Back on January 21, I posted a review of Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s Bittersweet. I remember being so excited about the book that I did what many people would refer to as “jumping the gun”: sharing my thoughts with the public way ahead of the book’s publication date (which, by the way, isn’t until May). It wasn’t until after I’d already amplified the post on social media, including tagging Ms. Beverly-Whittemore herself on Twitter, that it occurred to me that I might find myself in hot water with the publisher for sharing so early. I hadn’t Googled the book to check for reviews from others; for all I knew, I was the first to go live.
Was I worried? More than a little. Was I going to take down the review? Only if Ms. Beverly-Whittemore, or her publisher, asked me to. So what the hell possessed me to leave the post in place, if I developed this belated “oh sh*t” mentality?
The best phrase I can think of — unbridled enthusiasm for the writing.
I mean, holy crap, was it good! I could only hope that, being a new blogger, any repercussions from the author or publisher came in the form of a cyber slap on the wrist, so to speak. That was the best I could hope for…but the cease-and-desist never happened. In fact, Ms. Beverly-Whittemore (who I hope doesn’t mind if I call her Miranda from here on out) responded humbly and happily on Twitter, and we discussed not only the merits of the book but of the “OMG-this-actor-would-be-the-perfect-[character name here]” page-to-screen adaptation that such great writing inevitably leads to dreams of. We “followed” each other on Twitter — which, for any of my less-than-tech-savvy readers, is much less creepy than it sounds — and I later unashamedly admitted that I had become a fan of hers and was planning to read her other books. It was the start of a beautiful author-to-reader relationship, or at least I thought so. And life went on.
Fast forward to this morning. I was driving home from running errands with Joshua when the notification light on my cell phone started blinking. At the next red light (because I’m a good girl and don’t text/tweet/read/take selfies/whatever while the car is in motion…unless Hubs is driving and I’m in the passenger seat, in which case I wish you luck prying my phone from my hands!), I checked the notification and saw the @ symbol. Someone had mentioned me in a tweet. But who? Why? I’ve been posting every day, but I didn’t think I’d written anything that had really captured anyone’s attention.
So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the notification and found this:
Miranda remembered me. A little blogger with a tiny readership, a New Jersey mom who enjoys reading and blogging in what somehow passes for spare time. This published author remembered me. Cool!
And then I read the article she linked to.
And I cried. Oh, did I cry. Not only had Miranda, whose book I loved and whose writing I tremendously admired, remembered me, but I’d apparently made a strong enough impression on her that she’d put a screenshot of her review on my website, picture included, AND a link to Read-at-Home Mama for all of her readers to visit, in her article.
Color me speechless! Flabbergasted! Completely, utterly honored! And — perhaps Miranda, and other authors and bloggers can relate most easily to this — validated!
See, I’m (obviously) not a professional critic. My reviews don’t show up in the New York Times or People, or on the Entertainment Weekly website (which is where I discovered her in the first place). I’m just a mom who happens to enjoy reading and writing; what better way to combine all those elements than to build a blog of book reviews, right?
If I hadn’t joined NetGalley, I may not have discovered this book until May (when it’s published), if at all! My son and the Thomas the Train set in the children’s section of our local Barnes and Noble fly together like opposing ends of a magnet, so unless Joshua is being watched by someone else, I have a hard time perusing bookshelves at the leisurely pace I enjoyed before becoming a parent. Both the parent and the reader in me would like to thank the gods for gifting the blogging world with the genius who created NetGalley!
Bittersweet is a book certainly fit to be reviewed (as I obviously have), but at its heart it’s a book for readers. As Miranda puts it, it brought me the “‘I can’t put it down, I can’t come to the dinner table, I can’t go to sleep’ addictive rush” I love seeking out in books. It provides a much-needed escape from the chaos of real life. It’s exactly the kind of book I can (and did!) stay up all night with, but I may have gotten a completely different impression — and possibly declined to read it at all — had I read a published, professional review first.
Which leads me to the true reason why I started Read-at-Home Mama! When I used to read reviews in the paper/online/in magazines, the reviewers’ “holier-than-thou” voices left me feeling as though I had no right to be reading the reviews they were writing, and forget about the books themselves. I understand the necessity of a professional-sounding voice when writing reviews, but they’re so impersonal. I feel like I’m being talked at, not talked to. Oftentimes, the reviews have been more likely to turn me off to a book than the book itself is, which does a terrible disservice to the author. I started this site with the mindset that when I review a book I’ve read, I write the same way I talk, similar to stream-of-consciousness — as though we’re having a conversation about the book. I let the words spill out onto the screen through my fingers and then go back and edit when all my thoughts have left my body. (Now, if only I had that capability when it came to speaking!) I don’t want to sound like I’m “above” you, because I’m certainly not; we’re on a level playing field.
The books I choose to read are as much for you as they are for me, and I think my reviews — including my voice and language — should reflect that. I write for my readers, just as authors like Miranda write for their readers. And we, in turn as readers, read for writers; we read to escape, to appreciate, to relate, to devour. And when we escape, appreciate, relate, and devour — as authors hope we will — and tell them that their writing helped us to do those things, I think it validates them in a way that no award really can. I doubt most writers write with the primary goal being the Nobel in Literature. They just want to be read, and to be readable. People like me serve as the bridge between writers and readers. We read, we share our opinions, we spread the word. That’s what I hope to do with Bittersweet, because I truly, strongly feel it deserves the enthusiasm that, for the sake of professionalism, it may not get from the Times or People or wherever.
Even if I weren’t a blogger, I would still read and recommend books to my friends and family. Having my blog allows me to expand this cycle of reading and recommending to people outside my real-life circles, thereby sticking to my goal of spreading the word. Though my reach may not be as long as I wish it were, the word of mouth from you, my readers, extends it further than my eyes could possibly ever hope to see. Let’s just call ourselves one great, big Stretch Armstrong. This could apply to any author you love! Read a book, fall in love with it, tell five people; tell them to do the same; have your five people each read and tell five more people; and so on. The reach of the reader is powerful and ultimately infinite. Because I truly felt within my heart that Miranda and Bittersweet deserved it, I stretched myself out as far as I could and put my honest, unpaid, unswayed opinion out there for all the world to see. I loved Bittersweet and I hope that, when it finally arrives on bookshelves, that you’ll read it and love it too.
Miranda wrote for me; I read for her, and for you. I wrote for you; you read for me, and I thank you.
When May 13 arrives, I hope you’ll bring this full cycle and read Bittersweet for Miranda, which she wrote for you, and that you’ll write for us by commenting, tweeting, Facebooking, whatever you like best, and letting us know what you think.
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