Saturday, November 9, 2013

Interview with Althea Ann

My guest today is Althea Ann, one of the top ten reviewers on Goodreads. I reached out to her via GR and she accepted my invitation to participate in this project of mine. Her reviews not only span many genres, they are also well written and honest. If you enjoy reading reviews, the link at the end of this interview will take you to 1100+


I'm a librarian/archivist who specializes in digital asset management. I do work in publishing, but as it happens, there’s zero overlap between anything I deal with professionally, and anything I might review; my reviews are purely a leisure time hobby. Besides reading, I also enjoy travel (not just the armchair variety!), seeing the world in all its variety: nature and festivals, cities and ruins, museums and beaches… amateur photography, Gothic events, good food and drink, good friends, and since moving from NYC’s east village to a place with a bit of a yard, I’ve taken up a bit of gardening…

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

I’d like to say I read anything and everything, but there are definitely themes that catch my interest. Most of what I read falls into the ‘speculative fiction’ container. In addition to the primary goal of entertainment, I like books that I feel give me a new perspective on the world – I like to see through eyes different from my own; to have new ideas introduced to me in a compelling way, and have horizons broadened. Many of my favorite books have been described as character-driven and ‘anthropological’ in focus. I’m also very interested in mythology, in stories that tap into the stories that are underlaid with the universals of human experience. I enjoy interesting settings, whether historical, far-future, or purely imaginary – I generally find contemporary realism a bit dull.

On average, how many books do you review each month?

Around 12-15.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I review what I read. I have gotten a few books through Goodreads giveaways, and I have put those to the top of my to-be-read list – but I’ve only entered giveaways for books I’d be likely to want to read anyways.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

I always want self-published titles to be good, as, on principle, I think self-publishing is a wonderful idea. But, in my experience, they rarely are. I have encountered a few self-published titles which had a lot of potential – but were still in need of a professional editor. For me, ‘brand’ does still mean something – I’m far more likely to pick up titles from certain publishers, if I’m not yet familiar with the author, and I’m likely to avoid self-published works.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

Yes. My reviews are my thoughts – they’re worth no more and no less than anyone else’s thoughts. There’s no book (or any creative work) out there that will be universally loved. If creators can’t handle the fact that they aren’t going to receive universal love, and aren’t going to be handled with kid gloves, then they shouldn’t release a work to the public. Honest opinions are vitally important – and without negative opinions, positive reviews are nothing more than empty blandishments.
That said, for purely selfish reasons, I don’t go out of my way to read books that I expect will rate less than three stars (my rating for a good, average book that met my expectations). Of course, sometimes I misjudge, and am disappointed.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy. Both are fantasy, but each takes a very different approach – and each demonstrates some of the most valuable (I would say, essential) things that fantasy can do. Both merge story with language in a synergistic way, going beyond mere tale-telling to create new mythology – something that resonates on a deeper level and can be a guidepost for living.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

Ha! My poor memory. I have a tendency to buy multiple copies of the same book, because it looks interesting every time I come across it! I started reviewing to have a quick reference to refresh my memory, since title and contents tend to come uncoupled in my head. That was around 10 years ago now, and I’m still writing. My reviews tend to be informal, but I also like taking a bit of time upon finishing a book to mull it over and collect my thoughts. My reviews are primarily for me, but I certainly also enjoy having others read them, and perhaps starting a dialogue with other who may have had either different or similar perspectives on the same work.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I don’t read all-new books – if a book is new to me, it’s new to me no matter when it was originally released. Sometimes I specifically enjoy reading older books just because they’re so illustrative of the ideas and zeitgeist of a certain time period. But I certainly think there are many brilliant and original authors currently working – Connie Willis, Guy Gavriel Kay, George R.R. Martin, Patricia McKillip, China Mieville, Tanith Lee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kelly Link, Theodora Goss, Paolo Bacigalupi, Sarah Waters, Nicola Griffith, and many, many others. Of course there are also those where you have to say “When is a new book coming?!?!? (Maureen McHugh, Rosemary Kirstein), and those who have left us too soon (Iain Banks, Kage Baker, Octavia Butler). If you feel the books you’re reading are too derivative, you’re reading the wrong books.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

Well, of course characters get into your head – they’re like people you’ve met, and I do think about them. But I don’t go around obsessing about them – I generally finish a book, and then it’s on to the next…

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

I don’t really think of reviews as something to be proud of – as I said, I tend to regard them as mainly a functional aide-memoire. But, over time I’ve amassed quite a body of them, which is something to have a bit of pride in, I guess!

I would like to thank Althea for playing along and answering my questions. You can read her reviews here: Goodreads 

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