Fat Books & Thin Women

The State and Future of Book Blogging
May 25, 2011, 10:21 am
Filed under: On Blogging | Tags: , ,

The Reading Ape is wrapping up his fantastic series of post on book blogging with a call to bloggers to give their thoughts on book blogging and its future. Here are my answers to his questionnaire.

1. What does book blogging do best?
Express the sheer love of reading. When I first found that people wrote book blogs – that I wasn’t the only person wanting to devote my free time to writing reviews or reflections on books – it seemed odd and miraculous to me. It still does.

2. If you write a book blog, why do you?
I started my book blog because I don’t have anyone around me I can talk to about books. This is the first time in my life I haven’t been able to talk to my friends or family about what I’m reading, and after about a year of reading in a vacuum I started this blog so I could make the internet listen to my thoughts on my reading.

3. What do you think the future of book blogging is?
I suspect that the current trend of publishers providing review copies to any and all willing book bloggers (including myself) won’t last long. Publishers and bloggers alike are trying to envision what book blogs might become in terms of influencing opinion, and I like that publishers are taking a leap and testing this idea that book blogs are a viable review market. The number of book blogs taking review copies seems unsustainable to me, though, and I suspect that some book blogs will veer off in a more professional direction and some, most, will remain the realm of hobbyists. Given how often I’ve been posting lately, you can guess which camp I see this blog falling into, though my aspirations may be for the other.

4. What do your favorite book bloggers do?
My favorite bloggers are the ones who write honestly and fully about what they’re reading, who may include personal anecdotes but keep the focus on reviews. I understand and respect the argument that things like weekly memes promote community (hell, I occasionally do them), but my favorite bloggers are the ones who have built their “communities” around quality reviews and discussion of those reviews.

5. If you could tell all book bloggers one thing, what would it be?
Be friendly, don’t take things personally. I find it unnerving that some people responded to The Reading Ape’s series as defensively as they did; that over the past couple weeks I’ve been stumbling across comments like, “Maybe they say they don’t like memes, but they’re really just jealous of how many more hits we get than them.” Posts like those over at The Reading Ape were never an attack on any blogs or styles of blogging; they were a starting point for a conversation that has ended up feeling very one-sided to me because some people opted to attack rather than participate.

6. If you could change one thing about book blogging, what would it be?
I’d like to see more honest reviewing. Many people seem unwilling to express negative opinions on books, especially when those books are review copies; but reviews that include phrases like, “I didn’t like this book so much but it’s probably because I’m too young/a woman/am from New Jersey, and other people will definitely like it” – that’s not illuminating, that’s not helpful to readers, and that’s not being honest. If you like a book, tell us why you like it. If you don’t like a book, tell us why you don’t like it. Just tell us what you really think.

7. How do you think book blogging fits into the reading landscape?
Book blogging is almost always the home of people who are really, truly, nuts for reading – the people who as kids would lay inside all day with a pile of Nancy Drew books rather than going outside and doing, well, whatever other kids did. Book blogs give a voice to the average reader, and I view them as a sort of answer to the major publications doing book reviews; they’re a chance for readers to tell other readers what they should read, and that’s empowering.

8. What about your own book blogging would you like to do better/differently?
Some of my goals are conflicting, which may suggest that I don’t really know what I want to do with my blog. Still, I’d like to bring the focus of my blog around some to reading the classics that I’ve missed out on. I’d like to bring more attention to authors who aren’t receiving notice from people who are more important than me. And although I’d like to keep some of my personal anecdotes around here (who am I kidding, if I think that I’m not going to write a post about my first visit to a bookstore [in two years] when I travel to America this summer), I want my focus to remain on reviews.

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I couldn’t agree more with your number 5. People took a lot of the things the Ape wrote far too personally and seemed to miss the point that he wasn’t attacking blogs that are reactionary or say I a lot, but instead trying to start a conversation. I think he brought up several very valid points, including if you write just for yourself why bother making it public, and I feel like those people could have offered an interesting point of view on the topic if they didn’t get so defensive.

