Rob’s Intro:This week on RobAroundBooks it gives me great pleasure to feature one of the bastions of the reading community, a woman who needs little introduction to most of the readers here, founder and ‘guardian’ of the renowned Sunday Salon, Debra Hamel.
I’m somewhat humbled to be featuring Debra. Not only is she a graduate student from Yale, with a Ph.D under her belt, she’s a published author with an accomplished online presence, being responsible for a number of successful literary-based blogs, aside from her highly popular Sunday Salon (of which I missed posting for this week – coughs!).
Goodness knows where she finds all of the time, especially with being a busy mother too, but somehow she does, and with her voracious appetite for reading, Debra is considered to be one of the most respected members of the online bookish community. If you’re on the hunt for a literary role-model then you really couldn’t go far wrong with following Debra. It’s a great honour to feature her! Take it away Debra:
“I’m a native of southern Connecticut and spend much of my time in front of the computer in my subterranean lair, about five miles north of the Yale campus. Much of my life is lived online–to a degree normal people find odd. A single blog begun in 2003 mushroomed into a great many more. And every other year or so I’ve had an interesting idea in the realm of things literary that has expressed itself in a web site. (Thus Buy a Friend a Book Week was begun in 2005 and the Twitter-based sites TwitterLit and KidderLit came to life in 2007.) I am continually amazed at how the internet has changed all our lives, and at how hard it is sometimes even to remember what it was like in the old days.
Apart from reading and playing/working/communicating online I enjoy the occasional crossword puzzle. I’ve got two beautiful daughters whom I have to shuttle around and who occasionally demand that I feed them. I’ve been trying of late to beat down the piles of books that seem to undulate around me, threatening to close in, and I’ve been making some progress.
1. Favourite Genre? I primarily read general fiction, literary fiction, and non-fiction, and I’m not sure I can say which among those is my favorite. It depends on my mood and what I’ve just finished. I’ll usually want to follow a slower read, say, with something action packed or light–a mystery or thriller.
2. Favourite Book? It’s impossible to single out one, but looking back over the books I’ve reviewed on my blog since 2003, some stand out even among those I gave five stars to. For example:
3. Why do you love reading so much? The main reason is probably escapism–the joy of being sucked into some exciting story that makes you forget where you are. But I also love non-fiction that’s well-written and teaches you things while entertaining you. Finally, there is enjoyment in seeing words strung together well across a page. It doesn’t happen very often, but I refer to the sort of poetic expression that makes you pause and reread a sentence just for the joy of hearing it again in your head.
4. Favourite reading place? I read in bed, while riding an exercise bike, while waiting for my kids at things like gymnastics, or at my lair in the kitchen, with my feet up on the table. The last of these is probably my favorite, as it smacks of time stolen from other responsibilities.
5. How BIG is your reading addiction? Well, I have hundreds of books on my TBR shelves, and I always carry books with me wherever I go on the off-chance that I’ll be stranded somewhere with time to read. I’ve been reading between 50 and 75 books a year since 2003, but this year promises to be a record-breaker: as of early November I’ve already read 70 books–not counting the great number of Junie B. Jones books I’ve been reading to my six-year-old.
6. How do you normally add books to your collection? I used to spend a fortune on books–and consider it well spent. But I’ve been spoiled in the last few years. Now the majority of my books come as review copies. I also trade books via Bookins.com. So I rarely need to go to the bookstore anymore, and when I do I find it hard to hand over the cash. As I get older I’ve come more and more to embrace my inner cheapskate. The review copies and second-hand books feed into that.
7. How do you decide what to read? I don’t actually pay any attention at all to awards, and I don’t tend to listen to recommendations from friends, to tell the truth. The latter is just because I feel overwhelmed with the reading that’s already on my plate, so hearing about more books sometimes seems too much. And besides, recommendations received orally require that one either remember them or write them down, which is asking a lot. However, I do pay attention to short reviews in print (or online) that give the gist of what a book is like. I don’t want to read longer reviews of a book unless I’ve already read it and am interested in comparing my judgment of it with someone else’s. But I like shorter notices that alert me to the type of book it is and give an indication of whether or not the person writing about it found it any good. I’ve found, actually, that I’m very dependent on Amazon.com when deciding whether or not to get my hands on a book. I’ve found that more often than not my reaction to a book coincides with the general feeling of the reviewers at Amazon, taken in the aggregate. I’ll usually load up the book’s detail page over there and skip to the middling reviews of it to see what readers didn’t like about a book. A negative review won’t necessarily put me off reading, because I may not dislike the same things that that reviewer dislikes. But I do look for the criticisms because they seem to me more telling than a review that’s simply praising the book.
8. Ebooks – love or hate? I haven’t really read any. I did some years back read most or all of the Sherlock Holmes stories on a Palm Pilot, just because I could. And I read H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man on my computer once. But that’s it. I am, however, lusting–I don’t use the word lightly–after a Kindle, but I’m determined for some reason to wait until the release of the second iteration of it. Though if someone were to toss one my way I would not refuse it….
9. Has reading inspired you to do any serious writing yourself? I suppose so. When I was seven or eight I decided I wanted to be a writer, and that was surely fueled by my love of reading, books like Johnny Tremain and Ben and Me. And while I didn’t exactly become a writer, I have written. Apart from having published some scholarly articles (in the field of ancient Greek history), I’m the author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan’s Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece (Yale University Press, 2003), which was written for the “educated general reader” and has, happily, been translated into a number of different languages now. I’m currently working on a book on Herodotus, but have no idea when it will be finished.
10. What single piece of advice (or tip) would you give to fellow readers? I guess it would be, read what you want and don’t be put off by the sort of people who turn up their noses at, say, genre fiction or Harry Potter or Dan Brown. Life is too short, in this and other areas, to worry about what other people find fashionable.
Debra if I wasn’t humbled before (which I clearly was) I certainly am now. Thank you for taking the time to give such an extensive interview, and continued success in all of your online, and offline ventures.