Posted by Grace Rowan, GD Creative Non-Fiction Reader for 6.2
During the month of February, love is in the air. At SUNY Geneseo, the love of books and the art of reviewing is celebrated through the English Department’s third annual National Book Review Month (NaRMo). Readers can submit reviews of their favorite books to the NaRMo website: www.narmo.milne-library.org. The website provides five easy steps to writing a book review and how to submit the review once completed. NaRMo is accepting reviews from a variety of genres including Children’s Books, Drama, Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.
To learn more about NaRMo and why book reviews are a great asset to not only the Geneseo literary community, but also the campus community, I interviewed the Coordinator and Student Chair of NaRMo here at SUNY Geneseo, Heather Molzon. Heather Molzon is a senior Creative Writing major with a Communication minor.
- What inspired you to become the Coordinator and Student Chair of NaRMo? How do you feel this differs from other literary awareness months such as National Novel Writing Month and National Poetry Month?
I was approached by Lytton Smith to become involved with National Book Review Month at Geneseo the first semester of my junior year. I shadowed Nicole Sheldon, who was the student coordinator prior to me, for that semester and then became the coordinator in the spring semester for the 2017 National Book Review Month (NaRMo). I fell in love with NaRMo while working with Nicole and really appreciated the way it encouraged students to think critically about literature they were reading on their own, recommend books to one another, and the way it was specifically geared towards helping emerging or new writers through the power of book reviews. I am so proud to have been involved and to have been involved with NaRMo in its first three years and am excited to see how it grows and continues to engage students and the literary community at Geneseo and elsewhere.
I feel NaRMo is different than other literary awareness months firstly, because it is currently a grass-roots organization, and secondly, because it is not focused on a specific genre or the craft of writing, but rather reviewing the writing of others. This is often incorrectly perceived as a less important facet of being a good member of the literary community, so raising awareness for book reviews is essential. Further, anyone, anywhere can participate in NaRMo and write a book review–regardless of your educational background or reading preferences, there is something NaRMo can offer you and something you can offer NaRMo. NaRMo allows for a great variety of options for participation because you can write a book review on fiction, nonficiton, poetry, drama or children’s literature. In addition, your book review can be from 100 to 1,000 words and this allows for each individual to review in their own style and the way they feel compliments and represents the work they’re reviewing best.
- What do you think book reviews offer a literary community?
I feel that book reviews, as I mentioned before, are essential to helping new and emerging writers. When explaining this in book review workshops for NaRMo, I always use the example of Catcher In The Rye (because it’s one of my favorite books). This is a work that does not need to be reviewed because it is already established as a classic and J.D. Salinger is not going to be helped by a review that someone writes for NaRMo. Furthermore, someone reading a review on Catcher In The Rye is not going to be exposed to any new information or be convinced to read it because of it. Book reviews for NaRMo are written to help readers find material and give literary space to deserving literature.
Essentially, book reviews help new writers find readers and this perpetuates their success and enlarges their readership. In order to be a good literary citizen, it is not enough to read something and to enjoy it–you have to communicate that to others and help that author have their work viewed by more individuals. Good literature deserves to be celebrated and NaRMo aims to be a space for the collection of critical literary appreciation. The NaRMo website was not only created for publishing book reviews in February but to be perused all year long to allow readers to find new, underappreciated, quality literature through the reviews written by others.
- In your opinion, what is the significance of a book review in a literary journal? How can a book review contribute to a literary journal’s message?
I’m obviously a huge advocate for book reviews being published in literary journals. While book reviews can often be seen as a non-creative entity, this is absolutely not true. Book reviews can be exceptionally well-written and include vivid details, beautiful imagery and an engaging sense of voice. Just because it is a work about another work doesn’t make it any less creative or deserving of space in a literary journal. In addition, book reviews are written for and about emerging writers, and those are the individuals who are publishing and submitting to literary journals. Further, a book review inspires the reader of a literary journal to continue engaging with literature even after they put the issue down. I have read books after reading their reviews in literary journals and in this sense, it seems that journals that publish book reviews are continuing to do a literary service for the community. I think especially for Gandy Dancer, publishing a book review speaks to its mission of giving SUNY students a space to publish their work and have their voices heard. This is important not only through what they are writing by the means of student-written fiction, non-fiction, and poetry but also through what they are reading and enjoying via book reviews.
- What do see for the future of NaRMo? In upcoming years, how do you think the Geneseo community can benefit from this project?
Although I am sad to be graduating in May and ending my involvement with NaRMo, I’m confident that it will continue to grow and flourish. The past two years we have been focusing on creating not only a digital presence and space for book reviews but also venues for students to talk about literature and their reviews together. There have been multiple events on-campus such as a book reviewing workshop and a literary jeopardy event which have been highly attended and has helped spread the word and message of NaRMo through the Geneseo community.
I hope that NaRMo continues to involve literary groups and entities such as Sigma Tau Delta, Creative Writing Club and Writer’s House as well as move towards a more interdisciplinary approach. English majors aren’t the only students who enjoy literature, and I hope in the future years NaRMo engages with individuals of all educational backgrounds–this is something we aimed to do this year but hope to get better at in the future. Obviously, the overall goal of NaRMo is to encourage the reading and writing of book reviews and to keep people excited and engaged with quality literature in an increasingly digital age. The Geneseo community, specifically, can benefit from NaRMo because it is not very often we as students and faculty engage with literature in a non-academic way considering our busy schedules and lives. Taking the time to write a book review and appreciate a work is essential to rediscovering that love and fostering a larger literary community here at Geneseo.
Thank you to Heather Molzon for agreeing to this interview. You can review the celebration of the third annual National Book Review Month at SUNY Geneseo by reading book reviews here. You can keep up to date on the latest book reviews on the NaRMo Facebook page, here. Happy reading and get reviewing!