A Few Things

1. A virtual friend of mine asked if I could advise her as to the best translation of Proust and Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons. I had to admit that I had only read them in French, but offered to ask my very well-informed blog readers. Any ideas, preferences or suggestions?

2. I had this heretical thought the other day: does reading actually make you sadder rather than happier? I wondered about this after a series of novels that have been at best bittersweet and, at times, terribly sad. I really felt the need to try to manage my mood after them, but when I began to look over my bookshelves, it seemed to me that so many more books were about serious or tragic situations than cheerful ones. There are relatively few novels I possess that are intended to make the reader laugh (and I certainly don’t have a taste for sad books). I found it impossible, also, to search for upbeat books. If you type into the search engine ‘comic books’, which sounds to me like it ought to produce an avalanche of P G Wodehouse and Barbara Pym, you end up with comics, as in Dennis the Menace or Spiderman or graphic novels. Humour brings up all those dreadful little hardbacks that sprout at Christmas but sink mercifully into obscurity the rest of the year. Comedy takes you to film, tv and radio. Aren’t readers supposed to want a good laugh?

3. Even though this is a book blog, book reviews are the posts that attract the least hits and comments. The effect is really noticeable if I post several reviews in a row. About one post in three or four as a book review seems about right. I’m not criticising because I know myself I don’t read all the book reviews in my feed folders. I am likely to read a review according to these factors in diminishing order of importance: 1) I’ve already read the book, 2) I am fully intending to read the book, 3) I have heard of the author or the book, 4) the cover design is attractive or the first few lines of the review sound very enticing, 5) I’ve never heard of the book at all. This is dreadful, really, because it ought to be the other way round, surely? Why don’t I feel the greatest motivation to read reviews of books that are brand new to me? (Of course, there are the dozen or so book blogs whose every post I read, and they provide exceptions to the general rule.) But I’m wondering if this is what finished off the newspaper book review pages, and whether it will also affect book blogs in time. And it must indicate what publishers are up against, when readers are primarily interested in books that already have that numinous ‘buzz’. I remember reading a post a while ago on a blog where an argument broke out over the suggestion that reviewers had to write wildly positive reviews to gain any attention. I confess it is the most effective solution for me, but of course, I don’t feel wildly positive about all the books I read. Is the issue here about good reviews and negative reviews, or is it simply that we all prefer to talk about general bookish matters rather than books in particular?

4. With only a couple more weeks before the end of term, I am reconsidering my policy this year of trying to work only on Thursdays. It’s disruptive to the week to have to see a student here and a student there. But of the students I’ve seen this term, only two have managed to turn up on Thursdays at the right time for our meeting. The rest have failed to show, turned up at the same time as I am seeing other students, or been unable to make Thursday because of other lectures and supervisions. One student failed to turn up on his Thursday appointment, apologised, booked in for the next Thursday and failed to turn up again. I find it hard to be cross with them because they are suffering mostly from unconscious self-sabotage – as in, they’d rather do anything than face up to their problems and try to solve them. But it is vexing to have to keep rearranging meetings for days when I had hoped to plan for other things.

5. It’s all Emily’s fault because of this post. But she’s got me on a Mikhail Baryshnikov kick. He is quite probably the best male dancer, ever, and watching him makes me feel completely humbled, as prodigious, superhuman talent will. Not the greatest quality video, but this clip of him in Giselle is extraordinary; he hovers in the air, executing a few lazy entrechats before drifting back to earth again. I calculated he must be in his 60s now and it seems a shame; he ought to have immortality, at least until they figure out how to clone him. Or isolate his dancing DNA. I would have some injected into Mister Litlove as a Christmas present to me – what a thought!


29 thoughts on “A Few Things

  1. I agree that it’s hard to find a really good light read unless you already know what it is before you go looking for it…which isn’t all that helpful.

    FWIW, I always read your book review posts with great attention and interest, though I don’t usually comment. I love them, though.

