By: Alicia Montellanos
#FemaleGaze got the opportunity to converse with Foreword Reviews editorial intern, Hannah Hohman about her internship, the perfect book review, and the representation of women in history books. Hannah’s short story “Tattoo” is published in the 2014 National Writers Series Literary Journal anthology, alongside with some of her friends from the Front Street Writers program
How did you get interested in writing book reviews?
Hohman: I’ve always loved to read and, as any bookworm can tell you, reading books for a living is basically the ultimate dream. But I actually fell into my job a little by accident. It happened because I was in a program called Front Street Writers when I was in high school. We had writers come in and teach us and one of the writers that came in was my now boss, Howard Lovy. He held a class and taught us the techniques on writing a review. A few days prior, I had asked my teacher if she knew of any internship opportunities around town. She called me and asked if I was still interested, which of course I was, and she recommended me for an internship at Foreword!
What does a perfect book review look like to you?
Hohman: I don’t think there’s a formula for the perfect review. (Although my boss might disagree.) I do remember the class I was taught on how to write the review; not too much summary, no spoilers, etc. But to me, the perfect review is excited about the book. It gets the audience excited. It grabs the attention right away and makes the reader desperate to get their hands on that book.
What was your incentive to write “Women Played a Role in History” for Foreword Reviews?
Hohman: I’ve always loved history, from my classes in school to reading about it, and I’ve always loved historical female figures. My favorites include Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Our fall issue of the magazine had quite a few historical book reviews featuring women that I liked the looks of. I figured that many readers, like myself, enjoyed historical books and enjoyed reading about women. But more importantly, I think readers want to be able to see themselves in these books. I think women who love history want to be able to read a historical novel and hear about history from a woman’s point of view. I think they want to read through the eyes of someone like them and be able to relate to the main character. Not that women can’t relate to male characters, but there is
something special about characters that are similar to their readers.
Which genre do you think might be best to represent women, or fill the gap of women in history, fiction or nonfiction?
Hohman: There is a lacking of women in both fiction and nonfiction. Women’s contributions throughout history have been downplayed and looked over. While in fiction, women are often cast as pawns, sidelined characters. I think to truly represent women, we need both genres. For every biography about Henry VIII there should be one for Mary, Queen of Scots. For every historical novel about a prince, there should be one about a princess. We could focus on one genre or the other, but why can’t we have both?
Do you think book reviews sites should push for feminist books or books with women as central characters?
Hohman: As long as there is a shortage of feminist books and books with female main characters, I think review companies should strive for them to take a spotlight. These books deserve to be given attention. Every woman deserves to be able to look through a list of reviews and find an equal amount of books with female characters as male characters. One day, it won’t be necessary to give special attention to female driven books, but for now, while they still get sidelined, it’s important that we push them to the forefront.
What might be some other ways literary reviews can fill the gap of the representation of women in certain genres of literature?
Hohman: Make sure that you give as much attention to books written by or about women as you are giving to books that are written by or about men. For every review or spotlight you give to a book with a male protagonist, give one to a book with a female protagonist. Be mindful and attentive about what you are putting out into the world.
Do you think indie books are raising more awareness about social issues or representing women and minorities more than traditional books?
Hohman: I think that indie book publishers and writers do not feel the obligation to only do what is a guaranteed seller. There is a sense of responsibility to put what needs to be heard out into the world. Voices that aren’t normally heard are shared through indie presses. Huge companies are here to sell and I think small indie presses are able to stray from that. Not that money isn’t important to indie presses; it’s just a smaller concept in a much grander scheme. Smaller presses can represent women and minorities better because they, in my experience, are not blinded by profit like so many bigger publishers.