Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Interview With Local Authors: Roberta Alexander
This interview is a bit different from those in the past. Roberta Alexander is actually a book reviewer not an author. I think it is interesting to read about the book industry from a different perspective.
How long have you lived in the Bay Area? Which parts?
A long time … first at Stanford, later in Berkeley. My children went through school in Alameda. Then I moved to western Contra Costa County, where I’ve lived for nearly 20 years.
How did you get started reviewing books? How did you get starting reviewing mystery novels?
I’d been working at the Contra Costa Times for a number of years, and had noticed that most of its reviews were a] from the wire service and b] covered books by male authors. I wasn’t anti-male, just concerned that so many of the books I enjoyed never got any publicity.
When I discussed this with the book editor, she suggested I do something to remedy the situation. There were several boxes of unread books from publishers; I went through them and picked out a few. I tried to focus on books by women and on new authors, figuring people who had full-page ads in the New York Times touting their books didn’t need my contribution.
How long have you been with the Contra Costa Times?
I spent 17 years on the copy desk of the Times, leaving in 2001. But I’ve continued to write reviews as a freelancer.
How involved are you with the community?
You mean as a reviewer? Now, not so much. When I was on staff, I sometimes moderated mystery panels and stuff like that. I enjoyed it. But I spent six years on the library commission of the city where I live, and have remained active in library/literacy activities.
What challenges have you faced as a reviewer?
At first I wasn’t taken seriously because I reviewed paperbacks as well as hardbacks. My feeling as a reader was that I was much more likely to buy a paperback, and why shouldn’t it get some attention?
For the last year or so, I’ve been challenged by having less space in the newspaper. That means reviewing fewer books or writing shorter reviews, neither of which I like.
Now that I have a website, I can write some longer reviews.
What was the most original mystery novel you've ever reviewed?
Maybe Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann.
Have you ever tried to write a novel?
I wrote my first novel at age 10. I am always writing, fiction, nonfiction, something. For the last couple of years I have been working on a series of essays, some funny, some poignant, dealing with my childhood in New York, among other strange things.
What types of books would you recommend for young readers?
J.K. Rowling did a pretty good job by offering young people (and millions of adults) a story that was exciting as well as meaningful.
What do you think is the best way to get young people excited to read?
In my house, books were always important, and my children picked that up.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I was an early fan of Janet Evanovich and Alexander McCall Smith, but Evanovich’s later books were forced and unfunny. I like Julia Spencer-Fleming, Judy Clemens, Margaret Maran and Sharan Newman. Although their subject matter varies, what they all offer is strong, believable characters you can follow from book to book.
Do you have a website we can visit?