  2. I don’t know if this is the ‘best’ translation of Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons, but it is the one I read – translated by Richard Aldington, published in 1987 by Ark Publications an imprint of Routledge, first published in 1924. It’s still available, so maybe it’s OK.

    I first came across book blogs when looking for book reviews, but these days I don’t read that many – my order of interest is the same as yours, but sometimes I don’t read them if I have the book and have yet to read it. I like to make my own mind up about a book without outside influence. Sometimes I don’t read them because I already have far too many unread books! And sometimes I like to read about other subjects besides book reviews.

  3. First of all, thank you for more Baryshnikov. It’s very hard to get enough of him, isn’t it? Whenever I’m really, really down and need to read something to make me laugh, I turn time and again to Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. For me, it’s just nothing but fun and funny, no hidden undertones of sadness or despair (as much as David Sedaris makes me laugh, he also has plenty of that), but you’re right: there really isn’t much out there that’s like that. Juan in America by Eric Linkletter comes close, but it’s not quite as laugh-out-loud funny. I think it’s because pure comic genius is very difficult and also because comedy is so often a disguise for tragedy, the old “you gotta laugh or you’d cry” phenomenon. Here’s something interesting: I, who have a blog that isn’t supposed to be a book blog, seem to get more comments these days when I write book reviews than I do when I write about other stuff (that is, when I’m not posting fabulous dance clips and calling it “eye candy”), but I don’t have as big a following as you do. My decisions about whether or not to read a review are very similar to yours, although somewhere along the line, #5 manages to creep its way in, because I’ve discovered my TBR tome has grown mostly with titles from blog posts for books and/or authors I’d never heard of.

  4. As I don’t write much else than book reviews I can’t really comment on whether they are more or less read or commented on. I do normally not enjoy reading reviews of books I know, but I do not read a lot of reviews of bloggers I wouldn’t normally visit. Since I started the German Literature Month I use the reader or I wouldn’t be able to catch all the reviews but once that’s over, I’ll delete most subscriptions. Those who are on my blogroll are visited regularly, the others probably not.
    I find I choose the people, for whatever reason and the blog as a whole and not really the reviews per se. Now with the reader I feel forced to at least have a look but feel it’s not really nice. I see how many syndicated views I have on a post but sometimes less real ones and on bad days it makes me a bit sad because I think people thought the post wasn’t really worth reading….
    I can’t answer no 1 for the same resons as you and oh I would love to read the one or the other funny novel.

  5. I hear people say the same thing about reviews vs. non-review posts. Jenny and I post almost nothing but reviews. I haven’t seen a sharp difference in the number of hits we get when we have a string of reviews, but that’s probably because it’s always a string of reviews, except on Sundays when we often get a bump with a topical post. Anyway, even as someone who mostly just writes reviews, I still don’t read anything close to all the review posts in my feed reader. My choices follow a hierarchy similar to yours, and I don’t feel especially bad about it. There are a good dozen blogs that I read in their entirety whenever I can, and those alert me to more than enough “under the radar” books that I can handle. The more personal posts or general bookish talk posts are easier for a larger number of people to relate to, which is probably why they get more comments. I don’t necessarily enjoy them more than reviews; it’s just that the odds are better that I’ll be interested in a general bookish topic that I would be in a post about a specific book.

  6. I guess the counter-argument to 2 is the idea of catharsis. It can be restorative to go through negative experiences and emotions by proxy and we come out the other end stronger.

    By the way, as someone who reads across several languages, I’d be really interested in any input you can give me for a project I’m putting together for next year. I’m attempting to read a book from every country in a year, mostly in translation, although I can read in French and German. If you have any suggestions for my list, I’d be really grateful http://ayearofreadingtheworld.wordpress.com/

  7. Some reading definitely makes me sad: that’s why when I’m having a fibro flare-up, and thus already suffering from low serotonin, I stick with my comfort books! Most of my favourite mystery authors are what I’d call ‘light’ reading, as are many of my favourite British classic authors (I’m thinking of Trollope, Wilkie, and Austen in particular), and then there’s Georgette Heyer and Susanna Kearsley. I’m sure there are more, but none are springing to mind! One of my problems is that it seems like all of my comfort authors are white, straight Americans/Brits, which frustrates me since I enjoy reading diversely. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, but I’m hesitant to write a blog post about it, because I’m not sure how to strike the right tone for a discussion.

