Amanda and I are answering listener questions about reading when you’re burnt out, saving the last book of a series, and mood reading. We also talk video games, cozy horror especially, and more.
Thank you to Agatha, Malaraa, Clay, Ellen, and Abigail for the questions for this episode!
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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
We also mentioned:
- The Merlin Bird identification app
- Shana’s review of The No-Show by Beth O’Leary
- Video game: Potionomics
- Video game: Strange Horticulture
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Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 560 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, and today Amanda and I are listening to your questions, and we’re answering them. Well, we’re reading your questions because you’re listeners, and then we’re going to answer them. So we’re going to talk about reading when you’re burnt out, saving the last book of a series, and about mood reading. We also talk about videogames, cozy horror, and we take a side trip into why is everything labeled a rom-com, and why does that make me so annoyed?
I want to say thank you to Agatha, Malaraa, Clay, Ellen, and Abigail for the questions for this episode.
If you would like to join our Patreon, that’s where a lot of these questions come from: from the Patreon and from the Discord which you get as part of being in the Patreon. If you join the Patreon, you also get bonus episodes. It’s very, very fun.
I also have a compliment this week.
To Nikki: The local birds where you live have noticed how kind you are, and so they’ve all agreed to make sure that one of them is singing whenever you are outside.
If you would like a compliment of your very own, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Every pledge keeps me going, makes sure that every episode has a transcript – howdy, garlicknitter! – [Howdy! – gk] – and keeps me going! Plus it’s really fun. I like supporting the things that I love, so it means a lot to me that you support this show, so thank you.
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All right, you ready? We’re going to talk about reading conundrums and habits, or reading habits and reading conundrums. On with the podcast!
Sarah: Are you ready for mayhem?
Amanda: Am I ever ready for mayhem?
Sarah: No, no. No, no one’s ready for this level of mayhem. Okay, so on the document that I shared with you –
Sarah: – if you scroll down to page, to the very bottom, there is –
Sarah: – an email from Agatha that I wanted you to read because I know it’s going to make you very happy. This is from –
Sarah: – Agatha Andrews, who hosts the She Wore Black podcast?
Sarah: About horror.
Amanda: Ooh, yeah!
Sarah: All right. So hit it.
Amanda: “Hi, Sarah
“Since you’re the one that inspired my discovery of cozy gaming, or gaming at all, by suggesting Yonder, that really helped me feel better during lockdown, I wanted to let you know that the other game that company made is on sale in the Nintendo Switch game store, and it looks as beautiful and fun. It’s called Grow: Song of the Evertree.”
I think I have that on my wishlist!
Agatha says, “It’s amazing that those three to five minutes of you and Amanda talking about Yonder opened up an entire gaming world to me. I follow cozy gamers on YouTube now. After Yonder I played Animal Crossing during lockdown, and it was great to visit my friends on their islands. It helped our feelings of isolation so much; we would hang with K. K. Slider and joke that it was like when we moshed in pits together” – [Amanda laughs] – “during the mid ‘90s.
“Hope all is well,
Sarah: Isn’t that lovely?
Amanda: I mean, look, I’m not saying Animal Crossing started the pandemic, but it was awfully coincidental that –
Sarah: Oh, I definitely saw a comic of somebody saying, Wow, I wish I had nothing to do but play the new version of Animal Crossing. One month later: That’s not what I meant! [Laughs]
Amanda: I, when it came out, I don’t play anymore, I definitely fell off the wagon, but I think I have like seven hundred hours –
Amanda: – in that game. I was, like, I love a collection mechanic? So you give me little bugs and fish to collect? Yes. That’s why I’m enjoying Dredge right now. Agatha, if you’re listening, that’s my new cozy game. It’s cozy horror. So I would recommend Dredge and –
Sarah: That’s –
Amanda: – Strange Horticulture if you like some cozy horror. Dredge –
Sarah: That’s her street. That’s her whole, that’s her whole –
Sarah: – her whole boulevard!
Amanda: Dredge is like you’re a fisherman in kind of this cosmic horror, like, fishing village area, and you have to collect, like, different kinds of fish, and some of them are, like, aberrations of normal fish. Definitely, like, a little spooky and eerie.
And then Strange Horticulture, you run like a, like a florist/botanical/apothecary shop, and people come in and request your help, and you can, like, if they’re annoying, give them the wrong herb they need to make them, like, break out into boils, and there’s, like, sourcing of materials. It’s –
Sarah: Boils you say!
Amanda: Yeah! There’s like a little cult element to it.
