If your social life has taken a downturn recently, make a new friend in Dane Cobain, the blogger behind SocialBookshelves.com. When you can’t peruse the shelves at your local library or book shop of choice, or all the options available on your Kindle are making your head spin, Dane’s reviews and recommendations can help you pick the right paperback/hardback/digital tome to get stuck into.
How did you originally get started with writing about literature?
I’ve always been a big book lover. I remember at secondary school, our English teacher told us that we had to write a book review for every book that we read. For most other kids, that had the effect of putting them off reading because they didn’t want to have to write a review. For me, I ended up writing about a half dozen reviews each week in an attempt to keep up.
Fast forward to 2013, I was working in social media marketing at a PR agency and about to start a new job at a creative agency. Seeing as I worked in social media marketing, I felt as though I needed to have a blog site to act as a kind of portfolio, and books made the perfect subject to write about. I resolved to review every book that I read moving forwards and to try to catch up on my old archive… and now here we are, seven years later.
What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
SocialBookshelves.com is pretty much a specialist review blog, mainly because I read so many books that just staying on top of the reviews is difficult enough. That said, some of the most fun that I’ve had while running the site has been when I’ve been invited to attend and report on events. For example, I was taken to York Literature Festival to write about that, and I also got the opportunity to go and visit Latvia to learn about Latvian literature.
How have you had to change your approach to blogging during the COVID-19 crisis?
I haven’t had to. In fact, there’s been very little that has changed really, except that my social life has dropped off. But I worked from home already and nothing has particularly changed in terms of blogging.
What are your favourite books of all time, and why?
I always say that my favourite book of all time is Northern Lights by Philip Pullman because that’s the book that made me fall in love with reading. My favourite book of last year was Stoner by John Williams because it was just a masterclass in writing, and my favourite of the books I’d read the year before was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, because it was excellent.
Is there a book you just couldn’t get into?
Yeah, loads of them. The one that springs to mind first is Persuasion by Jane Austen, which I read as a ‘bedtime book’ and which I’m due to re-read this month via audio book. I’m pretty sure at this point Jane Austen just isn’t for me, but she’s influential enough that I want to give her another chance.
Which books would you suggest people read during lockdown?
It depends! If you want some books that are eerily close to what we’re living, I’d go for The Stand by Stephen King and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, both of which I’ve read myself during lockdown and both of which deal with what happens to the world after a super-flu breaks out. Of course, if you want something a little lighter and which doesn’t remind you of what’s going on out there, I’d have to recommend my own books – in particular Driven and The Tower Hill Terror from the Leipfold series of cosy detective novels with a contemporary twist.
If you could interview any author (living or dead), who would it be, and what would you ask them?
I’d probably interview Stephen King and ask if he’d adopt me. It seems as though everything he or his family touches turns to gold, and who wouldn’t want to learn from him?
How do you collaborate with brands and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I take pitches from anyone, but I receive so many collaboration offers that I’m only able to get back to those I’m interested in. I think as above, my favourite brands to work with are those who are putting on events and who invite me along, but I’ll work with anyone if they have something tangible to offer to me and my audience.
For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
The best way to reach out to me is via email, and the best thing to do is to not just send me a press release about a book and ask if I want to read it. You need to find a way to capture my attention!
What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether literature-related or not)?
I actually don’t read that many blogs, mainly because most of my friends aren’t bloggers. I watch a lot of YouTube channels though and read a lot of reviews on Goodreads, etc.