  8. Litlove, I don’t want to be depressed when I put down a book. I take that into account with my reading choices. But at the same time, I get bored by the surface and glib. It’s a dilemma sometimes. I’ve tried as an exercise to think of a story that wouldn’t have conflict or anything bad happen in it–very hard to come up with. I love listening to the stories in The Vinyl Cafe. I’m sure they must be online as podcasts. The stories written down are sweet but not as satisfying as listening. Stories heard work better when they’re simple, not as well to read.

  9. Interesting post. I like the fact that book blogs give you the freedom to write a review or just quote a line from a book you are reading and elaborate on it. I take the attitude that if readers want reviews they can look on Amazon or in the arts section of the newspapers whereas blogs can be much less rigid.

  10. litlove, there are just too many ponts to address and respond to here… everyone of them can be a post in itself. This is too much fun… I’ll just try to handle a few. First off, about “Dangerous Liaisons” I’m afraid my opinion only limits to films. I know it’s off topic, but just have to say while the 1988 ‘Dangerous Liaison’ with Close/Malkovich/Pfeiffer gets higher acclaims, the younger Valmont in 1989 aptly titled ‘Valmont’ piques my interest more with Bening/Firth/Tilly.

    Regarding ‘comic books’, I think serious writing doesn’t need to be devoid of humor. A good writer could well be one who can bring out insights while you’re laughing. I’m thinking of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, and E. M. Forster (Howards End, Room with a View), and in recent years, I find there are LOL moments in The Elegance of the Hedgehog even though the book is ‘heavy’ on philosophy.

    About more comments on ‘life’ posts other than ‘book’ posts, your analysis is right I think. Unless a book is one that a reader wants to read or have read, it’s likely your visitor may not have so much to comment on. However, posts about ‘life’ is… exactly, more universal wherein every reader just may have their 2 cents. Finally, about students not showing up for appointments… that really surprised me. I know for me when I was a student, I’d be very careful and even look forward to having a one-on-one with my prof, and make sure I won’t miss it. Time’s changed.

  11. and oh one more point: Reading used to be a solitary activity, but now it’s a social event, thanks to online book groups/blogs/sites, FB & Twitter. This social aspect of reading and sharing will definitely help book blogs to survive. Their competitions? All the book media sites like Goodreads, Shelfari, Bookish (launching) etc.

  12. Litlove, hi. Raymond Queneau can be funny and humane (_Witch Grass_ and _The Sunday of LIfe_ come to mind), and William Gaddis’ _J R_ had me laughing out loud. (Those who regard him as difficult may not be paying enough attention to the humour.) I used to like H. Allen Smith, a united statesian comic writer, but not sure if I still would. Joseph Heller’s _Catch-22_ also made me laugh. If you’re looking for books without too much suspense, but not so light they blow away, I hear the Moomintroll books (not sure of the spelling) are pleasing. Some of Gilbert Sorrentino’s books are very sharply funny.

    Right now I’m reading _Us_, a short novel about an older couple, told from the perspective of a husband whose wife has a seizure in the middle of the night, lies in a hospital in a coma for some time, wakes up, returns home, deteriorates further, then dies. The story is also told by a grandson. By most accounts (the critics’ accounts) I should be moved, and while I recognize that there is sadness there (the word “death” recurs frequently), my emotions are unmoved, as I am looking for what the writer is doing more than what is being said. I don’t feel immersed in the narrative, nor do I need to feel that way. At other times, a sad book has made me feel happier than I was, from catharsis. I believe how we emerge from a book is not out of context with how our internal/external life is going. But that’s just my view.

    Your blog has a nicely balanced mixture of life stories and reviews. As a reader, it works for me.