Amanda: For fun! So I…
Sarah: So somebody basically made this game thinking, What would Amanda like?
Amanda: Give me creepy cozy all the time!
Sarah: Creepy cozy and a collection, collection mechanic.
Amanda: I love collecting stuff. I’m playing World of Warcraft now, again? For the umpteenth time? It’s Noblegarden, which is the WoW equivalent of Easter? And you can go egg hunting –
Sarah: Oh no.
Amanda: – and when you collect eggs you can get, like, different mounts or little pets or, like, little cosmetics to wear. So I’ve been on –
Sarah: So how is, how is Judi Dench doing with the egg collecting?
Amanda: I’ve been on that egg grind. I even, like –
Amanda: – Adam would be so proud of me: I quantified it? I was like, Okay, if it takes me a minute and a half to two minutes to collect ten eggs, that means I could collect five hundred eggs in this amount of time.
Sarah: Oh my gosh, that’s really funny.
Amanda: Yeah, so I’ve been hunting eggs in Warcraft to get the last of all of the, like, you know, Easter goodies. [Laughs] That’s what I’ve been – and it’s just relaxing! I just sit at my computer, do my little circuit –
Amanda: – collect my eggs.
Sarah: We have a bunch of questions from Patreon folks that have to do with reading, and I had one –
Sarah: – come in yesterday that I added at the end? So I wanted to start with that one?
Sarah: Abigail asked, “What do you do when you hit burnout on books? I keep getting forty percent in and then entirely fading away from books I really thought I’d enjoy.”
Okay, so this is me –
Sarah: – since early March.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s been my life –
Sarah: Yeah. I have this –
Amanda: – of, like, burnout.
Sarah: I have this massive lull. Like, I have my little reading spreadsheet where I track all the start and end dates and my ratings and all of that, and there’s this massive lull from like the first week of March until roughly now? Basically, nothing I tried was interesting. So what I actually did was say, Okay! You’re just going to play videogames; we’re taking reading off the table. Because then if it becomes like a cudgel that I beat myself up with, like You’re not reading enough! You’re not reading enough! Well, that doesn’t help me feel better, does it?
Sarah: No. So I took a complete break from reading and played videogames, and I listened to books that I’ve already listened to so that I would have a story to just sort of soothe that part of my brain, ‘cause I know reading is good for my mental health, but I was just dealing with so much – I think it’s a combination of stress because we’re going through the end of senior year and we’re doing a lot of college travel coming up this month that we have to help my older child make, make a college decision? And that’s really draining my ability to pay attention to any kind of book, so I haven’t really read anything since maybe the second week of March, and then earlier this week I absolutely tore through Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade. And it was so much fun. It was so fun! And I was like, Ooh! Actors; deserted island; really, really snarky, barely concealed disdain for the Game of Thrones show, show runners; which I’ve watched like zero Game of Thrones except through like five GIF sets on Tumblr, and even I know –
Amanda: You’re not missing anything.
Sarah: – what shitheels they were. That, that, just taking a break and saying, Don’t worry about it; don’t think about it; and then coming back when something really grabs me definitely helped me out.
What, what do you do when you have burnout on books?
Amanda: Well, I think it’s like you want a good story –
Amanda: – but you don’t necessarily want the mental work involved…
Sarah: Yes! That’s exactly it. My brain just didn’t have the, the capacity.
Amanda: So it’s definitely videogames; I’ve been on a videogame kick: the new, like, World of Warcraft expansion; Dredge, the creepy fishing game that I’ve been playing. I also downloaded a new game called Potionomics where you run your own potion store.
Amanda: So you have to run it, but you have to, like, source materials and there’s, like, a romancing element. Like, right now I’ve only unlocked like three of the romance options. One of them is a nonbinary, morally gray witch who sources materials; another is, like, a buff, like, Golden Retriever woman, essentially –
Amanda: – who, like, wants to be a hero, so goes on quests and stuff for you? But you run your own, like, potion shop, and you have to, like, you know, source your stuff and make your potions and, like, haggle with customers and all that…
Sarah: And there’s a story, so you’re getting the story fix.
Amanda: Yes. Of course, like, your uncle left you this potion shop, and it’s millions of dollars in debt.
Sarah: Of course it is!
Amanda: Like, that’s the story.
Amanda: So I, the new games definitely. I’ve been playing a lot of board games; we’ve been playing a lot of Wingspan. I know Wingspan is a favorite in the Discord. The premise of the board game is you’re bird watching, and so you have to collect all these little birds that you’re watching, and they’re laying eggs and doing other, these other things, and they all count towards points.
