This week the wonderful Mieneke (A Fantastical Librarian) has taken over the blog. Her is her first piece: an interview with herself!
Interviewing yourself is rather a funny business. But since here on the Jo Fletcher Blog they usually combine a blogger guest post with an interview with said blogger, it was kind of self-evident that I’d have to do one too. In addition, in the past six months (give or take a week or two) I’ve been interviewing bloggers for my Blogger Query, so I figured it was past time I had a seat at the opposite end of the table. That proved much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve been asking these questions each interview, but having to answer them myself was a very different proposition. Still, I managed something coherent for all of them, I hope. These are my answers to my own Blogger Query.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Mieneke van der Salm?
Well, my About Me section reads I work as an information specialist at a university library. In my free time I aim to create and read my own library at home and, together with my husband, raise two little geek girls.
But that’s sort of cheating so here goes: I’m a thirty-something from the Netherlands. I’ve always had a passion for books and decided to study English Lit at university because it combined my favourite language with lots of reading and in the end I thought I might end up a buyer for a bookstore and get to read for a living. Yes, that shows that a) I knew nothing about publishing and book-selling and b) I had no idea what I was getting into with the lots of reading part. Still I loved my time at university and after doing an internship at our Royal Library and some other jobs around libraries, I ended up at the University Library as an information specialist. That doesn’t actually mean I’m surrounded by books all day, as they’re actually on a different floor, but I do get to do many different things, among which is teaching information literacy.
What got you into blogging?
When I got my current position at the library, one of the things I was given to take care of was the Leiden2.0 course, which was a way for us to familiarise our patrons with the wonderful world of the social web. Since I was going to be maintaining it, I decided I needed to know what all the lessons were about and lesson number two was starting a blog.
Why then a book reviewing blog? I’d discovered book blogs early in 2010, after rereading GRRM’s ASoIaF and wondering whether book five was finally out yet. I went and Googled for it. Through this I ended up on a book blog and started clicking around and reading other reviews and following links to other blogs. I was amazed that there were all these people just as crazy for my kind of books as I was. After reading along for a couple of months, when I had to start up my own blog for work I thought why not and took a leap of faith and here we are over two years later and I’ve even graduated to my own domain, something I’d never expected.
Why A Fantastical Librarian?
To be honest? At the time I started the blog I read mostly fantasy, I was a librarian and The Fantastical Librarian was too much like The Speculative Scotsman, so after throwing some other options at Amanda, then of Floor to Ceiling Books, I decided to go with A Fantastical Librarian. It’s that simple, really.
What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?
This seemed such great question when I came up with it, but now I have to answer it myself it’s a lot harder than I thought. I could say my honesty, but that’s not really unique as there are many who give their honest opinion. I could say my diverse reading and blogging habits as I cover not just speculative fiction, but historical fiction, crime and YA as well. But again, not alone there. So I’ll go with my Blogger Query feature, as while I’m not the only interviewing bloggers, I think I’m the only one doing so on a weekly basis.
What are your goals for your blog?
My goals for my blog are many and varied, but the most important one has to be: Read Good Books. If I don’t do that, there wouldn’t be much fun in it now would there? (And yes I realise you could base a blog on bad books, but no—not that fun.) And I think that is the point for everyone involved in blogging, bloggers and blog readers alike; we’re all looking for our next great read, aren’t we?
A by-product of the above of course is to have fun and that’s almost just as important. Other things I have on my list? Getting my visitors back – and beyond – to where they were before I moved the blog over to its own domain, as growing your audience is always nice. And something that is completely shallow, but would make me really proud, is to get a quote on a book. That would be just so cool and also a confirmation that my reviews are actually readable and not just me waffling on.
One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?
I chose not to rate on A Fantastical Librarian because rating is so subjective. Ratings aren’t just based on the writing or the plot or the world building; the experience of reading a book is more than just the words on a page, it’s were the reader’s head is at during the reading, what her personal preferences are, whether it was raining on the day she started the book. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you see where I’m going with this, it all depends on context. It’s almost impossible to judge each book by some dry, empirical standard and I decided I wouldn’t even try on my blog. People can see whether I enjoyed a book from my review, they don’t need stars to elucidate it to them. However, since I also post reviews to Goodreads and Amazon, I do have to rate them there and at times deciding on the amount of stars takes me as much time as writing the review.
Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?
Yay, though preferably well underpinned with why. I don’t write very many negative reviews, though I believe that even most positive reviews will contain an element of critique in them, as the perfect book hasn’t been written (yet) and I do strife to point out things that worked less well for me. Sometimes I can’t think of one though and I’ll let it go, because thinking of a negative just to tick it off from a ‘must include’-list is just silly. But I think it’s imperative that reviewers write critical reviews in addition to positive ones, as it gives the reader more of a feeling for a reviewer’s taste and it’s more honest; no one can like everything they read unequivocally.
How important are blogs to your reading choices?
Not as important as they used to be. These days I keep pretty well-informed and I know what’s coming out, where previously blogs were my main method of discovery. However, it still happens that I’ll read a review for a book I’ve missed or whose back cover text hadn’t really gotten my attention and I’ll be convinced that actually I’m an idiot and this is a book I should read.
How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?
Would messily be an acceptable answer? I think there is a lot of potential for the book business in their interactions with bloggers, but I also think they’ve not yet found their feet in how to go about it. It’s tricky ground to tread as professionals (the publishers) have to deal in a professional capacity with non-professionals (bloggers) who don’t do this for a living and won’t all approach the interaction in a similar manner. The possibilities for miscommunication and misunderstanding are rife.
In a perfect world book bloggers would be the perfect middle man between publishers and readers to facilitate discovery. They are the online version of word-of-mouth, but with a more established online identity and location, unlike for example Amazon reviews, which have proven to be rather unreliable. In reality though, the past year has proven that there is a lot of drama in the book blogging community, with not just the Amazon sock-puppets, but numerous Goodreads kerfuffles and bad behaviour on both sides of the fence, which doesn’t do much for blogger credibility I’m afraid.
What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?
My current read is Geoffrey Wilson’s Land of Hope and Glory, an alternate historical fantasy. The book I’m looking forward to most, beyond all the usual suspects and the next instalments of series I’m reading, is Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls which is due for publication in May of next year. I fell in love with Ms Beukes’ writing when I read Zoo City and Moxyland shortly after it and I’ve been waiting ever since for a new novel by her.
Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?
Seeing as my husband and girls probably won’t count under this header, after asking Wiebe, the answer has to be London. It’s my favourite city in the world and if it were up to me we’d visit it at least twice a year. However, since I’m not a millionaire and not in the possession of a teleporter, I only get to go every other year. In the meantime I make do with reading books set in London such as Ben Aaronovitch’s The Folly series and Jo Fletcher’s own Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
It used to be a mixture of both, by genre and then by how it best fit on the shelves – I hate skipping to a new shelf in the middle of a series or author – but then my eldest daughter started crawling and things have never been the same since. We’ve been able to put books back on the bottom two shelves recently, but it’s still a bit of a mess and lots of double shelving. One day though, if we ever move to a new house, I hope to have more shelves and be able to single shelf all my books again.