Monday, September 14, 2009

Reviewer Time Preview: Michael from "Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review"


Another week rolls by; another technical disaster strikes my chances to blog on deadlines and yet another “Reviewer Time” feature is hosted on Monday. That I think is a serious sign to, I don’t know, reschedule the event. Anyway back on topic I have the newest kid on the block I know of, dragged him to my virtual studio and interrogated him appropriately. Dating back to this April, Michael aka Mad Hatter’s creation “Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review” has made a fantastic start to what I hope is a great top blog.

I discovered “Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review” recently, but I am a fervent follower and commenter. It was a sudden click that has to do a lot with the name, which sent an instant reference of the Mad Hatter character in “Alice in Wonderland”. The world created by Lewis Carroll has always pulled me and this gravitational power spreads towards everything even remotely hinting to “Alice in Wonderland”. Second, I’d like to mention Michael’s stunning look that matches both his personality, passion for hats and the title. It’s a unity of visuals and concept that I personally can’t achieve, so my kudos go out for his mastery over the dreaded HTML. However I am not here to gush over the glitzy package, although my opinion here is influenced by that superficial particle so typical of the time today.

Content-wise I have to say that due to the six short months “Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review” has been on air, I can’t speak about a strength that is inherently Michael’s, because there is still time for his site to develop and distill that essence, which is distinguishable once you hear the name. However I will say that in time this will happen and Michael’s notorious love for hats won’t be the only thing to occupy the spotlight. Diversity in his reading choices and the balance between known books to me [most reviewed titles] and those not as known is healthy and broad to expand upon the reader’s reading horizons. I am also quite fond of his reviewing technique and feel like I can trust in Michael’s opinions on whether a book could be a suitable read or not.

Outside reviews there is enough content to keep a blog reader busy. Michael has hosted some very fun interviews, which will most likely become a regular feature on his blog. He provides cover art information and linkage to interesting subjects like authors’ working cribs, contests and all in between. I usually look forward to his more essay type posts, where he shares his thoughts on literature and the fields that overlap with it. It’s all standard inventory for a book review blog, but Michael doesn’t always cover the hottest and most discussed topics and his cover art choices are also outside the immediate favorite list makers, which makes him a great person to visit.
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HM: Following the already established tradition at “Reviewer Time” I will request some personal information. Who is Michael in life outside “The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Reviews”?

Mad Hatter: I’m something of a hat aficionado having a couple dozen hats, but they aren’t baseball caps (which I think should only be worn by people under 20 or at a baseball game or maybe on game night). I’m a Fedora man. I enjoy playing board games with my current fave being Hive, 3rd Edition, which is similar to chess game but uses the skills of bugs. I’m a married traveler with a cat. By day I work in publishing for a niche non-fiction based company, it’s not related to anything I review on the blog or would ever. Most of what I read during the 9 to 5 are business and non-fiction type books. Being in the industry has afforded me the chance to get books earlier than most.

HM: In the fun spirit of list-making, please tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you.

MH: Hmmm… 3 things? I once came in second in a state Chess competition. It was a bit cheeky though. It was by grade level not skill level, but still a trophy is a trophy and other than a participant ribbon for swimming, I can’t think of any other competitions I’ve won.

I guess my second thing is I can’t actually swim. I won that ribbon in camp when I was 8 or 9 for swimming with a board, which meant I was just clutching it tightly and flailing my legs about in a somewhat forward fashion.

Third…I’ve visited at least 41 states in the US. This was done for the most part over the course of three cross-country trips encompassing travel by train and automobile.

HM: What was the moment you felt like putting up your own reviewing spot on the web?

MH: I thought “Well that’s done. I wonder if anyone will actually read this?”

HM: What I am always intrigued by is the title of the review sites as the naming process always reveals something about its creator. How did you come up with “Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Reviews”?

MH: The hats came before the blog, but reading was always my first love. I started collecting hats a few years ago right about the time I got involved with blogging. At first I was a commentor and I wanted some sort of handle so I went with The Mad Hatter. My url is actually booktionary.blogspot.com, which my wife came up with since most permutations of Mad Hatter were taken by people who haven’t posted in 2 years.

HM: And yes, I like to speak more about the hats. You seem to really like hats, using them as a rating tool and all. I guess they look good on you, but where does this obsession come from?

MH: Up until 3 years ago I hadn’t worn any sort of hat regularly. Than on a trip to Philadelphia I wandered into a haberdashery (http://www.hatsinthebelfry.com) and picked-up a hat that is still one of my favorites – a Block headwear of the wool felt variety. From there the collection grew and grew. I have the type of personality that is kind of all or nothing. Whatever my interests are at any given point I’m usually obsessed with. When I was a kid it was books, action figures, and cartoons. When I was a teen it was Magic the Gathering. In college it was computers. Now I’m into hats and reading. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing posts on hats for the blog or starting a separate one, but I’m not sure I’m up for another hobby. Blogs on the formal hat are something of a rarity on the net.