Comment by Alley

Yeah, I couldn’t believe some of the responses – that anyone viewed the Ape’s posts as directly commenting on their blogs. I wish that fewer people jumped to say, “no one has the right to tell me how to write my blog,” and that more would think about how and why they’re writing about books. But that seems to be an internetish problem for most things; I hate knowing that if I write a post about marginalia or not reading Star Trek books or not believing in reading lists, someone is going to view my opinion as my attempt to tell them what to do.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I think my number 8 is/will be very similar to yours (I haven’t decided if I am going to do the survey myself or just link to those who did it).

I seem to want to both comment and review in some kind of personal/professional hybrid. But I don’t know how to do that.

I was shocked that people took what I said so personally–I really didn’t think it was that aggressive. I do wonder if it hit a nerve with some people in that they felt like it maybe struck a little close to home? I was interested in what people had to say, but frankly disappointed in the way some of them said it.

Comment by The Reading Ape

Some of the reactions suggested to me some discomfort or unhappiness with what the writers are doing on their own blogs. No doubt someone will take this the wrong way (eek), but it doesn’t matter too much to me what anyone has to say about blogging (in a personal sense; clearly I’m interested in talking about this stuff) because I’m comfortable and happy with what I’m doing on my blog.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I have to agree with you here. I think part of the defensiveness came from people who were already unsure of what they were doing or at least were uncomfortable answering the questions for themselves.

Comment by Alley

Ellen, These are thoughtful answers. I agree that the book blogs I like best are those that focus on reviews (good, honest reviews at that), with a mix of personal or casual bookish thoughts in-between.

On a related note, I am SO excited for you to visit a bookstore upon your return – two years is a very long time.

Comment by Brenna

Ha, I’m already trying to find a flight with the longest layover in London. No matter who I fly with I’m going to have a 7-hour layover somewhere, and I want it to be in an airport full of books and magazines I can buy.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I too was so excited to discover just how many book bloggers are out there, and the variety of blogs, it makes for interesting reading – and it’s so nice to know that there are other book nerds about who would rather be reading…

Sometimes I think the reason posts like The Reading Ape’s ones cause such a furore is that it can be very difficult to express tone accurately in the written form – or to read the intended tone – and people mistake it for saying something that it’s actually not. Then people get snarky and then it descends into spats and gets personal. I always try to stay out of these things, but they do make for interesting reading.

Comment by mummazappa

Right, interesting or sometimes uncomfortable reading. I think that one of the personal reactions, from Jillian at A Room of One’s Own got interesting, but it’s because she was willing to engage in a back-and-forth with the Ape when he commented. But that post and others, a lot of the comments were, as you write, nothing better than snarky; they didn’t contribute anything to what could have been a great discussion.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I love your numbers 5 and 6. I was another one disappointed at a lot of the reaction to The Reading Ape’s posts, although I didn’t realize the extent of it I guess. Too bad. But it’s always tough to start a genuine discussion that requires real self-reflection.

Comment by nicole

Hi Ellen,

What a great insight. Interesting that your future blogging goals are conflicting. Mine often are too. But I think it’s only a good thing: it keeps it dynamic and interesting.

Hope you’re good!

Comment by Marie / Little Interpretations

I didn’t mention it in my own response – but I agree with what you and others mentioned about memes. I do also participate in them at times but I generally limit chiming in to when I’m “feeling” it and really have something to say, rather than religiously participating in every meme and challenge that crosses my path.

My blog reading list must be rather limited because I saw only one response to The Reading Ape’s initial post.

Comment by everybookandcranny

Particularly agree with number 7. The newspaper and media will all carry reviews of the latest Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood etc and there will be no space to review much else. Book bloggers can revive interest in forgotten writers and little known novelists.

Comment by Nicola

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