Thoughts On: Character Looks

“Thoughts On” is a feature where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous topics, click here.

I finally read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale last year, partly because the adaptation was coming out and partly because why hadn’t I already read it? The tricky thing about reading a book after you’ve seen promotional materials, though, is that it’s really hard to imagine the characters as anything other than the actors.

Aside from the illustration on the cover, we get no visual clues as to what Gilead or our characters look like—but I’m a visual learner, y’all! Unless a physical characteristic is explicitly mentioned, I imagine kind of like a blurry outline. But when it is? I’m often thrown out of the story. Regardless of whether Elisabeth Moss was how I imagined Offred to look, she’s close enough that thinking of her face when reading didn’t take me out of the story.

Which is where the graphic novel adaption comes in. I loved the book and also really love the TV show. I was excited to experience Atwood’s story in another format—until I paged through the book. I understand that Renée Nault was going for a morose dystopic vibe, but the way she drew the characters is so far from how I now see them that I can’t even pick it up.

The Commander

I won’t say that Joseph Fiennes was my first choice to play The Commander—he’s a little short and definitely less imposing than what I imagined—but he oozes a smarminess that has made me swear at the screen. Nault’s Commander is so old-looking and physically over-bearing that it makes everything he does in retrospect so much grosser.

Aunt Lydia

Eek! I know that Aunt Lydia is a literal monster, but Ann Dowd’s mannerisms and vocal inflections completely sell the character that I don’t need her to also look the part. (Dowd looking like someone’s beloved mother or grandmother over Nault’s Red Skull really highlights how evil Aunt Lydia is.)

Serena Joy

There’s really no way to make Yvonne Strahovski as ugly looking as her fictional counterpart—Nault’s Serena Joy really makes physical her emotional decay—but there’s just something about Strahovski’s acting (as well as a beautiful person being unallowed to play up her looks) that I really love. The show has attempted to make us sympathize with her, and I don’t think that’s possible with Serena Joy looking so gaunt.

Moira

I wanted to highlight Samira Wiley’s casting as Moira as one of the few times where I became disappointed in the book after I’d read it. There are times when an adaptation can improve on the original!

So tell me, friends:

  • Are you a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale casting? Or did the actors butt up against how you envisioned the characters?
  • Are there any movies or TV shows that completely nailed who you think of when you read the book?
  • Are there any that completely fail? (One of the reasons why I couldn’t watch The Passage was because all I saw was Zack Morris with a beard!)

Thoughts On: Backlist vs. Frontlist

“Thoughts On” is a feature where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous topics, click here.

back·list /ˈbakˌlist/ noun
a publisher’s list of older books still in print, as opposed to titles newly available (known as the frontlist)

When I first started blogging, I almost exclusively read and reviewed backlist books (even if I didn’t know that’s what I was doing). I’m a very conservative book buyer, so everything I read had to be inexpensive or else accessible through my library. It’s not that I didn’t want to read what has new and much-hyped, it’s that an older book selling for 80% off was much more attractive than a new one selling for 20%, and a book I could borrow right now was better than one for which I had to wait weeks or even months.

Even though reviewing backlist books can make a review memorable––when everyone is off chatting about one thing, it’s really difficult to stand out!––it can also mean that I’m often shouting into the void. People may or may not have read the book in question (or even recognize it), or they’re just not in the mood to read a review for a book that’s five years old.

So that’s where frontlist books come in!

Haven’t read a particular book yet? It doesn’t matter! You’ve probably seen it talked about so much online that you understand the story enough to appreciate the review. Or multiple people in your corner of the internet have all read a new title and so it’s easy to get multiple takes on the same story. Being a part of NetGalley and Edelweiss makes it much easier to get copies of books before they’re published––upping the chance that I’ll actually get to read a title while the hype is strong––but reading ARCs often stresses me out. Having to read a particular book by a particular date just makes me want to do anything but.

I’m not really sure that ever I’ll come up with or come across a strong argument for either side. I quite enjoy discovering older titles, reading them at my leisure and then scouring the internet for reviews. It means that I’m less likely to have expectations––either positive or negative. But there’s also nothing quite like reading a story along with basically your entire Twitter feed and collectively freaking out at the same time. (This is one of the reasons why I live-tweet Game of Thrones!) I think I’m happiest when I can balance frontlist titles with a couple of backlist ones, mood-reading to my heart’s content; the variety keeps me sane! After the next four weeks of ARC reviews, it will be nice to get back into some sort of happy rhythm.

Tell me friends!

  • Do you have a first-class ticket on the Hype Train or do you let a book stew for months (or even years!) before you read it?
  • As a blogger, how do you balance backlist titles with frontlist titles?
  • As a reader, do you prefer reading multiple takes on the same book or do you like finding an outlier?

Thoughts On: Reviewing Books

“Thoughts On” is a feature where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous topics, click here.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to review more books, but I’m still having trouble defining exactly what a “good” review means. Is it written immediately after I finish, full of typos and gifs because I can’t even? Is it long and beautifully formatted with fantastic tags? (Hey, Shealea!) Or maybe just something in between? I don’t dislike reading short reviews, nor do I particularly avoid writing them, but I seem to subconsciously aim for something longer than the book’s summary. (Perhaps to avoid the post looking lopsided? Idk.) But then the longer word count means I have to write more, which means I feel like what I do write has to be “good.”

I read about 40 books a year while posting about 36 reviews–so every book I do read has to “count.” But I also like to vary the format I review (featuring a nonfiction book in between two fiction) and also avoid reviewing sequels (what if they haven’t read the previous books??). So this further narrows the potential books I can review, and if I take longer than a week to finish something, I don’t have anything to post. So then I comb through Goodreads for something I haven’t featured here… but if I only added a review to GR, that probably means I thought it was too short to be considered as a “blog review,” so then I spend more time beefing up the review so that it feels long enough. (But why did I make these rules? 🤷‍♀️)

I constantly feel overwhelmed trying to read enough “appropriate” books to garner enough content, but I also feel like if I don’t post, I’ve somehow failed. I used to switch up the books I read, alternating between a fiction book and a nonfiction one in the hopes that the change in format would give me more time to write out a review, but it’s really hard to do that now when all I want to read is fiction. (Y’all, new books are so enticing.) I then tried to wait myself out, not starting a new book until I wrote a coherent review of the one I’d just finished, but I would continually drag my feet on writing and lose precious reading time in the interim. I scribble down notes now, comprised of keywords I hope will spark a memory later on, but these aren’t always helpful because it’s easy for them to lose context… or I just don’t find anything in the text on which to comment. (But somehow I still lag on writing reviews??? UGH.)

Then, on top of everything, I’m also, like, super negative sometimes and hate shitting all over a book–but what if I really didn’t like it? A negative review still counts as a review (and thus a post), but, as a consumer, I don’t like reading something that amounts to “this sucked” without a why attached. So I try to articulate the reason so that someone else can make their own informed decision about whether they want to read the book. (I mean, my annoyance may be their go-to.) But all of that work takes time, and what if in the end I’m still just being mean?

So… what? Is a review good because I wrote it? Because I think it’s good? Because someone else does? I honestly don’t know. Every thumbs-up on Goodreads or like or comment here reassures me that I’m doing something right, but I also have to remind myself that this blog is a hobby and if deadlines and word counts don’t help, it’s okay to ditch them.

So tell me…

  • Do you struggle against your own preconceived notions on what to post and when? What makes a review “good” over “good enough”?
  • Do you prefer to write a lot of little reviews or an info dump? Does this change when you’re the one reading reviews?
  • Is there a difference between a “blog review” and one on Goodreads? What about Twitter or Instagram?