So I’ve been playing a lot of games, and then –
Sarah: I have to say, that sounds ideal for me because I have an app on my phone called Merlin, which is, I believe, part of Cornell University, and there’s a sound ID, so if I’m in my backyard and I hear a bunch of birds, I open Merlin and hit Get Sound ID, and it will start recording the ambient noise and tell me what birds I’m hearing.
Amanda: It’s a beautiful game. Like –
Sarah: I think this might be a good game for me.
Amanda: – the artwork is beautiful. There is, like, a solo play option too, if you don’t have anyone around to play with. We haven’t tried that yet.
And then, like, watching a lot more TV than we used to. I think I, I’ve mentioned previously, like, we’re on, we’re on that anime kick.
Amanda: We bought, we bought a Crunchyroll subscription –
Amanda: – that’s how serious it is. So right now we’re almost through the first season of Jujutsu Kaisen, which is like a little monster-of-the-week, lots of anime battles, stuff like that. Sometimes we’re like half-watching it, like Brian might be on their, like, Steam deck or, like, playing games on their phone, and, like, I’m doing other stuff, so, like, you know, I feel like media that you can switch your brain off a little bit –
Amanda: – and turn it on autopilot, whether it’s, like, games; a book you’ve read or listened to before; you know, shows that are a little lighter and serve more as, like, background noise than anything. That’s kind of where I’m at.
Sarah: That’s really good advice, I think, because what you’re saying is essentially you need to, when, when you hit burnout, you decouple the reading from –
Amanda: Conscious uncoupling.
Sarah: Yes, you’re consciously uncoupling –
Sarah: – the, the, the act of reading from the act of giving your brain that restorative, peaceful sort of, I’m being told a story part of, of reading. So you’re, you’re separating, in order to get this feeling of relaxation and contentment, I must be reading; you just take the reading part out and see what else might fill that, that need and then come back to reading.
I hope that, I hope that advice helps, Abigail. Book burnout is the, the worst.
Amanda: And, and don’t beat yourself up –
Amanda: – too badly about it.
Sarah: Do not cudgel! No cudgeling! There’s no cudgel.
Do you want to read Malaraa’s, Malaraa’s question?
Amanda: Sure! …
Sarah: And then Clay had an answer that I thought was so – it’s a very thoughtful answer, but also Clay is in the Discord, and every morning Clay does a greeting to everybody in the Discord, and it is the most wonderful, adorable thing. I love it so much, so thank you for that, Clay.
Amanda: So Malaraa says –
Sarah: Hi, Malaraa!
Amanda: Hi, Malaraa!
“Do you ‘save’ last books, last episodes, last season, etc.? Only under special circumstances, not at all? I recognize that people do this, but it never really was something that occurred to me before; I realize others do it. I put quotes around the word ‘save’ because for me it feels like denying myself. It just ends things sooner, and you don’t get that last bit, and it would drive me mad; yet it clearly brings some people a lot of joy. If you like saving last parts of things, do you like to do that in all forms of entertainment, or does the type of media it’s in matter? Or does it depend more on what else is going on around you at the time?”
Sarah: And Clay answered in the Discord, “I own but have not read The Shepherd’s Crown by Sir Terry Pratchett. I adore Pratchett to the extent that I brought his books to the births of my children so that their first out-of-belly story time would be Discworld.”
“But in his final years he was making a solid effort to settle all of his characters into happy endings and close all the arcs, which made for books with choices that I understood as an empathetic human, but did not believe as a reader. Since The Shepherd’s Crown is the last, and if I read it and didn’t like it, there’s no possible future book to take that disappointment away, I prefer to live in a world where there is still a Pratchett novel waiting for me.”
I completely understand that sentiment. I do, I have never saved a last book of something. I, nope, if it’s there I’ll read it, and, and I’ll know that it’s the end. I will wait if I think I’m not like, I, I don’t have the emotional capacity to process the ending of what I think might happen? I mean, I’ve read enough that I can usually predict some things with some accuracy? [Laughs] I know how the story beats work at this point? If I don’t think I have the emotional capacity to handle what’s going to happen in that ending I might wait until I do, but I’m absolutely going to do it. I’m not going to save it to some unspecified future date.
Do you save things?
Amanda: No. I’m too impatient.
Sarah: [Laughs] I kind of knew that.