    If your students are avoiding you, then no matter how you arrange your schedule they can still find reasons not to come. It’s their responsibility to show up, and yours to be there; you’re doing your part.

  13. Oh lovely Mikhail Baryshnikov! I planned to be a ballet dancer by day and a novelist by night, brilliantly successful at both of course, in the days before boring things like lack of any discernible talent impinged on my ideas of the future.

    Like Caroline, I tend to read blogs written by people I like and who I think write interestingly, and thus I do read all their reviews including those on books I don’t feel a great deal of interest in. I find commenting on book reviews almost impossible – if I haven’t read the book, I can’t think of anything to write other than ‘great review!’ if I think that, although of course not having read the book it’s hard to tell really, and that always seems such a tedious comment, but then again if nobody has commented I feel guilty… It’s a bit like going to a lecture and then at the end, when the room is opened for questions, I can never think of anything because it seems it’s all been covered so capably. If I have read the book it’s also tricky if it was more than five minutes ago because I’ll have forgotten almost everything about it so have nothing to say. And then see, see, once I start I just witter on! It’s better that I keep quiet!

    Point 2 is too much to think about at this time of night! Sorry you’re feeling sad though.

  14. You’ve probably already read him, but Terry Pratchett is King of Comedy. Funny, and smart, and lots of it. I haven’t read his most recent Discworld books but I’ve re-read the witch books of the series over and over. They have some sadness in them, but the humour is so riotous and the jokes so irrepressible that it’s difficult not to end up grinning. 🙂

    I find the same thing with review posts; I only really get more than 2-3 comments if I’ve written in a quirky way as I did recently with the one about Robertson Davies. I think it’s inevitable. Like you I have about 10 book blogs that I read religiously (yours being one of them) and then about 2 dozen more that I read intermittently. With those 2 dozen blogs I read mostly the shorter, more topical bookish chat posts. It’s just a matter of filtering. My poor brain simply can’t take much more intelligent conversation. And where I do read reviews I’m much much less likely to comment. In fact I almost never do unless I’ve already read the book or the author and therefore have an opinion; or if I’ve really admired the reviewers’ writing and they’ve inspired me to read the book. Otherwise I feel as though commenting is a bit empty. A variation of ‘that sounds interesting’ over and over. It sounds awful maybe, but there just aren’t hours enough in the day!

  15. OH yes, I often joke that I spend more time talking about books than actually reading any. It’s just easier to comment on non book-reviews posts, I think. Like this one and me!
    As to lively happy books? I instantly thought of Rosy Thornton’s Tapestry of Love. I felt good after that one.

  16. Oh, Litlove, I love your “conversational” posts. Perhaps you get more comments from them rather than book reviews (which are brilliant) because…well, when you are talking…as you do here..we are sitting across the table from you, perhaps having coffee and a bagel (or tea more likely, since we are probably sitting in Cambridge) or a quick glass of wine before scurrying off to our homes. Just a group of friends who share the love of books and reading – and perhaps not too much else – casually talking about what we loved and what we hated and what we threw against the wall in disgust. (Which I did with Edgar Sawtelle). Just chatting about our reading lives – and sometimes personal lives. DoctorDi throws her head back and laughs over something the always-clever David said. Pete pulls out his wallet full of photos of the Pie. Lillian Nattel always has something inciteful to say, and Stefanie, our precious vegan librarian (a golden heart if there ever was one) shares her Solstice menu with us. And all the others who come to call, Arti and Dorothy W and Nicola…well I can’t name them all…sitting around that virtual table, engage us with their thoughts on the one universal experience we all share. Life is good around that table. It’s as simple as that.

  17. Great post! My group of blogging friends all speak incredibly highly of Lydia Davis’s Swann’s Way translation, but that’s the only volume she did and then you’re stuck with other translators for the subsequent volumes, which personally would really bother me. I read Proust in English before those multi-translator Penguin editions came out, and liked the standard Enright/Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation fine. I was so blown away by Proust himself that I didn’t spend much time thinking about the translation, which is probably a good sign. That’s what inspired me to learn French, actually, and hopefully future re-reads will be in the original.

