Filed under: On Blogging | Tags: blogging, book blogs, book reviews, books, literature, publishing industry, reading, things that make me happy, writing
I just finished rereading Kelly Link’s second collection of stories, and when I was thinking of how to write a review of it (I will, soon) it was just gushing, all gushing, and nothing on the real level of a review. I don’t love all of Kelly Link’s stories, but the bulk of them I do – and when she gets it right she really gets it right. Her stories are weird and perfectly formed in a way that no one else’s are.
The thing I like about writing this blog is that it’s cool if I write a “review” that is really just me quoting, for a full post, from Charles Portis’s True Grit, or writing about a book from the view of my own split view of the attractions of “adventure” a la Alexander Supertramp. If I want to write in my review of Link’s stories that one of the reasons I am in love with her stories is that I found her small press when I was a teenager and it inspired me to start my own small press and publish a lit zine and that she helped me realize not all stories have to be written out of the MFA factory, whatever: I can write all those things because they influence my reading in ways that are important to me.
I mean, it’s also pretty cool (I am killing this word today) that people actually show up and read my reviews sometimes, but everything I write on here is for my own personal benefit – I “review” books so that, a few months or years in the future, I can remember exactly what it is I liked or disliked about a certain book, so I can remember more clearly why I underlined certain passages or, in other cases, felt like I was going to die before I reached the end of a novel.
I am a few weeks behind on this, but still: lately there’s been all this talk and debate about book blogs and what sort of influence they have on readers and how they’re going to play into the future of the publishing industry, which is going to have to change in response to the internet and ebooks and self-publishing, more than by limiting the number of times a library can loan an ebook or by tying the prices of paperbacks and ebooks together or by placing DRM restrictions on ebooks. The vast majority of book blogs, like mine, aren’t professional or commercial; we don’t have ads, we aren’t amazon affiliates, we’re writing these blogs simply because it’s sort of fun to write book reviews that may be of interest to a few people or maybe just to our future selves.
Out of all this debate over “what book blogs mean in the reviewing business,” and thinking about my own reviewing style (which I guess you could say veers pretty dramatically from “extremely grumpy” to “talking about the Peace Corps” to “gushing” to “quoting instead of even bothering writing a review”), and watching an episode of Gilmore Girls that had me googling Dawn Powell because Rory mentions her in the same breath as Dorothy Parker, all I can think is that this is the best thing about book blogs: that it’s personal. The ten or so book blogs that I read really regularly, I read because I like the review style, but mostly because I feel like I know enough about the writers to trust their taste and to have a sense of how their reading lines up with my own. (Kind of like me and Rory Gilmore.) Of the many things offered by the increasingly slim book review sections of major newspapers, one of them isn’t an insight into the reviewer’s reading habits and preferences and how they happened to end up with a book in their hands, and those are exactly the sorts of things I like to read about.
I mean, I know that “real” book reviewers end up with the books they’re reviewing because the publishers sent review copies to their paper – but that is what I’m getting at, because I want to read about how people who find books the way I do found the books they’re reading. Knowing that someone found a book for a dollar at a library sale somehow adds something to a review, because (a) I miss library sales, (b) I’ve found a lot of good books at library sales, and (c) it reminds me of the joy of finding a book so unexpectedly.
There are some things about book blogs that I find occasionally weird, like trying to read 200 books in a year (something that is constantly referenced, as in “all these book bloggers read 200+ novels a year, but I can’t manage that”, but that I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen), but what I love is when all that is thrown aside and you are left with nothing but the joy of reading, of finding and reading and loving a book that you hadn’t even heard of a week ago, of being able to share that with someone else and shove the books into their hands, or as close as can be managed, electronically-speaking. It is so cool (again!) and promising that so many people write about the books they’re reading or want to read, or why they read the books they read, and I think a promising sign that whatever happens to the publishing industry and the review industry over the next few years, this one essential thing, the love of reading, isn’t going to go anywhere.
As dedicated a reader of the New York Times Book Review as I was when I lived in the states, I never got this feeling from reading it. It is better, in so many ways, to be reading the reviews of someone who is my age (or not), who shares my general reading interests (or doesn’t), who is taking her own time to write about the books she is currently loving or hating or feeling somewhere in the middle about. I don’t know how influential book blogs are, or are going to be, but I do know that I love that the average reader feels empowered enough to share her thoughts on reading with several or dozens or hundreds or thousands of readers. Or just herself, a few years down the road.