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7 Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2016

The publishing industry has moved to a two-season model, where Fall books are pegged to be the big (Christmas & prizeable) hits, and where Spring/Summer titles sort of end up being everything else. Over the last couple years, my taste in books has shifted to the “everything else” category, with the result that there’s always a lot of books pubbing in the first half of a year that I can’t wait for. Here’s what’s got me counting down til Tuesdays in 2016:

Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It by Grace Helbig (Simon & Schuster, February 2 2016). This is cheating a little, because I have already purchased and devoured this book. It came out two weeks ago! Grace is one of my favourite Youtubers, and her first book was refreshingly candid. I thought Grace & Style had fewer sincere moments and useful advice than Grace’s Guide, but I still enjoyed it.

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The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (Penguin Random House, February 2, 2016). Ok, I have already read this one too, thanks to an advance copy I received at work before Christmas, but the important thing is that after (what some might call) the misstep of Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel’s new book manages to refigure out the right combination of magic realism + animals to be captivating, if a little heavy-handed on the religious pondering. Favourite part: the comparison of Jesus’s life to an Agatha Christie murder mystery.

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What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead Books, March 8 2016). I am cheating a little here, too, because I was again very fortunate to get an ARC from work and am currently devouring it. Boy Snow Bird is one of my favourite books, and Oyeyemi’s writing is simultaneously delicate and sharp. Her new collection of stories is mixed for me, so far: nothing has yet surpassed the first story, “Books and Roses”, in heart. Recurring characters, themes (keys!) and elements of magic realism (guys. I love magic realism) run through the stories, and I have high hopes for the stories that remain.

Dad Magazine by Jaya Saxena and Matt Lubchansky (Quirk Books, April 26 2016). (Finally, you say, a book that she hasn’t read yet and is actually looking forward to). Inspired by one of my favourite columns on The ToastDad Magazine is a satirical look at the modern dad and his interests.If you read any of the Toast articles, be sure to read the comments: that’s where the real heart of the series is, readers’ stories and jokes about their own dads. I can only hope this book is as good as the column. Anecdote: last year at TCAF I met Jaya and Matt and was so excited to meet Toast columnists that I forgot to thank them for the gift that is Dad Magazine. That’s #1 on my list if they’re back this year.

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Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (Riverhead Books, May 31 2016). My interest in Emma Straub began when she was documenting The Magnetic Fields’ tours and selling merch way back in 2008 or so  (sidenote: my brother is in this tour photo of Emma’s; I am standing hidden beside him. I forgot about this until just now!). Admittedly, it wasn’t a very literary interest, but I liked her previous book and look forward to her new novel – coincidentally also following an aging NYC college band. I’m hoping to spot a few parallels.

Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North (Riverhead Books, June 7 2016). A follow-up to North’s To Be or Not To BeRomeo and/or Juliet is a choose-your-own adventure book with Shakespeare’s most tragic pair, coupled with character designs from my darling Kate Beaton, and illustrations from a host of the best comic artists around, including my favourites Noelle Stevenson and Emily Carroll.

Romeo-and-or-JulietHunger by Roxane Gay (HarperCollins, June 14 2016). After reading her essays on the complicated nature of feminism in Bad Feminist, I’m looking forward to more of Gay’s candour and insight in her new memoir about her relationship with her body. This might be the most important book I read all year.

That does it for books I’m counting down for in the first half of 2016, but I’ve already got my eye out on the second half:

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child scripts, Parts I & II (Pottermore, July 31 2016). This goes without saying, right?
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (FSG, September 6 2016)
  • Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (Simon & Schuster, October 25 2016). This title has been delayed by a year already, so my fingers are crossed it makes its pub date this time.
  • The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg (Macmillan, date unknown but I am hoping for Fall 2016). 

It doesn’t escape my notice that many of these titles are second and third books of authors I already like; I tend to play it safe with authors I know and love, but I’m excited to see if there’s any books that come out of left field and steal my heart unexpectedly. I’ll read my way through this list until then. Are there any books you’ve got your eye on this year?