Amanda: I’m an, I’m an impatient person, but also when we’re talking about a series and reading, I need there be, I need there to be a momentum. So, like, usually I try to, like, cliffhangers, I’m not, like, anti-cliffhanger, but I need the momentum to keep going. So if I read book one and it ends on a cliffhanger and book two is not out for another year? There’s a very high chance that I’m just going to forget about the series.
Sarah: [Laughs] Yes, that is –
Amanda: It’s just –
Sarah: – that is, that is true, yes! That is true for me too!
Amanda: I’m just going to move on! I’m just going to move on! ‘Cause there are so many books coming out at any given time.
Sarah: I was just going to say, There’s a lot of books!
Amanda: There’s so many! So, like, you know, I would prefer for a bulk of the series or all of a series to be out by the time I start reading so I can kind of keep that reading momentum like one right after the other? Otherwise, I am terrible of, like, once I put something down, it is –
Sarah: It’s gone.
Amanda: – a struggle, like, to, to return to it sometimes. And it’s not necessarily of, like, Oh, I wasn’t feeling engaged in the series. It’s just like a Me problem of, like, a little bit of like shiny object syndrome, of like, Okay, out of sight, out of mind. I set this book down.
Amanda: Onto the, onto the next thing; you know what I mean. But I don’t, like, savor anything, I don’t think. I’m a low-will-power, high-impatience sort of person, so, like, you know, people will buy, like, little treats for themselves and are like, I’m going to make this candy bar last all week, and it’s like, No, I’m clawing into it the second I get out of the CVS.
Amanda: Like, that’s how it is.
Sarah: I find it really interesting to talk about this, because there’s always, you know, you know how topics – I’ve, I’ve said this before, but I think that there is a lot, there are a lot of topics in romance, especially online, on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever, where a certain topic comes up, and they all have different orbits. Sometimes the topic is once every quarter; once, sometimes it’s once every five years; sometimes it’s once every ten. Sometimes a topic comes back and I’m like, Wow, I’m old; I remember the last time we talked about this! Like, who, what do with ARCs: that’s an every-six-month conversation. What, what is the right thing to do with ARCs? What is your obligation when you receive a review copy? That’s like every six months.
But one of the other topics that comes back around is, if you like a series you should buy each book, because reader interest in the series as it’s released is what allows that series to reach an endpoint, and I understand that from a business perspective. I completely understand that. I also know that that’s not the type of reader I am, and I know I’m not alone in that. There are absolutely people who want to grab a series and follow it and anticipate the books and reread the previous one when the, when the next one is coming out. Like, they’re a fan of the series experience. I am not a fan of the series experience, because, like you, when I put something down I’m not going to necessarily remember it, and it takes a lot for me to be like, Wait, who were the people in this ser- – what, where, what, what series is this? I don’t remember. I don’t, I don’t remember.
Amanda: It’s like –
Sarah: And so I, I am also a reader who’s like, Ooh, there’s four books? Awesome, I’m going to dive in! And I get it from a business standpoint, and I get it from a fandom standpoint, and I understand the frustration of knowing that the series that you’re writing might not get an endpoint because not enough people are following it? I’m still the reader who’s like, Ooh! I will wait and see if the series is complete, because I need to know that everyone has an ending.
Amanda: I also have a rant about reading as series comes out, and it’s like, Look, I’ve worked in publishing in the marketing and publicity side. I get it. I get that you need to repackage old stuff in the hopes of breathing new life into it, but nothing annoys me more than a publisher shifting design and format of a series halfway through the series. And it’s like –
Amanda: – Oh, cool! Now my new books aren’t going to match my old books! Like, what –
Sarah: See, this is wild to me, because I could not possibly give less of a shit what the books look like. I just don’t care what clothes they’re wearing.
Amanda: Like, I don’t care if it’s, like, hardcover versus paperback or whatever, but, like –
Amanda: – keep the same design aesthetic. I don’t want one looking like an ugly duckling amongst the rest of it. I want them to look all similar when it’s on my shelf. That’s –
Amanda: I know it’s, like, very particular, but –
Sarah: Hey! It’s wild to me because this is something I have so little opinion on; like, I just, I don’t care what clothes the books are wearing. I also don’t have –
Amanda: I mean, I do buy it.
Sarah: – a lot of physical books, so that’s probably informing my decision.
Amanda: Yeah, I don’t buy a ton of physical books anymore, but I’m just thinking of, like, I’m glad I waited to buy the A Court of Thorns and Roses series –
Amanda: – until the repackaging was done –
Sarah: Ohhh –
Amanda: – ‘cause I love the new design?
Sarah: I see! I see what you’re saying.
