Guest Blogger - Steph Su Reads!

My ARC Pile

…Is currently packed away in half a dozen boxes in my move from my house to my apartment near school for the summer, and I can’t put them on my bookshelves yet until I attach them to the wall (the shelves, not the books, silly). Ergo, I don’t have a picture of my shelves to show you. *the audience boos and hisses at this inauspicious beginning to a guest post* However, I WILL promise to load pictures of my bookshelves up sometime in the future, because those are always fun to look at!

My First Review

I wrote my first review in 2006, to submit to the site YA Books Central. I actually wrote about 10 reviews at about the same time, but THE first was most likely THIS LULLABY by Sarah Dessen, which is still one of my favorite books. (Here’s the link on the YABC site.) Aaaaand after rereading it it’s clear that my reviewing style has not changed all too much in three years! I did, however, used to place a lot more emphasis on the synopsis, with only a paragraph at the end of my own thoughts, which were often professional sounding, and lacking in any first-person pronouns. (Yeah, that’s how the big-shots do it. Don’t mess.) Now, of course, I’ve begun to understand that the synopsis is actually not part of the review at all, and thus the actual review part has gotten much longer.

The first review that I posted on my blog, brand new this past January, was BAD KITTY by Michele Jaffe. Looking back on it kind of makes me laugh. The actual review was so short, and the synopsis so long! There were no numerical ratings! I don’t think I said anything useful (although Lenore seems to think so)! That’s how we newbies rolled, I suppose. (It also didn’t help that I probably wrote that review back in 2007 or so, when I first read the book.)

Changing Voices (in Reviews)

Maybe it’s just me, being very easily influenced. Or maybe it’s human nature—the “mirror” effect, as my psychology professor likes to call it, where we unconsciously mimic others in conversation, in order to conduct empathy. Whatever it is, I do it in my writing as well. I’ll read a book with flowing, lyrical language, and find myself using that very same writing style in its review. Or I’ll read something that makes me laugh so hard I bang my head against the edge of my desk as I fall out of my seat, and my review will be chock-full of snarky side comments.

Take my review for Beth Kephart’s UNDERCOVER for example. Beth is one of those rare authors whose words, according to me in my review, “do not conjure up vivid scenes involving the characters and their predicaments; instead, they push the boundaries of language and remind us of the multidimensionality of words—that language is not simply a means to a message, but rather a form of art itself.”

I mean, whoa! Hel-LO??! Do I sound like I’m writing a dissertation on her book or what?? What crazy power does Beth have that her words cast a spell over me and conjured those words out of my fingers?

Now let’s look at my review of AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by John Green, who is my author crush (but don’t tell his exceedingly kind and beautiful wife that). I wrote that “AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES is one of those rare books that is more than the sum of its parts combined. It's about acceptance, storytelling, self-confidence, finding someone you can show your private habits to. Oh, and it's also about footnotes. Lots of footnotes.” Okay, admittedly it is not half as hardy-har-har hilarious as John Green’s writing, but hey. I think it pretty sufficiently—for a 17-year-old girl’s words, anyway—captured the overarching importance of John’s books while bringing in a bit of his trademark humor.

(And, look, I’m doing it again. Changing my writing style from one author’s lyricism to another’s snark.)

So of course I wonder why I am so susceptible to some authors’ writing style that I adopt it as my own when writing my review of that particular book. And I realized that it’s not ME being defective. And the authors are certainly not “at fault” either. It’s just because that is the natural human response to something so huge, so inspiring, so beautiful that it changes your life. That’s how good books are to me. I can put the book down and hours later still be stuck in a trancelike state of worship, the words in my head flowing together stylistically like the author’s. When I read the ending to Libba Bray’s THE SWEET FAR THING (the final book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy), I cried nonstop for hours, yet felt at peace afterwards because I knew that was how the story had to end. And every time I reread any of Megan McCafferty’s books about Jessica Darling, I turn into the super-smart, super-snarky, yet ultimately nerdy and loving girl that I’ve always dreamed of being.

In short, yes, humans may be “malleable” for the sake of empathy, but we absorb great books and great writing in much the same way we are shaped by the influential forces that make us who we are today (e.g. parents, friends, other role models…). I may not feel like I completely understand myself most of the time, but I’m completely happy with the way I can change as good books—both old and new—flow in and out of my life.

Links for your reference, in case it doesn't show up above:

This Lullaby -

Bad Kitty -

Lenore's blog -

Undercover -

An Abundance of Katherines -

The Sweet Far Thing -

If you could let me know when my post will be up that would be great. Thank you SO much for letting me be a part of this. I look forward to reading what everyone else has to write. :)

- Steph


Unknown said...

I LOVE the comment about footnotes in John Green's book ;)

Lenore Appelhans said...

I remember that BAD KITTY review. I still haven't bought it, but it is on my list and WILL be bought in my next buying round.

Kate said...

Great interview. I enjoyed reading it. I am still at the newbie review writing stage. Good luck with your book nailing :)

Heather Zundel said...

I LOVED how you showed the evolution of your writing in your reviews. So cool. Thank you Steph! Loved the post.