented bloggers are rising to the top, but it still feels a little like the Wild West out in the book review blogosphere. I’d love to learn where all of you go for your trusted reviews. Please drop me a comment and I’ll be sure to check out your trusted reader sites.

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First, sorry for my prolonged absence. I had teacher’s luncheons to cook, book fairs to manage, cookies to bake and presents to prepare. We spent a rainy, Snuggi-wrapped first Christmas here in Northern California enjoying our new books and xBox. We all enjoyed getting to know our area better visiting Muir Woods, Mount Diablo, Sausalito and the Academy of Sciences. Tim and I celebrated our 16th anniversary on New Year’s Eve watching ‘The King’s Speech’ (excellent) and dining at a french bistro. Tomorrow it is back to reality. Today is my warm-up.

Did any of you make New Year’s resolutions? I’m not a big fan. Too much pressure for this list-completing personality. So, instead I’m going to think about how to live more mindfully this year. Thanks to Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent for her inspiration.

Believe in myself

Believe in my family

Take time for the important things

Go to yoga class, it works

This is a work-in-progress. I’ll add to it as I go. I’ve signed up for the “Monster Memoir Manuscript Workshop” with Rachel Howard at The Grotto in San Francisco. Please oh please let it help me finish my book! I’m checking out a new writing group next week. More on that later. I will continue my volunteer work at a literary project in the Mission and at Raising a Reader just down the street here in Palo Alto. Oh, and I’d like to spend time with my children. At ages 10, 12 and 14 (how I love the even years) they are actually a lot of fun!

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Like this quote

“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.”

Take heart all you writers out there!

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Six female memoirists spoke at the Litquake Literary Festival session entitled Life, Death, Love, Lies…and Cupcakes: Litquake’s All-Memoir Women’s Night last Friday, October 8th. There were two stand-outs for me, although I truly enjoyed each talk. Zoe Fitzgerald Carter read from Imperfect Endings: A Daughter’s Tale of Life and Death which she describes as an uplifting story of a woman determined to die on her own terms and the family who has to learn to let her go. The passage she chose to read describes a meeting between her Mom who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Zoe, her sister and a man from the Hemlock Society, a right-to-die organization. I was skeptical about the ‘uplifting’ part of the description of this book, but Zoe is charming and presents a combination of humor and empathy that makes this book an important source for any family going through a similar ordeal. I can’t wait to start reading.

Laura Fraser, most recently author of The New York Times bestseller An Italian Affair chose to address the furor over Jonathan Franzen’s new book, Freedom and specifically comments by authors Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult about it. Weiner and Picoult complain that men who write about family affairs are touted as brilliant, while women who write about similar topics are often overlooked. Fraser weighed in on this literary debate with a post called  Franzen Book Controversy: Chick Lit v. Dude Lit – The Daily Beast and then read it to the audience at Litquake with one important word change; wherever you see Dude next to Lit, substitute a word that rhymes with Chick. This one word made all the difference in her live presentation. My takeaway is that rather than gripe about not getting enough attention, Fraser chose to put male authors in a box similar to the Chick Lit box to demonstrate just how silly (and possibly damaging) labels can be.

Next year I will travel to more Litquake Festival events. Well done to the co-founders and co-directors, Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware.

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