A Year in Books with Los Angeles Times’ Carolyn Kellogg

‘Tis the season of year-end reviews, and for our 2012 round-up we flipped through the pages with one of our favorite local experts on all things books. Before book critic Carolyn Kellogg celebrates her fifth anniversary with the Los Angeles Times this February, she kindly took a break from writing and her ever-expanding reading list to reflect, begrudge, and cheer on this year’s trends in books.

Carolyn Kellogg (far right) moderating an ALOUD conversation with Dana Spiotta and Janet Fitch. Photo by Gary Leonard.

What book made you the happiest this year? Matt Dojny’s The Festival of Earthly Delights that was published by Dzanc Books. I have the fortune to meet lots of authors and then later see their work and one of the things I fear is that they will be a great person with a bad book. But I met Matt Dojny in New York, and he was a very soft-spoken person who wasn’t at all braggy, and his book is hysterical. I would recommend it to anyone who has a decent sense of humor.

What was the biggest surprise in publishing for you this year? The biggest surprise was at the end of the year when Random House decided to merge with Penguin. There’s rumors that there will be another merger, so the big six publishers may be a big four by this time next year. Crazy town.

What was the biggest disappointment in publishing for you this year? The biggest disappointment for me was that the biggest seller—by an order of magnitude of the year—was a terribly written book. While it can be assumed that millions of people have embraced reading in a new way, it makes me sad that they did that for Fifty Shades of Grey.

What was the best piece of good news for the book industry this year? Despite everyone’s most dire warnings, it’s still here and people are still reading books in all formats.

Do you have any pet peeves in the business of being a book critic? Publicists who send me an e-mail about a book that I’m not interested in that I delete, and then send me subsequent e-mails with “RE:” in the subject line as if I have replied to their e-mail and we are having a conversation, but we are not. They are trying to camouflage their spam e-mails about self-help books for people with families of 12 kids and 14 dogs. It’s sneaky and I do not look more kindly on their books!

In a word or so, what was your reaction to the following “buzz” this year?

The Petraeus biographer scandal? Woah!

Oprah’s Book Club 2.0? Eh.

The rise of paywalls? Worth a shot.

Twitter’s first Fiction Festival? Terrific successes. I really liked Elliott Holt’s mystery in which she created three fictional characters, who were all at the same New York party, and saw someone who then went over the edge. She asked the question ‘Do you think it was suicide, accident, or homicide?’ It worked really well and played out in real time as if they were all walking around the party.

Nobel Prize Winner Mo Yan’s defense of censorship? Unfortunate.

J.K. Rowling’s move to adult fiction? Mediocre.

Los Angeles’ first Poet Laureate? Hurray!

Besides Jacket Copy, what are your favorite book blogs? The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, The New Yorker.

What is your favorite branch of the Los Angeles Public Library? Central.

What was your favorite ALOUD event this year? You mean the one I moderated with Janet Fitch and Dana Spiotta? Yes, that one! It’s so fun moderating. (Listen to the podcast here.)

Do you love or hate, or love/hate e-books? As a reviewer, reading books on electronic devices is hard for me because the way I engage with a book when I’m reviewing it is that I write in the margins and make marks on the pages. I know it’s possible to do that with e-books, I just haven’t adapted to it. In terms of reading, I’m most excited about e-books that make use of the multi-media elements and the interactivity available on tablets and iPhones and that exploit new storytelling possibilities. One that I wrote about this year was The Silent History, which is delivered to your phone daily for six months when you subscribe to it. It’s a short serial that you can unlock different pieces of the story if you actually show up with your phone to one of the locations where it’s been sited.

What book do you want to read that you have not gotten the chance to this year? Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

What question about books would you ask yourself? What book published in the last year would you like to see end up on college syllabi? I don’t know the answer to that question!

Posted by Bridgette Bates

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