    I was lucky enough to see Baryshnikov last year when he was on tour with Ana Laguna, and it was a fantastic show. But I’m still jealous of my mother, who saw him perform in his heyday, in the early 1970s. She says it was literally difficult to believe the evidence of one’s own eyes, the things he was able to do with his body.

  18. I haven’t read Proust in translation but I use the Scott Montcrieff translation for the bilingual quotes I put in my reviews. (Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy to do that or not. But I do it as I know that the three most devoted readers I have probably read or have a look at the French too) I did a post about translations in Proust but I only compared small passages. I’d say that the Scott Montcrieff one bowdlerizes a bit and I wouldn’t choose it for Sodome et Gomorrhe.

    Like Caroline, I choose the blogger more than the review. I read everything my favourite bloggers write. Lucky me, they don’t have the same background and I discover new books everyday.
    Sadly, the posts I write about Romain Gary and other French writers are the ones that are the less read. I suppose most people have the same criteria as you to decide to read or not a review. But I’ll remember about introductions, I’ll try to improve that.

    I don’t think we should review only the books we enjoyed. If Caroline or Guy didn’t like a book, it’s most probable that I won’t like it either. It saves time if they write reviews about the books they didn’t like. Plus, writing a review helps me understand why I disliked the book.

  19. Some of the saddest–or what I perceive to be the saddest–books I have read have been the ones that have had the most profound impact on me and have been the ones I have loved the most when I look back over my reading past. I simply loved Crossing to Safety, and I did not think that book was happy at all. I spent the entire second half with a tissue in my hand sobbing. And when I read The Other Side of You, which is another of my favorite books, I spent the second half with a tissue in my hand crying too. And I find myself wanting to recreate those reading experiences again and again! I guess I am in the minority here because I love reading sad books that make me cry!

  20. I also don’t like to feel depressed when I finish a book. But laughing and crying are part of what makes a good read, don’t you think? I was looking for a good comfort-read on Sunday when I was sick in bed. All the books on my bedside table seemed too serious so I found an old copy of “As I walked out one midsummer morning” instead.

    I sympathise about the unconscious self-saboteurs. Sometimes it feels as though getting the students to come for their counselling sessions is an achievement in itself. It sound very frustrating when weeks go by and they don’t come. I know I would never call the boys here (email is the way to go) but do you call your students when they miss a session?

    As for book reviews, when I’m busy and I don’t know the book then I’m more likely to skip the review. Easy accessibility means that we already have so many books on the go. But I will try and be more diligent about reading reviews!

  21. David – aw bless you! It’s wonderful that you read my reviews – thank you. And this is what I find – I have to know in advance which authors make me laugh and then turn to them. Should make a list, really!

    Margaret – thank you so much for the translation advice! Yes, this is the thing about keen readers – we often do like to make up our minds independently, which means reading the book first. And there is so much choice out there.

    Emily – lol, I have a ginormous tbr and it has all come from blogging, so I must get few a lot of reviews, really! Baryshnikov turns out to be addictive, I find, but I can live with that. 😉 Isn’t it funny that you should get more hits for reviews. Do you think we assess really quickly what a blog ‘does’ and then pay more attention out of sheer curiosity when it does something different? I really understand that sort of perverse statistic, because I get way more hits for personal posts and I don’t do many of them. (And I must look up Erik Linkletter – you see, this is how that tbr pile grows!)

    Caroline – yes, I think like you I choose the blog for the voice and the person behind it mostly. I know I read all your reviews and have discovered lots of new authors there, and very happily too. I honestly don’t think fewer hits means a worse post. In fact I was agreeing with a friend just yesterday that it’s the posts we slave over that get ignored, whilst the throwaway ones always attract more comments. Mister Litlove thinks that when a post is polished and finished, there’s not much for others to add, but when it’s a bit messy or unresolved, other people feel able to contribute. It’s definitely a possibility!

