Bronwyn Kienapple is someone you want reading — and writing about — books. From her Canada Reads reviews to her I Am Not a Target Market mini-series, her blog, A Certain Bent Appeal, explores the pop culture canon and the literary corners often left out of the spotlight with irreverence, humour, and intelligence.
Bronwyn, who sunlights as a publicity assistant at a large publishing house, started A Certain Bent Appeal a little over a year ago. Since then, she’s tackled beloved CanLit classics and indie YA and everything in between, with her fresh style that leaves you thinking long after she’s done blogging.
Bronwyn, or B, as she calls herself online, chatted via email about her own certain bent appeal.
Torontoist: Tell me about A Certain Bent Appeal and what inspired you to start a blog.
Bronwyn Kienapple: I started ACBA one year ago because I was sifting through tons of book blogs for work and I wanted to get in on the fun. What better way to honour the memory of my Angelfire page of yesteryear, Bronwyn’s Brilliant Books, than to start my own homage to reading? I really need one of those neat guestbooks again, though. And some animated GIFs and scrolling text. To be perfectly serious, I really wanted a platform to nerd out hardcore about books in the uncoolest way possible. They don’t call me Keener for nothing.
TO: Why the title, A Certain Bent Appeal?
BK: It’s taken from a line in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. This book perfectly encapsulates the tone I wanted for my blog—snarky, subversive, and irreverent but also secretly in love with living life to the fullest and doing so on your own terms. I suspect I’m a little more sentimental than Thompson, though, and a lot more square.
TO: Who are you and what do you do outside the blogging world? How did you get into publishing?
BK: I’m no one, really. Thank God Blogger exists so that I can spend more time being a virtual smart ass than a real life one. My day job is in publicity at a major publishing house. I was an admin assistant for a few years after getting that all-important BA in English but it had to end, mundane tasks have a way of bringing out the crazy in me. I saw an ad for the Humber publishing program and a glorious light filled the room. “I like books!” I thought. “That will be my purpose!” And here I am, living the purpose-driven life.
TO: How do you choose the books you blog about?
BK: I tend to review only current or topical titles. No one is going to care if I rave on and on about how amazing Life of Pi is. Everyone’s read it already. No one gives a fiddlestick anymore. I try to read a little bit ahead of the curve so that when people see my post they say, “Ooooh, I was wondering if that book is any good!” I’m currently reading all five of the Canada Reads 2010 picks, though I’m starting to wonder if that was such a good idea. I’m currently on #4, Good to a Fault, and I want to gouge my eyeballs out. You need to find a balance, as a blogger, between what’s topical and what you’re really passionate about. A timely book will bring the crowds but it’s the passion that makes them stay. I try to be mindful of this.
TO: What makes a book blog-worthy?
BK: If I’m going to blog about a book I’d better have a strong opinion about it and and the ammunition to back that opinion up. I also try not to go “off-brand” and review something totally random like, say, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I’m more of a literary fiction/commercial fiction/big-ideas books girl. Scratch that, I’m not reviewing it because I don’t want you to think I’m a tool. I’m going to have to review it now, right? Crap.
TO: As a publicity assistant at a large publishing house, how do you reconcile being in house and being a book blogger?
BK: The two are like church and state to me — both necessary but separate. My job fulfills my extroverted side and my blogging satisfies my desire to write. I was a news reporter at The Varsity, U of T’s student newspaper, for four years and while I ultimately decided that I didn’t want to make journalism my career, I still wanted to find a way to keep writing. This is it!
TO: Why did you decide to start “I Am Not a Target Market?” How has it been going?
BK: I’m surrounded by women in my life — I live with one, I work with them, and all my friends are women. This means that I have absolutely no idea what men are reading these days — that doesn’t make for a very balanced perspective, now does it? One of my goals for ACBA is to make it appealing to both men and women. I’d also been hearing a lot of conjecture about the condition of the modern male reader: that men don’t read, or that men don’t read fiction, or that men only read books about big bad crime fighters, or that women’s fiction is swallowing the publishing industry and that men need to bring back big manly fiction. I was hearing a lot of talk but I still had no sense as to how the average man approached reading. What I’ve found so far is that yes they’re reading, yes they’re reading fiction, and yes they’re reading all sorts of books, including those marketed to women. My personal belief is that men, like women, are conditioned to read only certain things, or not at all. I’m not too interested in proving theories, though. I just want to tell the stories of the men I meet.
TO: ACBA has been around for little over a year. How has the blog changed since then?
BK: At the beginning I was desperate to establish my tone and I made a lot of mistakes. I posted a series of photos of attractive women reading. I did a mini-series (one post long) about random books found in my apartment building’s library. I posted huge long reviews about ancient library books and pitifully short reviews about “that new totally hot book.” I’m better at curating what goes up now and my writing rambles about 40% less. The biggest thing that’s changed, though, is that I’m getting amazing comments on the site; there’s much more of a dialogue. I love when people respectfully say, “No, Bronwyn, you’re wrong and I’m going to tell you why in this long-ass ranty comment.” Bring it on, people! Let’s talk!
TO: What does the future of ACBA hold?
BK: ACBA is going to keep growing or my name is Sally Ann. This means more outreach, better writing, sharper site design, and smarter subject matter. I’m excited about growing my readership and really getting the comments and feedback rocking. I’m also excited about reaching a Gen Y audience that might not see a lot of book coverage geared toward them. Mostly I just want to talk about how this and that book ripped out my heart, spat on my face, and left me crying on the floor. I love books as physical objects, I love language, I love symbolism etc., but what I love the most is the ability of (good) books to speak our common emotional language. Why do we hope beyond reason? Why do we love so insanely? Why do we hurt ourselves, deny others, or do that unexpected amazing thing? One day ACBA will help me understand the human condition and bring peace to our beleaguered planet. Until then, I hope to amuse a few people with my insane rantings.
TO: What role does book blogging have in the publishing world? How do you see this changing?
BK: Book blogging is seen as a necessary evil in the publishing world. Page space is tight so online reviews are necessary but I don’t think everyone understands their power. I think that people are skeptical about the professionalism of bloggers or their critical ability. The fact is, though, that with bloggers we have consumers essentially handselling to other consumers. You can’t get a recommend any more credible than that. You’re also cutting out the medium, the media, and dealing directly with your readership, which is an amazing opportunity. I think some seasoned publishers might find that a bit unnerving. I’ve never done it any other way so I haven’t had the chance to rely on traditional media. The fact is that traditional media is dying and online is growing but I think there’s room on there for both seasoned critics and bloggers. That’s the beauty of it — you get a whole array of voices. The growth of online also means a huge opportunity to get coverage for books that wouldn’t normally be discussed, i.e. genre titles. For example, the paranormal romance blogger community is huge! Smart publishers will jump in and establish ties to these communities sooner rather than later.
TO: Who are your favourite authors? What are some of your favorite books?
BK: My favorite authors are all dead white guys, D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy, in particular. I need a better answer than this because it makes me sound like a stuffed shirt. I can’t help it, though; these authors really spoke to me when I was younger. Love was my religion and these two spun its language with a courage that few writers dare embody. Lawrence and Hardy convinced me that to live a worthy existence one must front tackle life or not bother at all, to love with all your heart, or not at all, to be passionate and boisterous and wrong, or to drop dead. I still believe these things. My favourite contemporary book is House of Leaves. Now there’s a book full of piss and vinegar. This book screws with you in a very dark, very personal, very spiritual way. It takes no prisoners. Now that’s the stuff of great literature!
Photo: ACBA header, taken by Angel Ramirez at deviantART.