There are approximately 8 zillion trillion gillian book blogs on the internet – but how do you know whether the reviews on there will actually match your own tastes? I figured one way might be to find out a little bit more about the people writing them. This is why I now present The Book Blogger Files – a series of interviews with the mysterious literary enthusiasts behind the keyboards. First up, freelance essayist and creative writer Adam Burgess, also known as Roof Beam Reader (the name is a reference to a story by J.D.Salinger).
Who are you, where are you in the world, and what made you start a book blog?
I have two degrees in English (Bachelor’s and Master’s) which are ultimately what led me to create a book blog. I realized even after completing graduate school I was writing down my thoughts and impressions on all the recreational reading that I was doing. I started a general/personal blog for creative writing and expression purposes – but after discovering a few other purely book-related blogs, I realized that was what I should be doing! It took three blogs and three major transformations (in terms of how I structured my review process) before finally becoming “Roof Beam Reader.”
Of course you love reading, but what other stuff are you into?
Ah, well, I really love to play poker and I’ve turned into a bit of a fitness nut as well. I workout 6 days per week – I love to be outdoors and to do adventurous things (skydiving, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, etc.). Unfortunately, living in the Midwestern United States is not the greatest for being an outdoorsy person (the weather sucks from December through March). I spend a lot of time with my significant other (we just got engaged over the weekend, actually – so I’m sure much of my time will soon shift from reading to wedding planning) and like to dance around the house whenever possible. My favorite band is an indie-folk group called Bright Eyes (led by singer/songwriter Conor Oberst; He’s one of my greatest inspirations, actually). My favorite movie is probably The Godfather (trilogy – if that counts) and my favorite holiday is Independence Day (because it’s an outdoor summertime holiday! Fireworks, barbeque, friends, music…yeah!). And my favorite food is definitely deep dish, Chicago-style pizza; specifically, Lou Malnati’s, pictured here:
That actually looks amazing… But onto the blog now! You have a policy of only accepting physical copies of books to review – why is that?
Well, at first it was because I did not have an E-Reader and because I refuse to read books on the computer. Reading is a very personal, spiritual experience for me. I connect with books physically – I often base my purchase of book editions not solely based on which publisher I most respect, but also on the texture of the book and its pages, the design, the smell, etc. To me, technological reading devices are (like most technology) cold things – they leech out the romantic element of the experience for me.
You don’t look at self-published stuff either – how come?
I do read some self-published works, but I don’t accept them for review. There are two reasons for this: 1) I used to get bombarded by self-published authors pushing their works for review, without regard to the type of books I typically read or review on my blog. Books I would never, ever read (and which would be clear by a brief scan through my review list or my review policy) would get pitched – and it was just annoying and a bit disrespectful. 2) I have had personal and second-hand experiences with self-published authors who request reviews of their work, but then “freak out” when the review is not a positive one. This happens with traditional published authors/agents as well, but it seems to be much more frequent from the self-published authors. It’s something I just didn’t want to deal with. Since I don’t accept payment for my opinions, I have no qualms about being honest in my reviews – even if that means telling my readers that I thought a book was lousy.
What’s the best part of being a book blogger?
Being constantly immersed in what I love and being surrounded by people who feel the same way! It will sound cliché or overblown to say that book blogging has changed my life but, in a way, it has. The way I interact online, the events I participate in now (BEA Expo, BBAW, Printer’s Row, World Book Night, etc.) and the friends/acquaintances I’ve met in this world are all directly the result of becoming a book blogger. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to spend your free time doing what you love and communicating with like-minded people (that is to say – people who also love books, but not necessarily the same books – I’ve absolutely had my share of bookish arguments with some of my blogging buddies!).
How about the worst?
The drama. Book bloggers tend to be passionate people, and I definitely place myself in that category – but for the most part, I typically stay out of the sticky stuff. Still, I know people who have been hurt by various things said or done in disfavor to a particular blog, author, genre, etc. and it’s not a fun experience. I have had to post on a couple occasions when my conscience dictated, such as when certain Young Adult authors were being attacked for including darker elements of life in their books (and I’m not even a YA blogger!).
Who is your favourite character from literature and why?
Impossible question! This is like asking someone for their favorite book or favorite author. I always find the answers to these questions to be rather fluid. I really enjoyed Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White (and, incidentally, Count Fosco from the same book). I thought she was brilliantly drawn and that the author, Wilkie Collins, was ahead of his time in creating such a strong female character. I also adore Hagrid from the Harry Potter books – such a gentle, loveable, yet exasperating giant! Sometimes, I think really well-wrought villains are my favorite characters. Take Count Fosco above, or Cathy Ames from East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Not to mention Javert from Les Miserables, Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and Mildred from Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. All brilliant!
I don’t think I can emotionally remove myself enough to praise Professor Umbridge… She’s so horrible! Can you name a book you wish more people had read?
Oh, sure. The book I recommend most often is Lust for Life by Irving Stone. It’s a fictional memoir of Vincent van Gogh and was based on the letters written between van Gogh and his brother. It’s incredibly beautiful and highly educational. I’m not the most artistic person in the world, and I don’t have any particular background in art or art history, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also, one book for lovers of American literature/classics is The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville. I discovered this book in graduate school and ultimately wrote an extensive research paper on it, because it’s so interesting. It’s my favorite of Melville’s works, but most literature lovers seem to have never heard of this one – sadly! For Young Adult readers I highly recommend The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens. It came out last year and did not get the hype or recognition that it deserved – I thought it was a thrill, and I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel, scheduled for release later this year.
And finally, what is your favourite literary quotation?
This is another impossible question – but I can give you a pretty solid “this is in my top favorite quotes consistently” type answer, if that works? Yes? Well, it’ll have to do!
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)