    Teresa – yes, you get the bump in traffic for the discursive posts, too. And yet there must be only so many discursive topics about books, you’d think, wouldn’t you? Or maybe there are always new things to talk about because the book world is constantly changing at the moment? But what I’m interested in here is how it affects the way we talk about books in the long term. Will more and more blogs change over to mostly general posts in order to get the traffic? That’s what intrigues me.

    londonchoirgirl – love your project and have been thinking about it since I saw your comment. I am thinking about a list and will drop in on you very soon with it!

    Eva – ooh that’s a very interesting point you raise, and I could say the same thing about my comfort reading – Barbara Pym, Alison Lurie, Anne Tyler, Agatha Christie… I know E F Benson’s a man, but he is a bare few chromosomes away from the rest of the identity package. Thinking back over my Francophone reading, I remember an author called Driss Chraibi from Morocco who was rather amusing. But most of the books I read from Africa and the West Indies were about serious topics, slavery, post-colonial reform, revolution. Maybe it’s a privilege of the first world that we can laugh at ourselves because we’re not too busy surviving to be able to do so. Or maybe, stories begin with injustice and change and painful events that have to be related, and only later find ways to be amusing and entertaining. Hmmm – you’ve certainly got me thinking about your topic now!

    Lilian – I’m sure you’re right and that hearing stories is very different indeed to reading them. I’m interested in what you say here about amusing stories perhaps lacking depth, and Emily’s comment that comedy is always very close to tragedy. I can’t resolve that difference but it intrigues me a great deal and I keep picking away at it with my mind!

    Nicola – now that’s a really interesting point. Perhaps that completely flexible way of writing that blogging encourages will provide all sorts of alternatives to the orthodox book review. I like the thought of that.

    Arti – you remind me I really do want to see Valmont one of these days! My students, alas, are inevitably those having a battle with their work and either because they are in a manic disorganised place often forget me, or are self-sabotaging, because anything is better than facing up to problems. I can’t be mad at them, because they don’t really do it on purpose, but it does come with the territory! I completely second your championing of E M Forster, whom I love, and Flannery O’Connor is someone I’ve still to read. I’m a little scared of her, but I will definitely get around to her one day.

  22. Arti – oh yes, I agree. Although I suppose that book clubs in real life were up and running before the internet took over, and carried on the work they had started. I read somewhere that everything we do has a purpose bound up with our relationship to other people, whether we realise it or acknowledge it or not. I think that’s probably true!

    Jane – thank you very much for the heads-up!

    Jeff – thank you very much for the recommendations for amusing books. I do appreciate that. Looking back, I used to be far less affected by what I read because I had critical distance. Every book I read was usually bound up in teaching or research, and so I always approached them looking for what they were doing and what they had to tell me. It meant I could read all kinds of thing without flinching. Since I have been ‘just’ a reader, I find books affect me much more, but critical distance has to be there for a reason, for me. I can’t summon it up unless I am actually going to treat the book academically. You are quite right about the students – I must remember that being there is really the only box I have to tick. And thank you for the kind words about this site. That’s so nice.

    Helen – what a fabulous life plan that was! I wanted to be a ballet dancer and then a writer in succession, and it never occurred to me to combine them. Now whyever did we not follow these plans through? 🙂 Yes, it’s funny what tricks memory can play on the details of a story, so you are probably wise to restrain from commenting after those first crucial five minutes. I never mind comments of the ‘nice review!’ type so I don’t mind leaving them – I figure I’m thanking a blogger for putting in time and effort, and that’s worthy of a few words, although I have every sympathy for people who want to say something valuable about the book instead! But then your analogy of students having no questions at the end of a lecture strikes a chord. I used to say to them, it’s very hard to know what it is you don’t know and need to ask about. But then the so-called ‘silly questions’ were always the ones that provoked the best discussion.