HM: Speaking of obsessions. When did you discover your passion for reading and what brought you to the realms of speculative fiction?

MH: I was in grade school. Probably 2nd or 3rd grade where I was introduced to the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I think that was my first exposure as that series touched on a little of everything speculative. From ghost stories, time travel, to lost cities. They piqued my interest to read further into genre books. In middle school I started with Heinlein and Bradbury, which I’m sure have warped my world-view and than went on to Tolkien and the like. I was so into books in middle school that I got a job working in the library, which helped me discover a lot of other great works.

HM: You are relatively new to the blogging scene, which has already experienced quite the boom in review blogging. How do you estimate your start was? Did you find it easy to supply books, keep in touch with publishers, etc.?

MH: I definitely consider myself the new kid. When I set out to start my blog I wanted to make sure it was one updated regularly and didn’t just drop off after 3 posts. I probably wrote my first 3 or 4 posts before I officially launched the site as I like to have a backlog of some articles on hand. I think the start went well. After a couple weeks I was getting a few dozen visitors a day and now those numbers are much larger due in part to established bloggers linking to me or putting me in their blogroll and I also happened to get a couple early links from tor.com, which I am eternally grateful for.

As for my book supply, I own hundreds of books so I always have something new to review. I’m not sure how many, but a rough estimate would be 600 or so. Out of those I probably have 100 that I’ve never read. Some of those I’ve bought at list price, but most are either procured through coupons, at used bookstores, or library sales. I’m a customer of both trade and independents and throughout my travels I try never to hit a town without checking out a bookstore. As mentioned earlier, since I am in the industry I have access to galleys for a couple years, which I usually pick-up at trade show where they are all just lying around. It has only been in the last few months that I’ve requested books directly and some publishers have been sending me books to review without request. Most publishers have been very nice about sending review copies, especially Pyr, Nightshade, and Orbit. Although I’ve also had a few publishers totally ignore me, but I still buy and enjoy their books.

HM: What’s the thing that pulled you into the world of blogging?

MH: Well I started commenting on some of the other blogs out there when I felt I had something to contribute. My wife noticed I was spending a lot of time visiting these sites and she said one day “You should start a blog. You’re well-versed in books plus you’re really good at recommending titles to others.” It only took her telling me this probably a dozen times before I started. I also fell out of touch with a good friend of mine last year who I used to trade and talk books with a lot so I felt like I needed another outlet.

HM: Also did you start blogging with a clear idea what your blog was representing as well as its direction or was it a more spontaneous endeavor?

MH: It was with a fairly clear plan, but it has evolved a bit. My goal has been to have at least 4-5 posts a week, which I think I’ve kept to since it inception. I also try to have 2 book reviews posted a week with one on Monday and another on Thursday or Friday, which generally happens depending on when else I post my news/mishmash articles.

When I started I knew I’d like to do interviews, but wasn’t sure if it would happen. I’m happy to say that interviews are becoming a regular feature on my page. So far interviewing is my favorite part. Being able to get answers to my questions about books and characters; a peek into who the author is in regular life; and having insight into what the author is going to do next or a release date makes my week.

HM: Since all reviewers are individual in their way of reviewing, I want to know what your approach towards penning a review is.

MH: I write very sporadically. Usually I’ll write a few sentences while I am reading when a thought catches me and a paragraph or 2 right after I finish the book. Than I’ll wait a day or 2 after I’ve had the story sink in a bit and write the rest. Sometimes I end up scraping all my earlier thoughts, but for the most part they end up being used in some portion. As you mentioned earlier I do use a number rating system related to hats. I know there was some recent blogging fervor over to use or not use a number system. I started with the rating system because I thought it was a fun idea and that is what I am trying to do. I also think some people tend to scan rather than read an in-depth review as we are most definitely becoming an ADD culture so I thought I would throw that crowd a bone.

HM: What about negative reviews? This topic is pretty much juiced out, but I want to hear one more opinion on the matter. Do you ever feel it’s a difficult task to deliver a negative review?

MH: I’ve done a few negative reviews most of which I didn’t have trouble with writing or posting. With most of my reviews if there is a character or plot thread that bothered me in some way I usually point it out. Mentioning a fault doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, but I try to keep things fairly even handed. I felt bad about one negative review in particular, but only because it was a fairly new publisher who I think has better books to come. That book still failed on almost every level for me. I’ve since seen it receiving glowing reviews from a few other bloggers and also some that agreed with my view point as well, but that is why it is good to have so many view points on the net. What is one person’s favorite book another reader would think is utter crap.

