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Three Questions with Books on GIF
We talk about books, books and books
Books on GIF is one of my favorite bookish newsletters.
As the name implies, it combines reviews of books with animated GIFs – such a simple premise that brings so much delight. I love the way it uses a very modern form of storytelling, the GIF, to comment on one of the oldest art forms, the book.
Subscribers receive an edition every other Sunday and the picks are wonderfully eclectic, ranging from the classic Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier to David Grann’s nonfiction epic Killers of the Flower Moon. If that sounds fun, you can subscribe here. To get a sense of how Books on GIF approaches reviews, I suggest starting with the edition featuring Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
I was delighted when we were both featured in Book Riot’s list of best newsletters for readers and equally happy that we were able to chat about the ins and outs of book newsletters.
Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Where did the idea for Books on GIF come from?
Back in 2016, newsletters were having another moment and I was interested in the format. I had been sending my friends birthday emails with four GIFs, I would use the GIFs in the message.
And I said to a friend, “if I did a newsletter about books, would anybody read it?” And she said, “You have to use GIFs” and the whole thing just clicked into place. I’d never seen a newsletter like that, that talked about books using this kind of humor, this sort of meme-ish way of talking about books.
I would read the usual reviews, and I felt they're all kind of the same. They're all similar, or the same books, it's all timed to like what comes out. And you don't really get a sense of whether the book is enjoyable. They’re big intellectual think pieces and I enjoy reading that, but I felt that it created a barrier to entry for a lot of books.
I like talking about books with my friends. What are we reading? What did you like about it? I wanted to have something like that, rather than “is this the most definitive novel of the year.” I just want to share books I'm reading with people and if they find something that they like to read, that's great. Mission accomplished.
One of the things I love about your newsletter is how diverse the picks are. How do you decide what to review?
I tend to review everything I read. I admire people who rip through like, 60 or 70 books a year, but I can't. I’m lucky if I get to 30. The books in the newsletter are the books I want to read.
I get inspiration from a lot of different places. One is social media. I pay attention to what people are talking about and what books are coming out that are popular. I also look at the New York Review of Books and those sorts of places. And then, I go to the bookstore and just wander around, see what looks good to me. I really like staff picks at a bookstore.
It really is just whatever catches my eye, and then I try to be intentional about making sure that it's not all like one thing. It's not all novels, and it's not all white guy books. I try to make sure my reviews are from a broad range of authors and from a broad range of styles.
What are some of your favorite books that you’ve reviewed?
There are so many books that just really blew me away. One was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which I really loved.
Another one is The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina. It's a great novel that came out of nowhere for me. I saw someone talking about on Twitter, and loved the title, and then a friend asked me about it. I picked it up and read it, and now I recommend it to everyone.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh is another one that I loved and was shocked by in a good way. I love when a book surprises you — when it takes a turn or a risk or does something that just feels exciting.
Last year, I reviewed Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and I thought that was wonderful.
Really though, I just encourage people to read whatever speaks to them.
I’ll be back on Monday with more recommendations.
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
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