Doesn’t it get light early at the moment? I woke just before the dawn, which broke at about half past four, astonishingly, and found myself thinking about this post and how to write it. I’ve decided to take an extended blogging break, probably until the end of summer, and it wasn’t at all an easy decision to come to. Primarily, I’m doing this because I would very much like to finish the book I am writing by the end of August, and it turns out that books get harder to write, not easier, the further through them you progress. And then there are these radio programmes I’ve mentioned before, which will take up rather a lot of time if they go ahead. I only have so many creative hours in the day and I need a bit of focus and concentration to get these projects done. Much as I dislike, ever, having to accept limitations, something really does have to give.
But I also want a break because the blog is the least rewarding of my creative commitments at present (and that’s something I never thought to hear myself say). For quite some time now, I’ve been less than happy with the way I’ve been writing about books. When I first began blogging, I was very much an academic literary critic and blogging was a joyous holiday from the rigorous discipline of academia, a bending of the rules without losing sight of the clear aims and intentions of university-style critique. Over the years, this has changed, and my approach to books has softened up and broadened out. I blog about almost all the books I read now, rather than the ones that mean something special to me. And I’ve fallen ever further into the pit of reviewing a book in a way that is just an elaboration of my experience-based opinion.
I have a lot of trouble with opinion per se, and I find it hard to be… convinced by my own. Reading is an experience that’s 50% reader, 50% book, and I do think that unless you take into account and possess the 50% that belongs to you – your personal preferences, your mood of the moment, the events currently dominating your life – then you are doing a disservice to the book. And I am very protective of books. They don’t deserve half the projections that readers cast onto them. The reasons I’ve heard stated in the blog world for not liking a book have gone from the insightful and interesting on one end of the spectrum to the extraordinary and ludicrous on the other. To take a very different sort of example, I was reading the comments on a blog about American Idol (my guilty pleasure) and someone had put ‘Thank goodness, one more woman down and only one more to get rid of. I can’t bear women singers.’ And I thought, what, all of them? In a nutshell, that’s everything I dislike about the blanket validity of opinion. No one’s opinion can be wrong, by definition. If it’s what you feel, it’s what you feel. But at the same time no opinion is better or more authoritative than any other, and they tell you much more about the reviewer than what’s up for review. And I don’t necessarily want to be told by someone else what I should think about a book, based on their subjective experience of it – I want to know what it’s like but to be allowed to make up my own mind. Well, there are plenty of people who manage to make writing about their opinions sound entertaining and interesting, but I don’t like my own posts when I go down that route.
When I was writing professionally about books, what fascinated me was what stories can do, the effects they can have. I was hooked by the moment in a book when a visceral reaction took place, when a story could horrify you in a hypnotic way, or melt you in a moment of pure emotional recognition. That was what I liked, what I wanted to dig around in. It always felt like an extraordinary form or power, a very special magic, and I wanted to take the narrative apart to see how it was achieved. But quite how to reconnect with that interest I am not entirely sure, except that I need some time and space just to read without the pressure of squeezing something out of the experience for a blog post, three times a week.
I am completely sure I will return to blogging at some point because it’s given me so much – a chance to express myself in a new way, wonderful virtual friends who have been so supportive and encouraging, and a TBR pile the size of Mount Kilimanjaro. I’ll still be visiting my blogging friends, and you know where I am and can email me if you want to chat! But there is an optimum blogging experience and it isn’t what I’ve having at the moment. If you start to slow down when blogging, your traffic instantly plummets, your network dissipates, it’s really quite discouraging. I catch myself wondering whether people come by for my posts because they like them or because I visit and comment at their site. And I don’t want to have such jaded thoughts; they indicate to me that I’m not enjoying what I’m doing enough that the question of audience size becomes irrelevant. I am immensely grateful to the people who have read and commented here regularly, and it is at least in part for you that I want to take a break. I want to come back with something I absolutely need to say, to experience once again that delightful rush of speaking out to a cherished community and have it respond back, lost in the thrill of communication and the pleasure of sifting through thoughts and ideas.
See you in the autumn, and good reading in the meantime.
(ETA: I’ll be here on 31st May for the Slaves next reading group choice – wouldn’t let them down, so will definitely be around and posting on that day.)