Amanda: But I feel like I would have been pissed if I started buying them in the older cover designs and then they redid it. I mean, Sarah J. Maas – mass, I can’t ever remember if it’s mass or moss.
Sarah: I think it’s mass, yeah.
Amanda: Sarah J. Maas, like, bless her, she has so many, you know, very passionate fans who will collect everything? Every format? You know, but, you know, that’s not necessarily me. But I’m glad I waited for the new designs, ‘cause I feel like, me personally, I would have been annoyed.
Sarah: I feel like right now there, whoever is listening to this, there is a Sarah J. Maas fan who is screaming, Yes, yes! It was horrible! I hated it! I was so mad! Thank you! Like, you have totally just validated somebody’s frustrations with the redesign.
Unless it’s a book that the cover is so completely off the wall that I bring it out to house guests and I’m like, Look at this! I just –
Sarah: – I don’t care! And I, and yet, at the same time, if I were collecting something and the aesthetics of it changed substantially and I had no control over that, that would, that would bother me! I can understand it!
Amanda: It’s definitely like a looks thing, like, because my, like, personal library is such a mix of, like, hardcover and, like, bound manuscript ARCs and, like, paperbacks and mass markets, like, it’s definitely a hodgepodge of, like, sizes? It’s more like design?
Amanda: Meanwhile, Stephanie, my previous roommate, because now I’m living with my partner, she is definitely a gal that’s like all hardcover all the time.
Amanda: Like, yeah. So most of her books are nothing but hardcover releases, or, like, special editions through, like, book box subscriptions and stuff like that, but it’s –
Amanda: – mostly hardcover. I rarely see, no mass markets; I rarely see a paperback unless it’s like an author that she’s collecting for. Yeah. No ARCs that go on her shelves or anything like that.
Amanda: Yeah. I feel like my shelves are like the Island of Misfit Toys. It’s just like a –
Amanda: – just an assortment of formats and shapes and sizes.
Sarah: All of the, all of the books that I own that I paid to move here, seven years ago now, they are, there’s probably, maybe twenty? Some of them are copies of books that I’ve written, so if you take the ones I wrote, I probably have like fifteen solid copy, like, physical, three-dimensional-matter copies of books in my house at this point. Not counting cookbooks, of course; that’s a different thing.
Amanda: We just packed up my books at the apartment, and I got rid of a lot. A lot of books, and I still, Brian was like, You have a lot of books.
Amanda: I was like, Yeah. I know, I know. And then we, like, finished the living room, and, like, my bedroom was mostly packed up, and I go to look in my bedroom, and I was like, Oh no, there are several piles of books in the bedroom that we forgot. [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh no! [Laughs]
Amanda: And then we had to, like, pack those up; I had, like, old post boxes, but yeah, a lot of books. Not quite sure what we’re going to do with them once they get moved. We don’t have any bookshelves, ‘cause I tossed the ones that I owned ‘cause they were like particle board –
Amanda: – they’re not going to survive a move.
Amanda: But yeah, I got through a lot, and I still have so many! So many! So, but I, I did have those tough conversations of, like, I read this, and I liked it. Do I need to own it forever?
Amanda: So into the –
Sarah: I had –
Amanda: – donation pile it went.
Sarah: I had that same conversation. I’m like, I read this book; I loved it; I remember when I got it. All right, I, I remember when I, when I read it and it was so important. Do I want to pay somebody to move it two states south? No, I do not. We’re getting rid of it.
Sarah: So we have one more reading – what did I call this? – reading conundrums, conundrums and habits. We have one more question from Ellen.
“I’m such a mood reader and would love to know how you balance the books you have to read for review or for interviews. I know some of them you must love and speed through, but how do you make it through the books you have to read on a certain time table that you perhaps aren’t in the mood for right then?”
Well, the simple answer –
Amanda: Very good question.
Sarah: It’s a good question. The simple answer is, for the most part, when I write a review, I am trying to both represent my experience with the book and, you know, give the, the top three things that I think a prospective reader needs to know about it in order to make the decision as to whether or not they want to read it, or it’s a review where I’m like, Holy shit, have a seat! I got to tell you about some crazy business!
