A couple of weekends ago I attended the 2012 San Francisco Writer’s Conference, where among a crowd of talented writers I had the pleasure of meeting author, blogger, and Top 500 Amazon reviewer Eileen Granfors. An enthusiastic writer and reader with energy to spare, Eileen managed to fit time into her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions. Looking for a good book? Read on …
1. First of all, how does someone become a Top 500 Reviewer? How many books did you have to review? And how long did it take you?
I had been reviewing for Amazon for many years, just as a way to share with the world the books I enjoyed. Then they opened the Vine program, which gave a list of books each month to particular reviewers. That was a dream come true!
I can’t guess how many books I read before hitting the top 500, but it took about three or four years. Reaching the top 200 took a year of dedicating myself to the task of reviewing more frequently.
2. What are your favorite types of books to read? And are there any books outside your normal comfort zone that surprised you anyway? (If so, I’d love to hear why.)
I love to read women’s fiction (not chick lit, but domestic, family dramas and dysfunction), anything based on mythology, a good love story, a thriller, books set in a school and quite a few surprising non-fiction titles. I am fascinated by indigenous people and their loss of land/culture to new invaders.
I am not very scientifically oriented, but some of my favorite non-fiction books have been related to science: The Wave by Susan Casey; Ghost Wave by Chris Dixon; and Invincible Microbe by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank (the story of tuberculosis). Each of these books taught me something about the physical world I didn’t know previously in a way that presented science without all kinds of pretension.
I don’t like a lot of popular fiction, including the Harry Potter series (just cannot enjoy fantasy). Stieg Larsson’s books also were too violent for me. I am not likely to read or finish a book full of gratuitous violence or erotica.
3. What are your pet peeves in fiction?
My number one pet peeve is bad editing. Some books come out of major houses with errors in the text. I know they have cut back on staff, but it seems that if they are going to publish for astronomical prices, they should deliver a quality product. In the Indie world, a few typos may get by, but if the book is filled with them, I am an unhappy reader. I also dislike books that read like film scripts, meaning “time to blow something up,” “time to throw in a sex scene,” formulaic writing.
4. Are there any authors out there you’ve reviewed and haven’t been discovered, but should?
I could not stop talking about Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman, although this book got some press. Michelle Richmond and Mona Simpson are incredibly gifted authors who deserve a bigger following.
5. How do your favorite books ‘hook’ you?
Almost any month of the year, I have a new favorite book. The narrative voice in Room and Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue made those books that I could not tear myself away from. The love story in Carolyn Parkhurst’s The Dogs of Babel — “I remember my wife in white” — broke my heart, and besides, that book has a dog. I read a lot of books about people with mental issues or drug addictions (Cost by Roxana Robinson, the best), books that show how one family member’s problem affects all family members.
6. You’re not just a reviewer, but an author in your own right. Can you describe how your experience as a book reviewer affects the way you write your own books?
I have learned not to do what annoys me in other people’s work. Creative Writing 101, quit describing the sunset. Make sure your characters are real, not cardboard cut outs. Create conflict and tie things together, but not perfectly, at the end. There are no perfect or perfectly happy endings in modern literature. I have also invested in two editors so that my new book, a prequel to A Tale of Two Cities, will live up to the standards I have mentioned above for copy editing. Look for Sydney’s Story this summer!
7. I would love to hear any stories of you “discovering” a book before the rest of the world did.
I was lucky enough to choose to read The Help way back in 2009. I loved it immediately and called it a new, modern classic. That review is ranked as one of my best for Amazon with 1300+ yes votes).
I have recently read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, another book that should be an amazing success. It is beautiful to read stylistically, and the story of the heroes of the Trojan War never gets old. Looking into the growing love between Patroclus and Achilles made my heart thump.
8. Any final words?
One more comment for people who do read a lot of reviews: Take a moment to say yes, you like a review or no, you don’t, leaving a comment about why you don’t. These comments can help reviewers in their status and also help reviewers know what works and what doesn’t.