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101 Books Mailbag #1

Welcome to the first edition of the 101 Books Mailbag!

On Monday, I asked you guys if you had any questions for me about books, blogging, writing, and so on–and you actually did! Who knew?

I didn’t get to all of the questions (I’ll save some for next time), but I did answer six of them.

So let’s mailbag it up.

Having read most of the 101 greatest books and commented on them, I’m curious what you think are the basic qualities that makes a book a contender for the greatest book list. – Heather Marsten

This is good. Here’s how Lev Grossman described it when I interviewed him about the list a couple of years ago.

101 Books: Other than the specific rules (like the publish date), what were you looking for in a book to place it on the list?

Lev:  It’s hard to put into a single world. I could say ‘greatness’ — in fact that’s probably what I would say — but I would never get done unpacking it. We wanted books that were rich, moving, entertaining, and unlike anything that had come before them. And that will never be forgotten. That’s a start.

Books that were “unlike anything that had come before them”–I think that’s the main factor. These books were original and influential and, for the most part, fabulously written, An American Tragedy not withstanding.

Having a new book blog, it seems like all of the blogging tips-type posts don’t apply to book blogs (linky parties? um no.) What blog tips can you share that are book blog specific? Thanks! –Whoffs

I’ll start by referring you to my post 5 Things I Learned About Book Blogging. Here’s a quick summary:

1) Don’t take yourself too serious. That’s a temptation when you’re talking about books.

2) Be honest. Who cares what your college professor would’ve said? If you hate a book, say you hate the book.

3) Be consistent. You don’t have to post every day, but make a blogging schedule and stick to it.

4) Be willing to adapt. Love reading books but realize you don’t like writing book reviews after you’ve started your blog? Then how else can you blog about your love of reading without stick solely to reviews?

5) Know your audience. Get a feel for who reads your book blog and keep that in mind. Don’t lose sight of who you are, and be sure to keep your own voice, but never forget about who you’re writing to as well.

Why did you start this blog, and what is the most difficult part of blogging for you? –Katie Cross

Honestly, I just thought I had a good idea and had to act on it. I’ve always loved reading and writing. After I thought of the idea, I had the blog up and running within a week. The hardest part is just maintaining the family/work/blog/reading balance.

For me, that’s involved making a pretty solid routine that’s helped me work ahead and avoid burning out. At first, generating ideas for posts was difficult, but I feel like I’ve got pretty good at that after a few years.

Do you have another big reading goal after you finish 101 Books? If not, what is the first book you plan to read after the goal is reached? -peachyperspective

At the moment, no. I’m beginning to think the blog will continue, but not sure what form it will take on–whether that’s another list or just novels in general. I have two books I want to ready badly when this is finished, both have numbers in the titles: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

Do you have other writing projects outside of work going, and where do you find the time for all the reading, and writing? And still have a personal and social life? –Don Royster

I keep linking to other posts to answer questions, so I’ll direct you to this guest post I did for Michael Hyatt called 5 Ways To Make More Time To Read. I “make” time. I don’t “find” time.

A quick summary of my routine: I read during lunch for about 45 minutes, and I read and blog at night from about 8 to 1oish. Of course that varies based on other life stuff, but that’s the general schedule. Bottom line for me: My priorities are my family and my career, so this blog comes in third place. That means I have to work reading and blogging around my family and my job, not the other way around.

Like anything else, if it’s really important to you, then you’ll make time to do it. The trick is to not sacrifice the really important stuff and still find the time. For example, family time is non-negotiable. I’ll never give that up. But golf? I don’t play near as much as I used to.

Why don’t you like science fiction? Does your dislike spread to other speculative fiction genres (i.e. fantasy, horror, slipstream)? Was there a specific book(s) which made you decide you didn’t like it? – NicoleP

Good question. And I don’t really know the answer. I can’t pinpoint it. Maybe I’ve just read bad stuff. Some people say 1984 and Never Let Me Go are science fiction, and I liked those books. Ubik wasn’t bad.

I think it’s just the really hard-core sci-fi that does little for me. Like, if the book gets promoted at the Dragon Con conference, you can bet I’ll probably hate it. Neuromancer made me want to poke my eyes out. Snow Crash had some weird balance of pretentiousness and cheesiness that I couldn’t figure out.

I haven’t read a lot in some of the genres you mention, other than the basic Stephen King fare and fantasy classics like Lord Of The Rings (still to come on the list) and Narnia. I loved the Harry Potter series.

So that doesn’t really answer your question, but I don’t know if I have an answer. It’s just a feel thing, I think. I’m open to reading sci-fi. Dune is on my TBR list for the future, but a lot of what I’ve read in the past has left me extremely underwhelmed.


I’m saving all the questions you guys asked on Monday. So if I didn’t get to your question this time, I could feature it in the next post.

Thanks for all the great questions!

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a great addition to the blog!


    December 6, 2013
  2. Hi Robert, I loved your post and shared your guest blog, “5 Ways To Make More Time to Read,” on my Facebook author page. As a novelist with his first book coming out in March, It’s tough to find time to read, but I manage to finish one novel a month.

    I’m a blogger, with the Times Union newspaper in the capital of New York State, and my latest post is about the pros and cons of using cliffhangers to keep readers interested in the next installment. It’s at:

    Might you have interest in reviewing my novel? It’s a dark comedy based on my own brush with cancer and divorce, and will be published the traditional way. In advance praise, Agni founding editor Askold Melnyczuk describes this “exuberant, hilarious first novel” as a “sharp-tongued but warm-hearted” cross between Philip Roth and Woody Allen

    Click here for more info: If this piques your interest, I’d be happy to send you an ARC when it comes out in early January.

    Dave Kalish


    December 6, 2013
    • Sorry Dave. I only review books from the Time list. Don’t have time for anything else.


      December 6, 2013
  3. Thanks so much for answering my question. Having a schedule has been really helpful, without one I can see myself getting overly excited and posting 5 days in a row and then nothing for like 2 weeks. I will work on the rest!


    December 6, 2013
  4. It’s a wonderful blog! I hope you’ll continue after this list. I’m sure there are many other lists out there! =)
    p.s. I want to read 1Q84 too. There are just so many books!! Sigh.


    December 6, 2013
  5. 11/22/63 is such a great book!! Loved it.


    December 6, 2013
  6. Oh, I love it! Thanks for responding to my question. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about blogging just from reading your posts- and thanks for linking back to my blog. Much appreciated!


    December 6, 2013
  7. There’s only one person I thought of after reading Bryan Cranston’s answer to these two questions in a recent NYT Q&A:

    “What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of?

    ‘I like mysteries, thrillers and adventures best. I haven’t been interested in very many science fiction novels.’

    What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

    ‘After my confession of not being attracted to sci-fi, one might be surprised to see the collection of Phillip K. Dick’s short stories. Love those.'”


    December 6, 2013
    • Haha. Can’t imagine who you thought of! Sounds very familiar.


      December 6, 2013
  8. Loved this!


    December 8, 2013
  9. This was a fun read! I’m still somewhat new to wordpress, but I’m glad that I found this blog to read!


    December 8, 2013
  10. Great advice, really! Such simple tips, but good ones. I especially have to remind myself that I don’t have to try to sound like a stuffy old professor when I review books & movies & museums & etc. And I am still working toward stick to a consistent blogging schedule!


    December 11, 2013

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