Either way, if I’m not in the mood for the book while I’m reading it, at that moment? It’s usually one of a handful of things: either I’m just not in the mood for that genre and, or I’m not in the mood for this style, or I’m not in the mood for this, like, this story, and I can either represent that by saying, by posting a DNF review, which means I didn’t finish it and here’s why, but if the reason is me, well, that’s not the book’s fault! You know, there, there’s nothing the book could have done differently to make me more engaged? That’s all me, and that’s a me problem? And if it’s a me problem, I usually just don’t review it right away. Or I think, Okay, this isn’t a book I, I can review. There are a lot of books – and I know this is true for you, Amanda – where you read the book and your, and your reaction was, Well, those were some words. Okay! Like, a C review is the hardest book, hardest book review for me to write because, for the most part, my reaction is, Okay! Well, that was a book. I don’t really have anything to say about it.
Amanda: Yeah, it’s like you explain what happened, and then you’re like, It was fine!
Sarah: Yep. And that’s, I can catch that with other reviewers, like when I’m editing staff reviews? I can catch that when I notice that most of what the review is is summary. You’re telling me what happened; you’re not telling me what you thought? That means that you don’t have a lot of things to say about it, which is, which is not a review? That’s a book report? But I understand because that happens sometimes.
Amanda: Which is why I’m glad that we’re do, we do, like, the Lightning Reviews now –
Amanda: – ‘cause you don’t feel as pressured to like, Wow, I have to talk about this book for like eight hundred to nine hundred words –
Amanda: – and you’re like, I just don’t have those words.
Sarah: Nope. Sometimes it’s –
Amanda: With a Lightning Review you can do, like, summary and then, like, a final paragraph of, like, thoughts, and then you’re done!
Sarah: And the best thing about the Lightning Review is that you don’t have to write a plot summary because the way that the review format posts on the site, the cover copy reposts from our database –
Sarah: – so it’s like, Here’s the cover copy; here’s the review. Boom-boom, done, done, done. Like, I did a very quick joint review with Shana about Ship Wrecked because she read it during the HarperCollins strike so we didn’t review it. I read it this week, and we were both like, Let us squee at each other because that was a perfect confection of joy! And, you know, I actually have it open on my computer. I can tell you it’s seven hundred words. Perfect for a dialogue Lightning Review: boom-boom-boom. And most of the time Lightning Reviews are even shorter.
Amanda: I think for me it’s a little different because, for those people who don’t know how Smart Bitches reviews work, you review what you want.
Sarah: Yeah, I don’t assign.
Amanda: Sarah does not assign anything, you know, so if someone picks up a book and it’s bad, it’s because, like, you know, no one forced them to read it. Sarah –
Amanda: – wasn’t like, you need to read this book and have it due by X date. You know, it’s just like, they really, they picked it up because they thought it would be interesting, and it wasn’t.
Amanda: With other – so I do some freelance stuff for other review sites – BookPage and Kirkus. Kirkus is anonymous, so my byline is not out there for Kirkus, so you probably won’t know what I’m reviewing and what I’m not. With BookPage it is, and those operate more traditionally of, like, Here’s this book; please have the review in two weeks; yada-yada-yada.
Sarah: And that’s well in advance, right? Because these are both publications that aim for or around release date, right?
Amanda: Yeah! I mean, it varies? Like, sometimes I’ll have like ten days to read and review a book, which can be a stretch, and sometimes I’ll have like a month, six weeks. But we are working in advance: like, for BookPage I think there was August titles; we’re already thinking in August titles.
Amanda: And with each of them I, there’s a little bit more freedom, I think, with BookPage in terms of the books that I get to review? My editor Savanna usually sends out a list of titles, and we kind of like list our first and second choices? And then Savanna assigns that way. If you tell them, Hey, this type of book does not work for me, or this author does not work for me –
Amanda: – you, you should probably assign it to a reviewer who can be a little bit more impartial because I already know going into it, like, this is not for me? Like when the strike was going on I think I was assigned an Avon title –
Sarah: Hard no!
Amanda: – both, from both places, and I asked, I was like, just, Hey, I want to respect the strike; please don’t assign me any Avon titles. Please reassign this to somebody else. And they did! And it was fine.
Amanda: But for Smart Bitches, like, you can read whatever you want.
Sarah: Yeah. I don’t, I don’t typically assign. And, and you know, that’s probably to my detriment, because if I want the site to be attracting traffic of new book news? People who are looking for the newest book? They’re not necessarily going to find that because my philosophy has always been a book you haven’t read is a new book, regardless of when it was published, and –
Amanda: We’ve had this conversation, like, back and forth. Like, for example, Happy Place, the new Emily Henry comes out this month. Are we going to have a review of it? I don’t know! Depends if anyone wants to review it!
Amanda: But it’s like, you know, would it drive traffic? Maybe. Would anyone really care about what we have to say because it’s already probably going to hit the New York Times bestseller list?