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Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

lizzie-bennet-diaries-book-coverIf you haven’t watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, do that before reading this review (I’ll wait). Produced by Hank Green and Bernie Su, the webseries is a compelling modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice told through videoblogs. As a broke, unemployed 24-year-old grad student, Lizzie is relatable, flawed, and funny, and the series focuses on more than just the relationship statuses of the Bennet sisters. I was – and continue to be – a huge fan of the show, participating in the fandom, writing a grad paper and contributing to the show’s wildly successful Kickstarter (my DVDs just arrived in the mail!) One of my favourite aspects of the series is its transmedia element: during the run of the show, active social media accounts for each character allowed the story to unfold over multiple platforms, and allowed direct interaction between the viewers and the characters; LBD’s transmedia storytelling even won the show an Emmy. The last transmedia frontier was a book, which publishes on June 24. A novel based on a webseries based on a novel? As much as I love the videos, I was hesitant at first – how much new material could the book really give? The answer: not as much as I was hoping, but I still enjoyed reimmersing myself back in Lizzie’s life, and I think other fans will too.

The novel is set up as Lizzie’s pen-and-paper diary, sectioned into days that follow the arc of the videos closely. At the end of some chapters, the corresponding videos are linked (in my ebook version, anyway) for those who want to track the diary against the original videos. I liked this touch, since it reinforced the transmedia roots of the series. However, sometimes I felt that these links didn’t allow the book to breathe on its own, since it allowed for no distance between adaptations at all. More than once I was surprised to see that there weren’t diary entries between some videos at all – surely Lizzie would have something to say about events significant enough to record in her videos?

My main complaint is, that for a novel that positions itself as Lizzie’s “means to express [her] most private feelings,” it doesn’t actually explore Lizzie’s inner emotions more than visible on video. Yes, deflection and avoidance are prime Lizzie Traits, but I felt like the book favoured rehashing canon events rather than exploring what Lizzie is actually feeling in any depth. For example, something that bothered me is that, while the majority of the novel is split into first-person diary entries, the chapters corresponding to episode 60 and episode 98 – the two Darcy “proposals” and huge moments in the original series – are verbatim transcripts of the videos. I understand that when you have these two very popular canon scenes, it is a lot of possibly redundant work to recap these events in a new way or perspective, but I didn’t appreciate the break from Lizzie’s internal monologue to have these transcripts slotted in, especially when the next diary entries are days after these events; I felt cheated of Lizzie’s internal struggle and immediate feelings.

Another irritation I had was that characters, especially Lizzie, didn’t feel developed any more than we’ve already seen them on video. I understand that a lot Lizzie’s characterization work has been done already and entirely new traits and hobbies would be obvious retcon, but to me, it felt kind of lazy. I actually found Lizzie to be flatter than in the videos; I suspect this is because I didn’t feel that the novel was told in Ashley Clements’ voice (which is funny, since Bernie Su and Kate Rorick were both writers on the series). Lizzie likes: books, school, and presumably watching Youtube, although this is mentioned so in passing in her diary that it’s laughable (“I’m a fan of the Vlogbrothers and other videos of this style, so it [videos] can’t be too hard to produce, right?”). Along these same lines, the novel would have been a great opportunity to expand on places and events outside of Lizzie’s bedroom that the viewer never gets to see because of the inherent limitations of the vlog. However, this is another opportunity wasted: it turns out what Lizzie does when not making videos or participating in awkward Darcy run-ins or sister drama is go to the library, a lot. The amount Lizzie visits the library approaches Hermione-like proportions: she seems to spend almost every waking non-video moment there over the summer. It feels like they needed to make her do something, and settled on this; whatever the reason is, it gets kind of boring. Similarly, there are few descriptions of unseen locations (a notable exception is Lizzie’s house-sitting gig in San Francisco, which seems too good be to true). An actual line: “Netherfield is gorgeous; I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate.” Actually, this would have been a great place to elaborate, since all the viewers saw of it was one purple bedroom!

The novel dispelled many of my personal headcanons, but that is to be expected, and there were some nice surprises: we learn where Lizzie got her idea to start vlogging and where her camera comes from, more about her home life and time spent jobshadowing, and exactly when her feelings for Darcy start. There are couple juicy nonvideo plotlines and information, such as new insights into Jane and Bing’s relationship, Darcy’s letter, and seeing Lizzie’s parents in more depth. Other details – such as Caroline’s job, what was happening with Bing’s med school, and why Lizzie didn’t watch Lydia’s videos – are also given, but felt more filling in obvious plotholes, but I appreciate that the authors addressed it, all the same. If you are looking for final authority as to what Jane’s indescretion was, prepare to be disappointed.

