The Big Read Blog (Archive)

A Bookish Chat with Flavorwire

A peek at Flavorwire Literary Editor Emily Temple's "books-to-consider" shelf at her New York City office. Image courtesy of Flavorwire 

A little direction in the vast world of literature is always helpful. Different readers find direction from different sources: professors, relatives, colleges, literary magazines. But for me, there’s Flavorwire. I discovered the cultural blog approximately two years ago after subscribing to their mother publication, Flavorpill, a site-specific cultural event e-newsletter of sorts. The offshoot Flavorwire reports and gives guidance on a whole spectrum of cultural happenings including music, art, design, film, and many others. But one niche they have carved out specifically well is books.

Never quite straight book reviews or criticism, the literary section of the blog focuses on other elements of the book world. More often than not, a Flavorwire reader will find helpful reading lists, book photography, cover art, and genre tributes. We were able to speak with Flavorwire’s literary editor, Emily Temple, about the early days of the blog, the books that matter now, and how readers are responding to nostalgic images of the old-fashioned physical book.

NEA: Was there a void in cultural coverage that the creators of Flavorwire were hoping to fill?

EMILY TEMPLE: Our founders always joke that they're trying to put themselves out of business. They want Flavorwire and Flavorpill to inspire people to go out and do things and get away from their computer screens---to bring culture into people's bedrooms.

NEA: Flavorwire loves to list out information numerically. Is there better reader reaction to list-based posts compared to more traditional narrative posts?

TEMPLE: People love lists. I don't know what it is, but they love them. We have experimented with different formats and we still do various types of things such as slide shows of art or longer form pieces, but it’s always the lists that really seem to pique the readers' interest. For instance, a recent article I wrote that is doing really well was "20 Books Every Woman Should Read in Her 20s." It allows for more exploration than if I were to write an article about just one new book. We never just do straight reviews because you could get that a million other places. If there is a news item or a new book, we tend to find a way to talk about it in list form, and that is not the way other people are approaching it.

NEA: What authors out there are perhaps lesser known but worth a larger look?

TEMPLE: I think Kelly Link should be read more by everyone. She has two short stories collections and one young adult book. She is a cross-genre author---fantasy, horror, literary fiction, all in one. I recently wrote that reading her stories was like watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer if they have been written by Flannery O'Connor. Magic for Beginners is her second collection. I love fantasy, so it obviously appeals to me but I am also a snob in many ways, or at least I have been called such, and so it appeals to both sides of me. The low-brow, zombie-loving side but also the quality literature side. There are beautiful sentences and heart in her stories that shine through and make them so wonderful.

As far as new books coming out, everyone is talking about the new George Saunders book, and I have been a fan of his for years. He's not a new writer by any means, but he's definitely not a household name. Now his book is sold out---a book of short stories no less. It was sold out on Amazon by the day of its release, and that to me is so encouraging about the state of reading in America. [Saunders] is not an easy writer exactly. He is a little bit satirical; he's a little bit surreal. It makes me happy about the state of things that a writer like him, who is such a writer's writer, can be doing so well.

NEA: Do you recognize any trends when you look at what people are responding to in your books coverage?

TEMPLE: Everyone loves to have a reading list, as I said. The "Essential Post-Modern Book List" I posted did very well. People want to be in the know. But something that is more specific to books and the way that people are responding to books stems from the visual. The most popular post in Flavorwire history is the "20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World." And other blockbuster posts have been the "25 Most Beautiful College Libraries" and the "25 Most Beautiful Public Libraries." Those are the posts that went viral and helped cement Flavorwire in people's imagination as someplace to go for books coverage. To me, that is a reflection of books becoming more and more available in digital formats. As it becomes easier to get content anywhere and in any way---Kindle, iPhone, whatever---people are really responding to articles that celebrate the book as art object. It is almost a fetish. People love these pictures of beautiful books. It is a nostalgia factor in some ways. We're reading books in a new way now. The same thing happens with book covers. I do posts about book covers, and those also always do very well because there is a strong visual aspect to them.

NEA: When you write about reading for the blog, who are you writing for?

TEMPLE: I'm basically writing for me. For the me I imagine exists in many other living rooms. Perhaps it is more accurate to say I write to past me. A person who really wants to know about books and is interested in everything and wants a little direction. Someone who wants someone else doing research for them so they can be exposed to new things. That's all I do. I view my job as a dialogue between myself and my readers. I see it as my own personal platform to try to bring books and writers that I love to more people. I am sort of writing for everybody who hasn't read The Secret History and MUST.

I am so happy whenever someone tells me they have discovered something I have suggested, or even when they disagree with me. I love that because that's the whole goal for me: I want more people to be talking about books and if they see a list and think these two are right and these two are wrong, that's exactly what I think should be happening.

NEA: What are you currently reading?

TEMPLE: Heart of Darkness. I never read it---I somehow missed the boat in high school. I try to read one old book for every new book that I read. I get inundated with new books and I am always really excited about the publication of new books. For Flavorwire, I make a list each month of ten books that I want to read. Some of them I do read, and some of them I have read, and some of them are on my want list.

NEA: A year from now, what is your vision of success for Flavorwire’s literary section?

TEMPLE: I think any literary initiative that tries to involve the entire community is very important for a generation where we are becoming more and more stuck in ourselves and in our devices. Reading is such a solitary pursuit.  The community aspect and the conversation aspect is part of the reason why I love this job. I can't shut up about books and I also want to connect with other people who can't shut up about books.

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