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Book blogger spotlight: Reading Matters

UK-based Australian blogger Kim Forrester started Reading Matters in 2004 to help her remember what she was reading. Now she likes to focus on ‘books that may have slipped under the radar’, with a focus on Australian and Irish writers. She spoke to Books+Publishing for our ‘Book blogger spotlight’ series.

Describe your blog in less than 50 words.

Reading Matters features book reviews of mainly modern and contemporary literature, with an emphasis on books that may have slipped under the radar. It has a special focus on literary fiction from Australia and Ireland, as well as books in translation, true crime, crime fiction and narrative nonfiction.

What makes your blog unique?

Longevity! I’ve been blogging about books for more than a decade, so I’ve been able to create a vast archive of more than 1000 reviews for people to read and discover.

When and how did you get started?

I started way back in 2004—yes, 13 years ago—before most people had even heard of blogs. It was merely an aide-mémoire so that I could remember what I’d been reading if anyone asked, but within about 12 months it had morphed into a place where I not only ‘reviewed’ books (I use the term loosely), but wrote about the books I’d purchased, my favourite bookshops and shared links to literary articles I’d found online. It soon developed a small following and grew into a giant monster that I had to constantly keep fed—a difficult task on top of a busy day job and hectic social life. More recently, I’ve learned to tame the beast and have distilled the site purely into book reviews and book lists, and I only post once or twice a week. I subscribe to the idea that it’s quality not quantity that counts.

How do you find out about new books?

I follow a vast number of other book bloggers—on their blogs, Twitter feeds and Instagram accounts. I also follow lots of publishers and publishing types on Twitter. I subscribe to most of the publishers’ email newsletters and I’m on a lot of publisher databases in London, so I am approached regularly about new books I might like to review. I’m also a member of NetGalley, which gives reviewers access to ebooks before they are available to the public, and I spend a lot of time on Goodreads, which emails me about new books they think I might like, given what I’ve read in the past. But my favourite way of finding out about new books is by simply browsing in bookstores.

What audience do you reach?

Once upon a time, my blog used to reach 28,000 people a month. That was in the heyday of book blogging—circa 2010-11—before Twitter took up everyone’s free time. Now it’s around 6000 a month. I have 548 subscribers (they receive an email every time I publish something on the blog) and 590 followers on Reading Matters’ Facebook page. Around 50% come from North America, 30% from the UK, 15% from Australia and 5% from the rest of the world, but I have no other information about them. I suspect most of my readers are 35 years or older. I often receive emails from retired people in the US thanking me for my reviews, which is always gratifying.

What other book blogs do you regularly follow?

My favourite blog is Lisa Hill’s ANZ LitLovers LitBlog, because it keeps me in touch with Australian literature that hasn’t made it to this side of the world yet. (Lisa and I have met several times, on both sides of the world, which is extraordinary when you think about it.) I also love Sue Terry’s Whispering Gums for the same reason.

A more recent discovery is Bill Holloway’s The Australian Legend, which focuses on Australian women writers from the past.

What has been your most popular post?

‘Five books about forbidden love’ has had almost 4000 page views since I posted it in February 2015, considerably more than my About page, which is the second most popular post on my blog. But in terms of comments, and comments that continue to appear on a regular basis, it would have to be my post on Bryce Courtenay’s Jessica, a book I didn’t like very much when I read it back in 2006.

What’s your favourite social media platform, and what recent trends in social media have you noticed in book blogging?

I love Instagram because I’m a keen amateur photographer and it’s the perfect medium to share pictures of what I’m reading, buying or lusting after in terms of books. Indeed, ‘bookstagramming’ seems to be the latest thing—think beautiful pictures of gorgeous-looking books. You can’t do that with Kindle editions!

What are you reading now?

I’m working my way through the shortlist for the 2017 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award, one of my favourite literary prizes, so am immersed in Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones, which has already won the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize and the 2016 Irish Book of the Year. We will find out later this month if it has won this latest award.





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