Despite my complaints, the book really is enjoyable. There are many running jokes and fandom references (Seahorse count: 1), and I sincerely hope that the line “My phone lit up like a Christmas tree” is a TFIOS allusion.

Agreed, tumblr user makeyourdeduction, agreed.

 

There is a lot more Darcy, since, without Lizzie being limited by the camera, we can live her accounts of the Most Awkward Dance Ever, every uncomfortable Netherfield moment, and the San Francisco tour first-hand – all entertaining, all primed to show how skewed Lizzie’s perspective is. I think my favourite part of this book was the fact that two new bonus LBD videos were produced to promote it; whatever that might say about the quality of the book itself, it was worth it for that new content alone. Overall, it was a delights to spend more time with Lizzie Bennet and I hope this isn’t the last we see of her.

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Should Authors Tweet? Publishing and Platform in the Social Media Age

Publishers Weekly’s recent article Teenage Tweetland by Karen Springen investigates the importance of social media platforms for authors trying to capture the teen reader. The article examines many of the top social media sites and gives examples of authors successfully using them to engage their readers. The article notes that some authors devote up to several hours per day maintaining their social media presence, while others consider it a burden. The verdict: a well-attended social media platform can help sell books, but the hot social media space for teens evolves quickly and authors will need to adapt.

The PW article demonstrates the importance of linking authors through social media with their audience, especially for books aimed at a teen audience. The article recommends that authors select platforms that their audience uses, but only ones they themselves feel comfortable using. Examples include YA author John Green, who has 1.5 million twitter followers, 1.1 million YouTube subscribers and over 400 000 Tumblr followers. While Green’s social media platform with the largest scope can arguably said to be his YouTube channel that he shares with his brother, Green asserts that Tumblr is “right now a bigger deal than facebook or twitter” and that the best use of Twitter is to promote one’s tumblr. Green says that social media promotion helped him sell “a LOT” of The Fault in Our Stars leading up and at its release. But a year after its publication, “it’s other people talking about it, not [Green], that sells it.” Green’s case is one that demonstrates the benefit of an active social media presence and fan base: it helps get the initial word out there, while engaged fans keep spreading the word after the book moves off the frontlist.

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Tumblr > Facebook and Twitter, According to John Green.

As a reader, I like to keep track of my favourite authors through social media – in fact, it is one of the primary places I learn about books I might like to read. Being able to engage with an author’s online content, and having the illusion of intimacy that social media gives, allows me to be a more involved reader and fan. I follow and engage with John Green on all his social media platforms, for example, in addition to being a consumer of his books; in fact, I was aware of his social media presence before I became a reader. The same can be said, for me, of Neil Gaiman, Maureen Johnson and Kate Beaton. In reverse, when I find an author I like, one of the first things I do is look for their Twitter account so I can stay connected with them – frequently I find that they have no meaningful social media presence (Daniel Handler, Jonathan Safran Foer, Donna Tartt, I’m looking at you). I count this as a missed opportunity for the author to promote themselves to their fans.

As a publisher, this engagement on established social media platforms is highly desirable for an author, from the acquisition of their manuscript to the publication of their book, because it indicates both a built-in audience and some measure of sales for the author’s book. As a publisher, I would look for an established social media platform from any new author I would attempt to acquire; if they don’t have one, I would suggest getting at least one platform, probably either Facebook or Twitter, depending on what the author is comfortable with, and the demographic they are attempting to engage.

Besides building engagement, social media platforms also allow publishers to mine data about an author’s fans. Through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the publishing house can establish information about where an author’s fans live, and provide concentrated real-life media promotion to those areas, adjust print runs accordingly, tap overlooked markets, or keep those destinations in mind should there be an author tour. The publishing house can also find out more about the readers’ other interests, which may help them discover new trends. The information about a customer’s specific reading habits (as discoverable on GoodReads, for example), or general interests (such as on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) has not been freely available in the past. I would argue that access to this trove of information is something that publishers should seize upon and use to their advantage, especially during the midst of the digital and e-reading revolution. Social media benefits both the author and the publisher: the author can interact with a fan base and self-promote, while the publisher profits from the author’s established fan base and free information on the consumers of the product. Overall, as both a reader and a future publisher, I think that engaging readers through social media has become an important and necessary part of the job.