Featured in the Blogger Spotlight today I’m excited to introduce you all to, Joe from Black Sail Book, one of the first book blogs and bloggers I discovered and one of a handful that inspired me to get back into book blogging myself. Joe has a great website and does a few neat features, one of those being his Sunday Newsletter—don’t miss it.
First of all, Joe, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sure thing! My name is Joe Michalowski and I live in a small suburb about an hour away from Boston, Massachusetts with my wife of four years, our almost 1-year-old daughter, and an adorable dog named Fallon. I spend the work days running content marketing for a small startup company from my home office and save reading/book blogging for late nights after everyone has gone to bed. My wife and I like to spend our free time relaxing on the couch and watching TV. But we’re always counting down the days to the next Disney vacation.
What got you hooked into book blogging to begin with?
There were really two things that got me started with book blogging. First was just some general dissatisfaction at work. For a long time, my primary job was to write blog posts and other kinds of content about B2B technology. The role started to get a bit stale and I wanted a more creative outlet that I could enjoy in my spare time (and hopefully build up into something bigger).
The second thing was that I wanted to get back into reading for fun. I’ve always loved books, but went years without reading fiction for fun. Business books and career-focused activities dominated my spare time for a while. And without any readers in my friend groups, I didn’t have a lot of motivation to change that. Starting the book blog and connecting with so many readers on Twitter has really gotten me excited about reading again, so I’ve been hooked since the site went live on New Year’s Day 2020.
What is it about speculative fiction, that makes this your go-to genre?
These days, I’m reading almost entirely for escape and entertainment. I love diving deep into themes, but if picking up a book starts to feel like a chore I’ll just sink back into the never-ending library of Netflix shows. After formulaic thriller novels started feeling stale, I started coming around to speculative fiction (and fantasy, specifically).
Speculative fiction slowly became my go-to because it matches the kinds of TV shows and movies I enjoy most. I’ve always loved The Lord of the Rings (the movies first, then finally read the books and those are amazing). I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones the first night it released based on a preview I saw on HBO (had no idea it was even a book series at the time…woops). The BBC’s Merlin has been one of my favorite shows for a long time.
I’m no speculative fiction veteran (yet). But these kinds of stories will continue to be my main focus because they offer the escapism and entertainment I want from reading.
What have you read recently, that’s outside your comfort zone?
Such a great question. Does February still count as recent? It feels like a lifetime ago. But the best example I have is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
I never would have expected I’d buy a copy of a Victorian-era fantasy love story with a circus setting—let alone enjoy it. There were just so many other book bloggers talking about it and my local Barnes & Noble had it featured as a staff pick for weeks. I couldn’t resist.
Despite my skepticism, I really enjoyed The Night Circus. Morgenstern’s writing is beautiful and the mysteriousness of the story kept me engaged from start to finish. It definitely got me to expand my reading horizons a bit.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors, and why?
Oh man, a tough question. There are still so many incredible SFF authors I haven’t gotten to yet. A lot of this list is just based on the authors who have helped form my reading habit.
- Neil Gaiman: Hands down my favorite author (and one that I wish I knew about sooner). It started with an audiobook of Norse Mythology and I loved it. I moved to American Gods—loved it. Read The Graveyard Book, Good Omens, The Sandman comics. Loved them all. The storytelling just clicks with me every single time.
- Brian K. Vaughan: I discovered Saga earlier this year (thanks to some great book bloggers) and was totally blown away. I need to get into some of his other work, but Saga alone puts Vaughan on this list for me. The world building, the suspense, the emotional weight of the storytelling. It’s all so great.
- Anthony Burgess: I spent much of my last year of college studying Burgess for a thesis project. I remember being so confused and impressed by the Nadsat language he made up for A Clockwork Orange. Then I gained a deeper appreciation for his work as I read a few of his other novels and dove deeper into his background.
- Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events had the biggest impact on my reading habits when I was little. Without this series, I’m not sure if reading would be such a big part of my life.
- James Patterson: Likely not a popular pick in SFF circles. But I have a soft spot for Patterson because he got me out of a years-long reading hiatus. It’s a long story, but finding a random Patterson novel during a long power outage helped me start reading for fun again.
What’s one of your top fantasy reads and why?
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman has been my favorite book since the moment I read it. It’s such a beautiful story and it gripped me from the very first page. It’s simple yet powerful, as you’d expect from Gaiman. One of two books that have ever made me cry.
What’s one of your top SF reads and why?
Now this is an area I really need to work on. My SFF reading has really only started since the book blog went live. And honestly? It’s been all about fantasy for the most part.
However, I think I can slot Saga in as an answer here. There’s some heavy overlap with fantasy, but it’s a space opera at the core. We could nitpick about the genre, but it’s just an incredible story through and through. The artwork is consistently simple yet beautiful and the twists and turns are endlessly entertaining. One of my new all-time favorites and I can’t wait for new volumes to come out.
Audio books: Yes / No?
Absolutely! I’m not a power listener or anything, but I love using my credit each month. It’s a great way to keep up the reading habit even when things get busy. They’re perfect for long walks I take to break up the work day.
What will make you DNF a book: bad characterisation, weak plot, lack of world building?
I try to be as open minded as possible and I do my best to buy books that won’t drive me to DNF. But if I’ve given the story a fair shot and I’m still bored? I’ll have no problem setting it aside. As much as I appreciate beautiful prose, impressive narrative structure, and deep character dives, I need to enjoy the overarching story.
And finally, what aspect do you like most about book blogging?
The wonderful community, without a doubt.
It took me a while to finally make the site public. I honestly thought I’d be publishing blog posts into the void—that no one would ever see them. The site went live when I decided I’d be happy just to have a creative outlet for my thoughts about books and reading. Imagine my surprise when I started connecting with so many great book bloggers. Everyone is so supportive and it’s awesome to have people to talk to about books. Interacting with the community on Twitter has kept me so motivated (and I get all kinds of inspiration for new posts from reading everyone else’s content).
Joe Michalowski is the Founder of Black Sail Books, a book blog dedicated to reading for fun and escapism in science fiction and fantasy stories. Every other Sunday, Joe sends out a newsletter packed with the latest bookish content for people who love reading. When he’s not writing about reading or diving into a new story, Joe spends time with his wonderful wife, beautiful daughter, and adorable dog.