    Victoria – I always read your posts; not many people have the knack of making a more critical review fascinating, but you do. Your comment is very interesting, as it makes me wonder whether what’s at stake here is simply the natural division of the material of the internet into information and discussion. Perhaps there are just informative posts that don’t ask to be commented on, and then virtual discussions that are a world unto themselves, and the book review lies uneasily on the borderline, tipping more into information. And there’s also the vastness of the web, which can be tiring before you even begin. It’s the holy grail of search engine technology – how to find the elusive something that you are looking for, when it concerns perspective or quality rather than content. And yet part of the fun of the web is falling upon things you never knew existed. But you’re right – a person can only take so much of that in any given day.

    Care – I am a huge fan of Rosy’s – perhaps I should just keep her books nearby to reread! (Although why do we have to reread cheerful books while having a neverending supply of the sad ones?) It is true that it’s much easier to comment on general, chatty posts, and I guess all bloggers need to keep a supply of them coming, so they can make contact with their blogging friends!

    Grad – what a wonderful image you conjure up there of our world of virtual friends! And what great friends they are, too. I’m thinking that perhaps the internet is the place where the orthodox book review will have to mutate into something slightly different, so we can keep that virtual conversation going. It is the best bit, isn’t it?

    Emily – thank you so much for that help with the translation question – I will pass it on. And I’m thrilled if Baryshnikov is still touring – he MUST be immortal, then, right? Your mother is one lucky lady. I was watching the modern dance at the start of White Nights and the things he can do with his body really are extraordinary. You can scarcely believe anyone is capable of it.

    Emma – thank you for your insightful comments about translation – I will pass them on. I find that reviews of French novels in particular get the fewest hits – isn’t that a shame! Although of course, I do read them when they appear on other people’s sites because I love hearing about them. So I guess that every book has its audience somewhere on the web, if they can be reunited. I have a steady pack of bloggers I read every time they post, and that does supply me with lots of new books, but I guess being a book-greedy sort of person, I also like to branch off and find new writers. Mind you, the size of my tbr pile probably does show the inevitable difficulties of this approach! 🙂

    Ali – oh Crossing to Safety had me sobbing – I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much at a book! And the Salley Vickers was incredibly touching too. One of the other commenters, londonchoirgirl, was saying that books provide catharsis, which means that the crying is sometimes a really good thing, and I’m sure she’s right. I do agree that the sad books are often the ones that stay with you!

    Pete – you are at your most time poor life phase, with new baby and new job. Surviving is all you have to do right now! I’m more of a control freak than you are, so I like to manage my emotions a bit, and not get suddenly torn apart by a terribly sad story. I suppose what I like is a book that has sad parts but finds way to give them powerful meaning, and then that sadness is easy to tolerate. I don’t call my students, no, I email them like you do. But funnily enough, I was so fed up on the weekend that I emailed one in a far more, ahem, honest way than I usually do and he responded very well to it. Wonders will never cease! I’ll let you know how that one goes!

  23. I have found that the posts I spend the most time on–usually about a specific book–tends to get the fewest comments. It’s a little discouraging in a way, but after seeing Victoria’s comment and your reply, maybe people are at least looking and just haven’t left a comment as they haven’t read the book and don’t have anything to say about it? It’s always my really generic bookish posts or a post about a widely read/loved author/book that gets the most attention. I always tell myself I am doing this just for me as my own reading journal so I can go back and read my thoughts but when I find myself feeling disappointed by a lack of interest in posts then I guess there is more going on than I am admitting to myself. And I, too, only comment regularly on a handful of blogs (and am usually playing catch up at the end of the week or when I have a break…ahem) because I am drawn to the ‘voice’ of a particular blogger (in which case I don’t mind what they talk about at all–it’s all interesting), but many more I will read posts via Google Reader and occasionally drop in to comment. I wish I could manage more as there are so many really good book bloggers out there, but I would probably have to give up sleep, and that would probably make me cranky. (more cranky I should say).

