Monday Morning Books is run by author and poet Barbara Morrison.
Barbara has won multiple awards, been invited to speak as a featured author, and been published in magazines such as The Sun, Sin Fronteras, Scribble, and Tiny Lights.
She conducts writing workshops and speaks on women’s and poverty-related issues. She is also the owner of a small press and speaks about publishing and marketing.
Barb, tell us about Monday Morning Books.
Every Monday I post a blog about a book I read that week. Usually I comment from a writer’s point of view (e.g., what worked and why) but sometimes just as a reader. I’ve been doing this since 2006 so I have quite an archive now. The blog grew out of the writer’s journal I kept to improve my writing skills; I made notes about each book I read, what lessons I could learn from it, what techniques the author used, where they succeeded or failed. Transitioning to a blog meant that I had to add something about the story and explain my opinions, but that helps me get more out of the book. So far, I haven’t had any guest bloggers, but I’m not ruling it out in the future.
How do you select and/or prioritize the books you read?
Mostly these are books I read for pleasure. I like to read a few books together that relate to each other, though sometimes that happens accidentally. I may read several books by the same author, or set in the same country or time period. They may share a theme; for instance, recently I’ve been reading books that follow a man of integrity as he becomes the opposite. I’m also in a couple of book clubs, so they sometimes make the choice for me. I sometimes accept a book at the request of an author but not often because there are so many books I want to read.
How deep is your TBR pile?
It’s terrifying. I might have to do what my friend Arthur did: build a new room just to house more books.
Tell us about the rating/scoring system you use:
I don’t use a rating system. I never feel that they capture my reaction to a book.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book you thought you wouldn’t like?
Many times. Usually it’s a book forced on me by one of my book clubs. The curious thing is that I really can tell after one page. I’ll read that first page and think, “Oh I’m going to slow down and really savor this book.” One example is Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, which I did not want to read because of its Civil War setting, but totally loved.
Have you ever been disappointed in a book you thought you’d love?
Sadly, yes. I no longer read the blurbs raving about the book, and if the cover has “Bestseller!” blazed across it, I run the other way. I’ve been disappointed too often. Instead, I rely on recommendations from friends, librarians and my local independent bookstore.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
The usual: telling too much in narrative instead of showing it in dramatic scenes, cramming too much backstory in the first chapter, using dialogue to convey information. On a larger scale, too many books lack a narrative arc and have a rushed, tacked-on ending that makes it seem as though the author didn’t know how to end it. I confess to being an outliner myself, but even those who just start writing to see where it takes them need to add structure at some point.
Tell us about any pet peeves you have as a reader.
I hate head-hopping, where the point of view bounces between multiple characters within a scene. I guess I’m easily confused because I’m also not fond of novels that bounce around in time too much. Stories that use real people for their main characters turn me off because I see them as an invasion of a person’s privacy. And using another writer’s characters is just lazy.
Would you say you more often find yourself loving a book it seems everyone hates, or hating a book everyone else is raving about?
Both. With the former, it is often something that appeals to one of my quirky interests. With the latter, it may be because I bring higher expectations to a book everyone is raving about. I sometimes wonder if buzz has grown around a particular book without people actually reading it. On the other hand, my book clubs have helped me understand that readers just have different tastes. That’s why I try to explain what I liked or didn’t like about a book: so people can judge for themselves.
What can authors do to ensure a good relationship with book bloggers?
Understand that the blogger may not be able to get to your book right away. Respect the blogger’s preferences. Remember that it is just one person’s opinion. One thing I learned quickly as an author was not to argue with bad reviews or critiques; it’s better to put them away and come back to them later to see if they have any merit.
If you read a book you think is just terrible, how do you handle that?
I don’t post a review on my blog. I might rate it in Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble but not write a lengthy review there. If it is a book that I accepted from the author, then I contact the author and recommend that he or she take a class, consult an editor or join a critique group in order to get constructive feedback on the book. I warn authors who ask to send me their books that I will not post an overly negative review.
What was your worst experience with an author?
My worst experience was pretty mild: I turned down a review request because the book was a paranormal romance, which I don’t read. The author argued that I did not have the right to refuse to review a book because of a personal preference. The author sent several angry emails before dropping it, but didn’t slash my tires or anything, so I guess I got off lightly.
Thanks for a great interview, Barb. I hope everyone will go over and check out Monday Morning Books. Learn more about Barb’s writing from her Amazon author page.