Sarah: Yeah, are we, are we – we are a fart in a windstorm for, for coverage like that. Yeah.
Amanda: Yeah. So it’s, it’s hard to balance of, like, yeah, it’d be really cool if we had this, like, buzzy title to cover –
Amanda: – but, one, we’re not going to force anyone if they don’t want to, and, two, is it really going to matter in terms of, like, all the other chatter that’s happening about it?
Sarah: Yeah, it’s already going to be news when it comes out. We’re not boosting anything, but I also don’t know if there is a portion of Emily Henry fandom traffic, let’s call it, that’s going to visit the site and lift our stats. Like, I don’t know that that’s a thing that would happen either.
Amanda: I will say the exception was, I think the – so last year I compiled the Best Of lists for the site?
Sarah: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Amanda: Our, our most read review from last year was The No-Show by Beth O’Leary, reviewed by Shana, and I think the reason why it generated so much traffic is because of what happens in the book, and a lot of the discussion of, like, is this romance? Is it not?
Amanda: Didn’t see this coming. I’m trying to avoid spoilers; feel free to read the review if you want. It seemed like –
Sarah: And also that we do spoilers; that’s the other thing. If, if –
Sarah: If there is a spoiler that is germane to the discussion that the review is having, then we will include it and hide it with a specific piece of code, but I have no problem saying, if the spoiler is relevant to what’s being said in the review, I have no problem talking about spoilers.
Amanda: And people can obviously choose to –
Sarah: Yeah, you can choose not to read it.
Amanda: – to read if they want.
Sarah: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re not making you read it.
Amanda: But I, I think Beth O’Leary’s a pretty buzzy author, and I think that The No-Show’s an exception to the rule because that review was talking about how it operates within the conventions of a romance –
Amanda: – and how it did this sort of like unexpected thing in the book that we –
Amanda: – normally don’t see.
Sarah: Yes, absolutely. And it also played with reader expectations in a way that a lot of readers did not like.
Amanda: And, yeah, it’s like, it’s more of, instead of a review, I feel like those definitely feel more of like a springboard to a discussion.
Sarah: Yeah, those, that’s a critique of what’s, what the book is doing more than what the book is about? ‘Cause if it’s –
Sarah: – if, if it’s genre fiction with, and it’s saying, I am this type of genre fiction, then we kind of know what the book is about, and we know –
Sarah: – what’s going to happen, and we know those, like I said, we know those beats! Like, I am very interested in reading people’s discussion of the overuse of the word rom-com? I am ready –
Amanda: It’s a nothing-burger now. It means nothing.
Sarah: Yeah, I am ready, I am ready for publishers to stop saying that things are rom-coms when they’re not? I think it’s really important to acknowledge that comedic contemporary romance is a very different set of tropes and storytelling beats than a romantic comedy film. Those are two totally different things. The, the story and the trope and the beats and the things that are happening in a romantic comedy film are different than what happens in a contemporary romance that is funny. Those are two different things, and so those two labels don’t cross over, in my opinion.
Amanda: Interesting, because, like, the word – any, any book that’s described as funny automatically makes me bristle?
Sarah: [Laughs] How do you know what I find funny? You don’t understand my humor!
Amanda: I know! I get it!
Sarah: How dare?! [Laughs]
Amanda: That’s exactly it! I love a rom-com movie, sure, and I will go into those without any expectations. Also, can we get more rom-com movies, please and thank you? But with a book, I have been burned so many times, and it’s usually by, like, authors that people I trust really love. They’re like, Oh my God, they’re so funny! You should try this! And then I read it. I’m like, This is cringey, and I’m embarrassed for everyone involved here. Like, this, I don’t like this. I don’t like secondhand embarrassment. I –
Sarah: You don’t like prat falls, you don’t like slapstick – and slapstick’s hard to write anyway.
Amanda: Yeah! So, like, I automatically am like, Is it funny? Is it, though? [Laughs]
Sarah: Yes. And I’m probably not going to describe this right, but I’m going to try. Okay, so if you’re watching a film and it is a romantic comedy, commonly known as a rom-com, and say it’s Sandra Bullock. Can we agree that Sandra Bullock is frequently a rom-com actress? Okay, so you have –
Amanda: Queen, queen of rom-coms.