  24. I’m more reluctant than I once was to seek out books I’ve never heard of, too, I’m afraid. I also am less likely to comment on posts about books I haven’t read even if I add them to my TBR pile, because I feel like my comments on such posts are necessarily boring and skippable. What I’ve done to slightly combat this is to sort my Google Reader in a way that gives preference to blogs from which I frequently draw successful book recommendations — that way I’m more likely to note down the names of books I might be interested in reading.

    It’s interesting what you say about sad books. Reading doesn’t make me sad even when it makes me sad, if you know what I mean. Even the saddest books (and I’d distinguish here “sad” from “miserable”, because I often cannot manage books that are sort of brutal and wretched all the way through) have the quality of making life seem like it has some sort of organizing principle. It’s two things, I think: first that recognizing one’s own experiences and feelings in books makes you feel less overwhelmed and more normal; and second that putting sad events into beautiful words and a structure has the effect of making them seem more manageable. All of this has the effect of making me feel that there’s someone flying this plane, and that is why sad books aren’t necessarily depressing.

  25. Heh, you should try writing about Ulysses once a week for five months and watch your Monday comments drop! Not all book reviews lower comments though. If I manage to read and write about a popular book that everyone has read or wants to read those posts get lots of comments. But books like Ulysses, not so much (thank you for always being so kind to comment!). I’ve heard that the Moncrieff translation of Proust is flawed. Whether or not that is true I cannot say. The Lydia Davis of Swann’s Way is fantastic and even though the following books each have a different translator I thought the second one good and what I have managed of the third one good too. Thanks for the Baryshnikov link too. Not only is he a brilliant dancer but he looks fabulous in those tights! 😉

  26. I must admit that I am drawn to books that are “heavier” in nature and often need to force myself to take a break from them so they don’t affect my mood too much. I’ve never really considered why it is that I don’t read books that make me laugh.

  27. Danielle – I think that’s one of the problems with an online community – there really are only so many hours in the day, and we have to make choices whether we like it or not about where to spend the time we have. But there’s so much out there, it’s easy to feel guilty for not doing more. But it really is impossible, isn’t it? I completely agree that the posts we spend the most time on are often the most ignored. Although Mister Litlove’s take on this is that the more polished the post is, the less there is to say in objection, or addition of other perspectives, hence less comments. The throwaway post, with ragged edges, leaves more room for people to come in with other thoughts. I’m sure there’s some truth in this, as I find that more people will comment to disagree, or at least add another point of view, than to agree. But if we join online communities then I think we’re here for the discussion as much as anything, and so it’s only natural we hope people will turn up to discuss! 🙂

    Jenny – very interesting thoughts, and much as my mind agrees with you on them all, I confess that in my heart, sad things happening in stories make me sad. I really wish it weren’t so! If other people cry, I often find myself crying with them, and that’s rather annoying, too. I also think it’s quite okay to leave a sort of thank you at the end of a post I’ve enjoyed reading, even if I have nothing more interesting to say about it. But your idea of arranging google reader sounds a really good one, and something I’d be interested to try too.

    Stefanie – lol! llol! I so nearly said something about the tights but restrained myself. I’m so glad you didn’t! 🙂 Thank you also for the information about the Proust translations. I’ll pass that on. And I also laughed about your Ulysses reading. I was very happy to comment in a cheerleading sort of way, because you were making it through that book so well, and I felt you deserved support and encouragement! But yes, it’s a shame that sort of big project doesn’t attract more attention. Or at least I think so, but there it is. As you so rightly say, the internet is a creature of the moment, and writing about the It-Books of the day can promote a very good discussion.

    Kathleen – that’s really interesting. I never used to think at all about whether books were happy or sad, because teaching them, I only needed to think about how they made their effects, and why they had chosen those as opposed to all the other alternatives. So I was quite insulated from being emotional as a reader. Now, I’m all over the place! 🙂

  28. Funnily enough, I adore reading rich, in-depth book reviews (though like many, I rarely comment), but I don’t often *write* them. My online reviews are rarely more than 3 or 4 sentences long, and frequently less than 2.

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