BBAW: Meet Gwen from Chew & Digest Books

In keeping with our Book Blogger Appreciation Week festivities through Friday, today’s prompt asked us to get to know another member of our awesome and rapidly-growing book blogosphere (do y’all like that word: blogosphere? I remain undecided, though I use the term often. Out of necessity).

My interview partner is the lovely and talented Gwen of Chew & Digest Books, tagged by its creator as “mostly nonfiction book reviews for book lusters.” Paging through a few of Gwen’s most recent posts, you’ll come across an enticing mix of bookish and personal posts — and those are often my favorite sort of blogs. As Gwen and I discuss later in the interview, I really love sites that allow me to get to know the author as well as — if not better than — the subject on which they’re writing. And after spending some time over at Chew & Digest Books, I’m well on my way to being one of Gwen’s big fans.

And check out my answers to Gwen’s thoughtful questions!

1. Meg: In your “about me” section — which was hilarious, by the way — you state that while you mostly read American history, memoirs/biographies and mystery/suspense, you’re “never opposed to try[ing] something new.” Why do you think so many of us tend to stick like glue to our favorite genres? How have you busted out of that and expanded into reading different things?

Gwen: First, I think that people are human and being human, they dislike change. Once you find a genre or style of reading that you like, you tend to stick with it. We also make a lot less time to read in these days, so taking a risk on a new genre could often wind up a big waste of precious time if we pick the wrong one.

Personally, I think the above is hogwash and short sighted. If you never try anything new, you get stuck in a rut and reading is the one place in your life where you should take risks because really, what are the consequences? The worst thing that could happen is that you are out the $10-20 for a book and an hour of your time. It isn’t like skydiving where you pay $350 to get up in a plane only to realize that you are terrified of heights! It is a book, not a death-defying act or a tattoo related act of rebellion against your parents.

Second, has a lot to do with blogging. Niche. Let’s all take a moment to thank the French for creating one of the major buzzwords of blogging. Some blogs can pull of being about everything, but let’s face it, most can’t quite pull it off successfully. By focusing on one subject, or in the case of book bloggers, one genre, our audience knows what to expect. By planting your flag in one genre, you tend to find lovers of the same genre to subscribe to you.

I am a freakishly eclectic in just about every aspect of my life. That is a nice way of saying that I have the attention span of gnat. I have had a million jobs in many different fields, listen to everything from classical to Irving Berlin to Maroon 5, cook, paint, sew, refinish furniture, landscape, bungee jump, etc. I have no problem trying new things, but sticking to genres? Well, that is hard.

2. You focus pretty exclusively on nonfiction at Chew & Digest Books. For you, what is the appeal of nonfiction over a novel? What do you experience in one that you cannot experience in the other?

The short answer- I have a dream of being on Jeopardy and every nonfiction book is another step in that direction.

The long answer- I read nonfiction because I have always had a thirst for knowledge and learning. Each nonfiction is a lot like a scavenger hunt with the clues. For example, I just read a book called The Associates by Richard Rayner and in a couple of sentences about Horace Greeley intrigued me. After losing the Presidential Election in 1872 to Grant, Greeley went mad and died a month later. How can you not be intrigued by a man that was put in an asylum and died just a month after running for president?

Little things like that get me excited and start me on a trail to another book. Which in turn, might lead me to another book, etc. Fiction doesn’t really do that for me. Sure, there are sequels and reoccurring characters, but there isn’t that wee trail of bread crumbs leading you from one subject to the next.

3. I love your “A Bit About Me(Me)” posts. For me, part of the fun of reading someone’s blog is getting to know them as a person. Do you feel that way, too? When visiting a book blog, how much of the blogger’s personality do you want to show through in their posts?

Personality is HUGE for me in a book blog, or any blog really. If I don’t know what makes you get up in the morning, how I am going to trust your review of a book? So much of what makes a book good or bad is how it reacts with a person’s lifestyle and their life experience. When a blogger reviews a book by telling me how it relates to them, I am on the bus. It is a risk to put yourself out there, but a calculated risk.

By putting yourself into your blog and your reviews, you are giving a gift and helping to create a community. You are talking with me as opposed to talking at me. Totally win/win in my book.

4. A stereotype surrounding most avid readers, like us, is that we’re mousy, quiet and naturally introverted. How do you defy or embrace that description? Are you introverted or extroverted by nature?

I hate stereotypes and labels! There are three kinds of people in the world of Gwen; Cool people, people that aren’t cool but I am related to them in some way so I have to put up with them, & people that I don’t know yet.

I think that I am a homebody extrovert. I rather be at home with a good book, but if you take me out I am open and outgoing. I tend to be a leader when out in public. Hmm, I wonder if that is why I work best from home?

5. In a recent post, you mention shopping for bookcases. Just how bad is your “to be read” stack? Has it taken over your living space and threatened to consume you, or have you kept it at a manageable level?

We downsized houses earlier this year and there is nothing like moving to make you realize that your book collection is out of control. I instituted a policy of not going batcrazy with books, so my TBR stack is a manageable 40ish books. (call it my own version of the one-in-one-out theory)

6. When do you get the bulk of your reading done — morning, afternoon, evening? In the tub, on a treadmill or on a lunch break? How and where do you make time to read?

I work from home and read constantly. Part of my job is reading and reviewing books, so that gives me the perfect excuse for not cleaning as often as I should. “Sorry honey, these 6 books are due on Monday. No time to make you a birthday cake.” The only time that there isn’t at least one open is when I am sleeping. Even then, my iPod with the Kindle app is right under my pillow.

For me, it isn’t so much as making time to read, but making time to live.