Sarah: Right. So let’s say you’ve got Sandra Bullock, and pratfalls happen to Sandra Bullock, and embarrassing things happen to Sandra Bullock. My secondhand embarrassment watching that will be much, much less if the same things happen to a character in a book for two reasons: one, Sandra Bullock is a whole-ass other person, and Sandra Bullock carries with her the branding of being Sandra Bullock. Sandra Bullock is competent and capable, and she is going to come through, and she’s going to do something great, and she’s very, very much carrying that branding with her into that role. So I can, for example, watch her have incredible pratfalls and secondhand embarrassment because that’s Sandra Bullock. By the end of the movie she’s going to have her shit together.
That characterization comes with the branding of being Sandra Bullock. That is not true of a romance character. You can’t tell me that a romance character is a movie star and, and then has this series of incredibly embarrassing professional events happen to her. I don’t have the brand reassurance of Sandra Bullock in that book; I have the character. And because it’s a book, I don’t have that distance because this is all happening in my head. It’s not happening outside; it’s happening in my brain. That is too much emotional connection, because when I’m reading –
Amanda: There’s, yeah, there’s more of a removal –
Sarah: Yes! And with a book I am –
Amanda: – for a movie or a TV show.
Sarah: – deeply emotionally connected. I say this all the time, that romance is trafficking in empathy. Romance is inviting you to have feelings, which is really intimate and vulnerable and part of why romance gets a bad rap. But romance is inviting you to have deeply empathetic connections to the books that you’re reading, and the same things that work on a screen for romantic comedy do not work for me in a book because it’s too immediate, it’s too personal, it’s too embarrassing; it’s too cringey; it’s too twee; I can’t.
So that is my theory as to why those are so different.
Amanda: A lot of rom-coms, branded rom-coms now for books are very twee, and that is, that is not my bag at all.
Sarah: Oh, come on! If I were going to describe you to someone who’d never met you, I would say Amanda is the most twee!
I would not actually say that; that is utter bullshit!
Amanda: It’s interesting, because at MIT, when I go to work, they’re like, You’re so friendly! And you have, like, this very, like, not like high-pitched voice but like soft and bubbly voice. It’s like, Yeah, that’s my stranger voice.
Sarah: Oh, yeah!
Amanda: When I’m, like, welcoming people into the lab or whatever or talking on the phone, that’s my stranger voice.
Amanda: Little higher pitched, a little more friendly. Like, that’s not like at-home goblin mode Amanda; that’s stranger voice.
Amanda: The voice, it just, like, switches!
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Amanda: You just, like, without even thinking about it, answer the phone.
Sarah: Oh yeah, phone voice.
Sarah: Yep, it’s a different thing.
So this is a good series of, of questions, I think, on reading habits and reading conundrums, and if anyone listening has additional questions about reading or how to manage reading or how to switch reading or anything to do with reading, please feel free to email us and ask, because we love thinking about – I mean, I love thinking about this –
Sarah: – and talking about it. It’s interesting to think about, what is your brain doing when you’re reading, and how do you manage reading moods when it’s a major part of your, of, of your day? Like, if I don’t read for a while I start to feel all gross! [Laughs] And I have to remember, you are ingesting a story; it’s just not in the medium that you’re used to.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you again to the Patreon community and the Patreon folks on Discord for helping me develop questions. I have a couple more episodes full of questions, and it’s really, really fun to do these; I love hearing from you.
I would also like to know what you do when you have reading burnout. What are your options when you just can’t bring yourself to get into a book? What do you do when you’re in a mood to read or not to read? And have you ever saved the last book of a series? Come find us on smartbitchestrashybooks.com and look at episode 560 to leave a comment, and also that’s where I’m going to put links to all the things: the games, the books, the TV shows. It’s all in the show notes, so head on over and talk to us. I would love to know your answers.
As usual, I end with a terrible joke. This joke comes from my inbox and was sent in by Melanie G. Thank you, Melanie!
Why do mice have such small balls?
Give up? Why do mice have such small balls?
Well, not that many of them know how to dance.
[Laughs] Thank you, Melanie! I’m going to make my whole family groan at dinner with that joke, and I cannot wait.
On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading, and we will see you back here next week.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.
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Thank you, Sarah and Amanda, for a fun discussion. I enjoyed learning that none of the reviews here are assigned as I’d wondered about that.
The Merlin bird app is pretty decent. We started using it a few years ago and had success identifying birds all over the U.S., Mexico, Europe, etc.
I…I might need to play Dredge.
A board gamer friend told me (re: Wingspan) that the art “inspired a player to make an app that had the sounds of all the various bird calls so that you could hear them, or you could play them while playing the game”
You just scan the cards and hear the song.
It’s called “Wingsong” and it’s in both Google and Apple stores.