Eight Questions about the State and Future of Book Blogging

I’m interrupting your regularly scheduled Conrad programming to answer some questions posed by The Reading Ape as the last post in an excellent and thought-provoking series he’s done on issues in book blogging. I’ve been wanting to respond to the earlier entries, and may still do so in my sweet time, but tend to do more sighing and groaning than articulating on these topics. But here’s my shot at the questions.

1. What does book blogging do best?
Right away, I’m sighing and groaning a little bit again, because this question immediately brings up a problem. What does “book blogging” mean? There are a lot of different subgenres within that realm, and a lot of them do what they do really well. Blogging is a great platform, for example, for reporting on publishing industry news, real-life book tours, sharing photos of neat-looking libraries, and so on. But not only is that not what I do here, I don’t even read blogs like that.

I think in one sense what book blogging “does best” is devolve into an arm of the publishing industry consisting of a lot of enthusiastic and excited individuals all saying pretty much the same thing about a smallish pool of books.

I think in another sense what it does best is to unite a group of like-minded individuals to discuss books that they might never have a chance to discuss in real life, at least not with more than one or two people. It introduces people to things they have never heard of—things they would really have a hard time hearing of, not just some new release that didn’t get reviewed in The New York Times. They are a wonderful tool of and for amateurs and professionals alike to learn, exchange ideas, explore, &tc.

Ugh, I couldn’t really answer that one at all.

2. If you write a book blog, why do you?
This is easier. My primary reason for blogging is as a way to make myself think more about what I’ve read and hopefully synthesize those thoughts into something marginally interesting and/or meaningful. It provides a record of what I’ve read, but the writing process does much more than that by making my reading more active and requiring me to really think about what I’ve read afterward. And it’s helped me focus my reading, as the analysis I do leads to more and deeper ideas about connections between books and authors and more effective ways to follow the reading thread from one work to another as I go.

But without a really smart and supportive community of commenters, I doubt I would still be doing that. I work harder because I know the people who are reading deserve it—though I still don’t work nearly hard enough for you guys.

3. What do you think the future of book blogging is?
I think continued fragmentation is a big part of the future, including the professionalization of a subset of popular bloggers with wide appeal. Also continued growth of connections between bloggers and the industry.

4. What do your favorite book bloggers do?
My favorite book bloggers—and this term is really killing me, I normally say litbloggers—really. fucking. engage. with literature. And they read awesome stuff, old and new, well-known and obscure. Sometimes they make arguments, sometimes they only describe and tell me how great something is, but they almost always do it with examples from the text or at least specific explanations. They aren’t afraid to get past the plot or characterization and talk about language and structure, or to go against critics and other Important People.

5. If you could tell all book bloggers one thing, what would it be?
Just one? Proofread your posts!

Okay, here’s a better one: we don’t have to all be friends. As is the case with the internet overall, as blogging has moved beyond early adopters there seems to have been a tendency for a tyranny of niceness to develop. I am not nice, and while I’m also not mean I often feel dismayed when I see people seemingly cowed into an absurd kind of “tolerance” that stops them from saying anything is better or worse than anything else. It seems to be okay, for the most part, to judge a book, but judging anything else (say, a style of blogging about books), less so.

Oh, and one more: “book people” are not an ideologically uniform subsegment of the population. We don’t all support public libraries or tertiary education in the humanities, we don’t all think “buying local” has mystical economic benefits, and we aren’t all invested in the publishing industry as an immutable institution of civilization.

6. If you could change one thing about book blogging, what would it be?
I really don’t know that I would change much of anything, considering how many different blogs there are of different varieties. It would be nice if it were magically easier to find those I have a strong affinity for. Closer to the realm of reality (or is it?), I wish bloggers weren’t so close to the industry. Caring about publishing can get in the way of caring about literature, and I rarely enjoy any kind of blog written by an industry insider (or amateur who was subsumed by the industry). There’s just something about regular people writing about something they are interested in that’s part of what makes blogging special.

7. How do you think book blogging fits into the reading landscape?
For most people, it probably doesn’t fit in at all. Its biggest effect at this point is probably in marketing contemporary fiction and narrative nonfiction. But again, this really depends on the type of blog. For me, for the blogs I read, it’s more a learning and discussion medium, though I am frequently influenced to buy and read books based on the blogs I follow. Just usually not new ones.

