From August 2008 to January 2009, I wrote a monthly column called Book Junky for Moxxi Magazine, a New Times-style publication geared toward women. Even though Moxxi only lasted five issues and the Editor-in-Chief was a friend, I am absurdly proud of this experience because the magazine was not virtual, it was actually printed (issues 2-5 came out online at the same time). Book Junky’s format was to recommend three books each month, one that had been out for a while, one which was new the month the issue came out, and one to lookout for. Other than that, I could do whatever I liked.
When I asked to be part of The Heat Lightning - one of the few times in my life when I’ve seen someone’s vision, agreed with it, and believed I had something to contribute – I was again given carte blanche.
Looking at my five Moxxi pieces (how pretentious does it sound when you call your writing “pieces?”), I’m surprised by how well the recommendations stand up. Granted, it’s only been a shade over two years, but these are all still books I suggest today.
I’m tempted to say books are more enduring than movies, but I guess movies are the same - a lot of chaff gets made, and we hope critics will give us the wheat.
Books & Books employees used to get a $5 gift certificate for writing book reviews, with a maximum of $20 per month. If Booksense (or Indiebound, as they’re now known) published one of your reviews, you’d get a $50 gift certificate. I reviewed four books a month for two years and got one published review. $530, with my employee discount? That’s a lot of books.
The downside of these experiences was that they played hell with my reading queue. Instead of choosing by mood, I had to check the date (Advanced Readers Copies come out months before the books go on sale; right now, the furthest in the future I’ve read is a great book that won’t be published until February 2011). The only portion of those Moxxi columns which make me cringe now are the last recommendations, the one which I had to include because it was “the one to look out for.”
Not that any of the five were not strong recommendations, they just barely suited that month’s tone or theme.
It’s an aesthetic thing.
Now that I know I’ll be writing about books for someone other than myself, I feel pressure to read new releases. This pressure comes from me. Instead of bringing ARCs home and shelving them, knowing they’ll be there when I’m ready, I find myself making stacks, ordered by date. I actually read the letters publishers include with the ARCs. Instead of ordering older books recommended by friends (or Powells.com) for myself, I put them on my “to-read” shelf at Goodreads and forget about them.
Ultimately, I’ll read what I feel like reading, when I feel like reading it. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to make the comparisons which make good book columns. If I’m competent, I’ll connect more books with more readers.
I refuse to let something I love become a chore.