7. Like me, you’ve been blogging since June 2008. What’s been the most challenging part of maintaining an active book blog for two years? The most rewarding?

Coming up with my own ideas so that the blog isn’t all reviews, all of the time is the hardest part. I am lucky, my work means that I get to finish about a book a day and I could throw up a review for most days of the week. The problem is that it wouldn’t be very interesting for readers and wouldn’t allow for me to use sharpen my chops as a writer.

The most rewarding is the friendships that I am developing. Like I said, I work from home and that means that I don’t often get the opportunity to get out and about amongst people that I have things in common with. Sure, I can tell my dog or boyfriend about the most hilarious thing I just read, but it doesn’t work for long. And- I also thing that the boyfriend has been giving the dog eye rolling lessons. Not cool when your dog starts rolling his eyes at you.

8. As an animal lover, what are your favorite books featured our favorite furry friends? Any you recommend to avid dog lovers that won’t make us burst into tears?

Shockers! I don’t read animal stories because no matter what, they always end up dying…. even if it isn’t in the story. You know that there have been like a million Goldens with the name Air Bud for the movies, right? Just like there were how many Rin-Tin-Tins and Lassies, too depressing.

BBAW will soon be upon us

Though summer still spreads before us like a glorious picnic blanket, it’s already time to start talking about Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2010. Last year’s festivities were such a blast, there’s no way I won’t be participating in this year’s events, too. If you’ve forgotten, friends, I interviewed Laurel Ann of Austenprose (adore her) and Tiffany of Tif Talks Books and chatted about some of my other favorite bloggers.

In between all that, I voted and communicated and found tons of new book bloggers, some of whom I still visit regularly. It was like a giant ice cream sundae for the book blogging community of which we’re all a part — a way for us to recognize each other for our hard work and dedication to the literary world. Sometimes it all goes unnoticed, we think, but then something like BBAW creeps up on us. Then? Not so unnoticed.

Voting this year is working differently than last September — mainly because now, we’re nominating ourselves! Visit the website to check out the niche categories and featured categories, then put yourself out there in the category you feel fits your blog best. This isn’t the time to be humble, friends; nominate away!

So I didn’t really know what niche category in which to settle write meg! I don’t write exclusively about any one genre and focus, instead, on young adult, women’s fiction, literary fiction, Austenesque novels and the occasional fantasy. In that vein, I threw my hat in for Best Eclectic Book Blog and Best Written Book Blog. To illustrate that, here are five posts to help me put my money where my typing is:

Best Eclectic Book Blog
Book review: French Milk by Lucy Knisley (graphic novel/memoir)
Book review: The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek (literary fiction)
Book review: The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
(young adult historical fiction)
Book review: North Of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (young adult contemporary fiction)
Book review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer, Barrows
(historical fiction)

Best Written Book Blog
Book review: Fat Cat by Robin Brande
Book review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Book review: Blankets by Craig Thompson
Book review: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Book review: Life After Yes by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

Pop over and learn more about BBAW ’10!

New York weekend: The Book Blogger Convention

Well, friends, I’m back — and not a moment too soon! I’d like to apologize for my longest period of blogging MIA-ness in the history of write meg! Ironically, my absence completely coincided with, of all things, a blogging convention.

And not just any blogging convention, but the Book Blogger Convention in New York City. Held May 28 at the Javits Center in Manhattan, I took the train up with my family late Thursday in order to be ready to talk shop with tons of fabulous bloggers, publishers and literary professionals from around the country.

I’ll be going into detail regarding other aspects of my trip soon, but the BBC was a definite highlight. I had an awesome time meeting so many folks I’ve only “known” through our blogs and Twitter and really enjoyed the many, varied panels on subjects like ethics in blogging, building content and marketing our blogs. Even more fun was hearing some of my favorite bloggers — like Rebecca and Christina — talking about how they blog.

Overall, the sentiment I took away from the convention was that what we do here — and what I do here — is important. All of our bookish discussions, conversations and contacts really do matter, and the fact that we are able to passionately and consistently talk about literature is a really valuable asset to the world of books. Are we “professionals”? Not in the traditional sense, no. But by sitting here and talking about novels day in and day out, we’re becoming “experts” in our own fields.

I’m an expert on chick lit, I’d wager. And lattes. And Power Dresses. (Yes, that’s me in mine above — rocked at the BBC. Please ignore the creepy Myspace-esque aspect of it; I had to change quickly before dinner and didn’t have anyone around to shoot a decent one for me!)

Big hugs to the many fabulous ladies (and a gentleman!) I met (some for the second time!), including Kari, Kim, Care, Sheila, Rebecca, Michelle, my girl Nicole, Alison, Amanda, Bill and many, many more! Hope to see everyone again very soon for more book-related craziness.

And if you need me? I’ll be pouring through the massive amount of swag in our parting gift bags. And scheming how to, you know, blog better. Because that’s just the name of the game, isn’t it?

(Later in the week I’ll be posting on other adventures in New York City, including an enormously detailed “What I Ate” commentary, but for now? Enjoy these shots from a very unique, fun day.)

Care, Kim and Sheila at breakfast

Trish of Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin' kicks off the day's festivities

Maureen Johnson, our hilarious keynote speaker

Some of the crowd

Ron Hogan, who spoke about ethics in blogging

Outside our conference room, and some of the swag bags

Inside the Javits Convention Center, which was absolutely enormous

Amy of My Friend Amy and author Beth Kephart speaking during a panel on author/blogger relationships

Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness and Christina of Stacked discuss building content on our blogs

One of the many fine panels

How you could identify yours truly