8. What about your own book blogging would you like to do better/differently?
Um, all of it! I’d like to read more, think more, write more, think better, write better. Read better too. Sometimes I wish I had a magic formula to actually popularize a very niche blog, but that’s just silly blogger vanity. I guess my biggest wish is to look at an old post and not feel like an idiot. Once in a while it comes true.

10 comments to Eight Questions about the State and Future of Book Blogging

  • If I were to try to answer these questions on my own blog, I would probably only be able to write “What Nicole said” for each answer. And I’m not just being nice. :)

  • Haha, yes you are! No, really, thank you.

  • Ah ha. Finally, I see the problem with Prof. Ape’s exercise. My problem, and perhaps, given your wrestling with terms, yours.

    There is no blogging. There is writing, only writing. No bloggers, just writers, and they either write well or they don’t.

    So if there is a problem with a blogger’s coziness with publishers – and I agree, there often is – it is because the writer, no longer following her own instincts, writes less well. Mailbox posts are, almost by definition, badly written, although I’m sure there are some clever exceptions.

    So I end just where you do, and then I remember the 25 self-published copies of John Marr and Other Sailors, and move in whatever shadowy direction currently looks like forward.

    By the way, do I ever have some buttons prepared for tomorrow. If only I were not, as a graphic designer, incompetent.

  • “I still don’t work nearly hard enough for you guys.”

    Are you kidding? I’ve long admired (and envied, a little!) the breadth and pace of your reading and how regularly you post.

  • Well you know, joking and not–I have been relatively quiet this spring. We can’t get complacent! But thank you :)

  • You’ve got me thinking about the industry-insider thing. I’ve long noticed that there’s a particular brand of bloggers that seem unnaturally close to the industry and put a large amount of effort into helping publishers and furthering their “cause”. It always struck me as a little… unclean, a little dishonest, even as it seems very un-PC to say so.

    I sometimes wish I didn’t get so nauseous upon reading an old post (of mine! Yours are still excellent!). I’m sorry to hear I’m not alone in this uncomfortable phenomenon…

  • Yeah, well, you know, I don’t want to say that there’s something inherently wrong with boosterism, or with marketing, or anything like that. But there’s something more freewheeling about totally independent bloggers that just gets tamped down, even if insiders stay totally honest and ethical.

  • I went to BEA and got to meet some industry folks (almost all from small presses) this past week, so your thoughts in #6 are very much on my mind. I think some connections can be a very good thing, but I agree that it can become too much about the publishers and less about the books. And even when it is about the books, when there’s too much connection, it gets boring. Everyone ends up talking about the same books that the publishers who are keen to work with bloggers are choosing to push to bloggers. (For that reason, I’m pleased that the small stack of books I managed to gather at BEA seem to be different books from the ones most other people got.)

  • Teresa, I was just reading your BEA post right as you were commenting! Glad you brought up the issue of the same books getting pushed to (and thus from) so many bloggers. I think this is really unfortunate. I feel like blogs could do a lot to break the pattern of publishers putting the bulk of their marketing efforts behind just a few titles–and that has happened to an extent. But I think it could stand to happen a lot more.

  • Eva

    I missed this post when it came up since I was still on bloggy break, so I’m glad Teresa linked to it!

    I completely agree with this:

    >>It would be nice if it were magically easier to find those I have a strong affinity for. Closer to the realm of reality (or is it?), I wish bloggers weren’t so close to the industry. Caring about publishing can get in the way of caring about literature, and I rarely enjoy any kind of blog written by an industry insider (or amateur who was subsumed by the industry). There’s just something about regular people writing about something they are interested in that’s part of what makes blogging special.

    And your entire answer to number five made me laugh and sigh at the same time. I’ve found that not being able to type much w/o pain has made me much more wary of bringing up controversial topics; I have to be more blunt and not add a million disclaimers and I worry I wouldn’t be able to reply thoroughly to all of the inevitable comments.

    And as usual, you inspire me to try to up the level of my own blogging! I’ll try to approach this week’s posts on a deeper level, although w my new word count constraints that seems a more daunting task than ever.

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