HM: What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up relative activity?

MH: I usually read 2 or 3 books a week and tend to read about at least 100 pages a day. I read everywhere. On my morning commute (I co-ride) and sometimes while the TV is on and I’m partially watching. If I have an appointment somewhere my book is sure to be with me.

HM: As a book lover, you must have a sizable collection. How many books have you collected so far?

MH: Too many to count right now. Plus I probably have at least 100 books on loan to various people. My brother-in-law will be moving shortly and I swear he has a good third of them – his wife has forbidden him from my bags of recommendations until the move is done. I really should keep better track of who has what better. As mentioned earlier a rough estimate would be 600, but I only became a more serious collector in the last couple of years. Before than I was a library person, but now I am a buyer and recently also started going after first edition hard covers and limited editions for my favorite books and authors.

HM:Since you started in early 2009, there won’t be much of a point to ask how you evolved from then till now, but I hope I can ask what your plans for development are. Have you set some future goals for your blog or just go with the flow?

MH: Right now I’d like to stay the course and see where it takes me. Oh, one thing I plan on doing are some He Said/She Said reviews of books that both my wife and I read. There is one in the hopper already - she wrote her part but I’ve yet to pick up that particular tome. Soon though. Oh, and I have an article I’ve been playing with for sometime now about my favorite series books. It is about 2/3’s done, but I don’t think it is up to snuff just yet. The goals is to give readers an overall feeling on a series to hopefully entice them to try it out.

HM: Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?

MH: Yes, but nothing too serious. I have some ideas I’ve written down for short stories or characters, but nothing fleshed out. There is one niggling idea I have that keeps coming up though so who knows. I honestly don’t think I could do a long-form book by myself though. I’m an idea guy which is cool because since I’ve started to have more of an online forum I feel I may eventually be able to get some of those out to authors that I think could make the most of them.


HM: What is the kind of story that will always engulf you no matter how many times you see it done? Naturally, if you don’t have one, your latest trope obsession applies.

MH: Lately, it has been Detective or Crime Urban Fantasy. There is just something about a character solving a puzzle with some good action that gets me going. I’ve devoured all the Dresden Files and quite a few similar series over the last few years. I could see myself getting tired of it eventually, but for now I’m still finding most of it enjoyable.

HM: On the polar end, what is the current trope or tropes that annoy you beyond words?

MH: I can’t think of one right now, but it will probably come to me later. With a skilled author any trope can be made good. Look at how some author’s such as Scalzi and Stross have reinvented future sex a la Heinlein. In less skilled hands their stories would probably be terrible. I’d also refer people to my recent article “Science Fiction Where Have You Gone” to see some of my recent thoughts.

HM: Have you ever left a book unfinished? I myself can’t often bring myself to quit a book, when I have started it and given a word to review, but time is valuable and reading time is usually scarce.

MH: Rarely, but it does happen. I generally go by the 100 page rule. If there isn’t at least one thing keeping my interest I will move on. This usually happens in my non-fiction reading more often. I like a good history or travel narrative, but if the writing is too dry or scholarly I’ll probably stop.

HM: Well it’s curtain time, which means that the closing words are up to you. Hope you had fun.

MH: Everyone should take their next opportunity to slip into a formal hat. A bowler or fedora would be my first suggestion they tend to compliment a majority of heads. Also, feel free to add me to your twitter and stop by the blog. I love people who add to the discussion. Thanks for the opportunity!

Cheers,

Michael, The Mad Hatter

7 comments:

PeterWilliam said...

Nice interview. I actually have Mad Hatter on my blogroll and get updates as a 'follower.' Nice to see a new wave of reviewers coming into their own.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

I am actually using Google reader than the following thing, but it's the same really. More in the shadows apprach, but I am maintaining. Oh and yeah. I always feel happy, when new bloggers make a steady beginning.

Ben said...

I love Mad Hatter's! And long live fedoras! I've always wanted to be cool enough to wear one around town. Unfortunately, I can only pull off wearing baseball hats.

ediFanoB said...

Nice interview. In Germany I wear a black baseball cap - mostly in summer because my hair is getting thinner and thinner. But when I go abroad I always wear an Txapela which is a Basque head. It is a gift from my Spanish colleagues.
You are one step in front of me. I started commenting on blogs and now I contribute Only The Best SciFi/Fantasy. I don't have enough time for an own blog.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

@ Ben: To be honest I never saw myself as a hat guy. I do love fedoras, but I look dreadful in hats.

@ Michael: It looks like a pizza in mid flip. Interesting design. I'd like to see you wearing it. :)

The Mad Hatter said...

@Harry You just haven't found the right hat yet. Give it time.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

I have toyed with the idea of wearing a fedora...

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