MEET THE BOOKSTAGRAMMERS: A Small World of Big Possibilities

by Niyanta Chowdhury, Victoria Junior College

Bookstagramming was an unfamiliar term for most of us attending Ms Olivia Ho and Professor Lim Lee Ching’s workshop. Turns out we had all been living under a rock and had completely missed how this wildfire of a phenomenon had taken over the blogosphere.

Ms Olivia Ho is the books reporter at Straits Times Life where she describes her dream job where she gets to read books for a living. She came across bookstagramming by accident. Her instagram account was like every other person’s with personal photos of friends and family. One day, she decided to dress up as a character in Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman and posted her photograph with the caption, “Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Spoiler alert: pretty much everyone dies.” It was an interesting way to pique an otherwise non-reader’s interest in a very deserving book. She realised that Instagram was a great platform for the promotion of books as well as her creative expression as she could combine the photography aspect with the review of books.

Olivia went on to share a few tips on writing a book review. The first major one was the ‘hook’. Just like any story, beginning a review with the most eye-catching moment in the book leads to instant interest and keeps the reader reading. Secondly, keep the nut graf tight. The nut graf sums up the story without giving it all away. Keeping it concise but interesting is the way to go.

Thirdly, the content should be well-elaborated on and usually balanced. The book’s good points and bad points should be stated and there needs to be a clear stand in the review. The points should focus on plot, characters, language and theme. The plot review is based on the pace of the story and whether the plot points make sense. The characters should be well-written, relatable and funny/engaging. The language is the most difficult part of a review. Certain adjectives to describe language would include lyrical, mellifluous or sparse and raw. Despite being the most difficult part, it is also the most engaging part of the review and also poses a challenge to the reviewer.

The theme encompasses the message of the book. Questions that should be asked would include, “ Is the message conveyed well? Does it make you feel more about the theme?” Olivia also mentioned a few handy things to avoid when writing reviews. We should avoid generic descriptors like important, emotional or interesting. A pet peeve of hers would include over quotation of the book. Quoting the book is a strategy that should only be used when you are trying to prove a point about the book. Quoting often leads to spoilers which is something we really want to avoid when writing a review. We should also avoid reading other people's reviews first. What if us read a book, we form a pure opinion which is tainted when we read other reviews. A review is about expression of this pure opinion.

When writing a short review, for example on Instagram, to be concise we need to shrink the main parts of the review and interest people to go read the full book.

Professor Lim shared about the Singapore Review of Books. This website is run like a blog. A lot of the books are more academic in nature. In 2012, Professor Lim and his colleagues realized that there is a gap for academic reviews. Professor Lim is an editor of the book reviews posted on the website.Editing a book can be very challenging. The editor needs to get a sense of the writer’s style. When books have been translated or they have been written by a person who does not have English as their first language, the editor needs to figure out how to retain the authenticity of the language.

An interesting question was raised during the question-and-answer segment. How does a reviewer go about reviewing a book by a friend? Olivia answered without hesitation that she would just pass it on to another reviewer. If she does not have to do it, she won't do it.On the other hand, Professor Lim said that he does it all the time since the academic community is too small for him to pick and choose reviews.

Today, books need all the help they can get. Bookstagram is an amazing platform to allow book reviewers to express themselves in a more aesthetic form as well as promote awesome books.