Transmissions: The Book Chemist

Transmissions: The Book Chemist

Welcome to Transmissions, an interview feature in which X-R-A-Y profiles podcasts.

Mattia Ravasi is from Monza, Italy, and he lives and works in the UK. His fiction has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Planet Scumm, Underland Arcana, and other independent magazines. He reviews books on his YouTube channel, The Bookchemist; his reviews have also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, La Balena Bianca, and others.

Rebecca Gransden: How would you describe the channel to someone who is unfamiliar with what you do?

Mattia Ravasi: Hi! My name is Mattia and I review books on my YouTube channel, The Bookchemist. I try to read widely across time and space, although my passion is contemporary American literature.

RG: Where did the idea for the channel come from?

MR: I started reading a lot around the age of eighteen, and I would review the books I read on a website called Anobii (very much like GoodReads). I found that writing those reviews helped me get a lot more out of my reading experience, allowing me to arrange my thoughts and to dive deeper into the reasons why I liked or disliked a certain text. The channel is very much a continuation of that same approach.

It’s also my way to gush: I love nothing more than to talk about the things I enjoy!

RG: How did you decide upon a title for the channel?

MR: It’s a rather unfortunate portmanteau of “book” and “alchemist.” As a teenager I was a huge fan of the manga Fullmetal Alchemist – in fact, it’s high time I re-read it.

RG: Are there any channels that influenced or encouraged you to start the project?

MR: Anthony Fantano’s The Needle Drop: I liked the simple and conversational way he had of reviewing music and I wanted to use the same approach in my book reviews.

RG: Which of your videos would you recommend to someone who is new to what you do?

MR: At the end of every year I film a video about the ten to twenty books I liked the most in the last twelve months. I guess the most recent of those videos would be a good snapshot of my taste, and of the way I talk about books.

RG: How do you go about selecting what to feature on each video?

MR: When I’m reading a book it’s usually very apparent to me whether I have anything to say about it, and whether it’s worth filming a review. It often happens that I love (or hate) a book without reviewing it: I just have nothing meaningful to say.

What I never do is read a book with the specific intent to review it (e.g., because I think it will be popular on the channel). It would take all the fun out of reading!

RG: If you are a writer, has the channel impacted your writing life? and conversely, has a writerly disposition influenced the channel?

MR: I do write fiction, and, when I started the channel, I had this idea that having a “platform” would make me more attractive to agents or publishers. Ha! I think that may be true if you have a huge platform, but getting a million subscribers requires of course putting a lot of time and effort into your channel. I prefer to focus on my reading and writing, and to keep the channel as something I do “just for fun.”

RG: Do you watch videos about books?

MR: I do – although alas a lot of the YouTubers I liked stopped posting some time ago.

RG: What do you dislike about book videos?

MR: My only pet peeve is when people spend a lot of time talking about a book’s plot or describing the characters. I don’t think that’s the point of a review, and I think it’s unnecessary. (Partly that’s because I like to get into a book knowing as little as possible about its content.)

RG: Looking back on the channel, are there favorite videos, videos that stand out to you, or videos that didn’t go as you would’ve liked?

MR: I filmed a humorous video ages ago called “A Day in the Life of a Literature PhD Student” – it was something very different from my usual content. It was fun to film and people seemed to like it.

As for videos that didn’t go as planned, every time I criticize a “cult” writer or explain why I dislike their works it seems to really rub people the wrong way. I am sorry if readers feel criticized in their personal taste (that’s never my intention), but if people can’t listen to criticism of their idols without lashing back I’d rather they stopped watching my videos!

RG: What are your plans for the future?

MR: Getting a microphone!! After eleven years filming videos, I’d say it’s time 🙂


The Book Chemist can be found on YouTube.

Rebecca Gransden lives on an island. She is published at Tangerine Press, Ligeia, Expat, BRUISER, and Fugitives & Futurists, among others. Her books include anemogram., Sea of Glass, Creepy Sheen, and Figures Crossing the Field Towards the Group.

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