Why Write Reviews?

In a post a little while ago, I was interested that many people responded to a remark I’d made about the fact that reviews on this site get the least amount of comments and hits. Quite a lot of bloggers agreed that this was the trend they experienced too, and quite a lot of others said that they didn’t read too many reviews because

a) they had too many books to read already

b) they only felt able to comment on books they had already read and

c) there’s a level of satiety that’s quickly reached when it comes to in-depth book analysis.

One odd little quirk: most of the bloggers who commented that they didn’t read many reviews were the ones who ran mostly book review sites. Isn’t that intriguing? That we should put out there what we don’t always want to read ourselves?

Now, I don’t know that I feel or react any differently myself, and so I have to admit that I was hugely curious about our thoughts on this matter. We’re book bloggers; we love books and reading. I find it very intriguing then that we have so little stamina for book reviews. Don’t think I’m criticising here; I really like the awkward questions, the paradoxes and the contradictions that I come across. They are all part and parcel of ordinary human nature and nothing to be defensive or concerned about – but they DO make me curious to poke about in the issue a little more.

So I began by thinking about why we write reviews in the first place. I came up with these reasons:

 

1. As a reading journal to keep a note of impressions that might otherwise be quickly forgotten.

2. As a way of encouraging other people to read books we’ve loved.

3. As a way of expressing and exploring displeasure with a book.

4. To join in a conversation about a book that’s currently very popular.

5. As a way of thinking about writing and reading, what they mean for us individually and for the book world as it grows and changes.

6. As part of an informal contract with a publisher who has sent us a book for the express purpose of it being reviewed.

 

Then I began to wonder what our reasons were for being online in the first place, and I came up with these:

 

1. To be sociable.

2. To find like-minded people with whom to share a niche interest.

3. To add our opinions to current debates.

4. To express ourselves and, in the act of writing, see our thoughts and feelings more clearly.

5. To be better informed.

 

So when it comes to reviews, it seems that we are far more likely to write them, in order to keep track of what we’ve read and express our opinions about something, than we are to read them, when being better informed is a lower priority. Of course there are plenty of times when we head for the internet in order primarily to gain information, but once we’re talking about having a book blog and getting involved in an online community, it’s the sociable aspects of the net that come to the fore. So this makes me think that blogging is really the place where interesting alternatives to review writing are going to appear, because if we want to engage the attention of as many blog readers as possible, then we need something more open to discussion, more of the moment, and more inviting than an orthodox review.

There are quite a lot of alternatives in circulation already. The lists and the memes and the readalongs, for instance. Then there are the bloggers who discuss what they are reading while they are in the middle of reading it, or who report back from classes they’ve taught or book groups they’ve attended. There are book bloggers who focus in on a few lines or a scene of a book for the material of their posts. I think all of this is very exciting; it’s one of the delights of a new medium for me, and a new genre in the blog post that there are no limits and no constraints, just lots of possibilities. It reminds me, too, that when I first began blogging, I only occasionally wrote reviews. In the beginning, I had this storehouse of ideas and concepts that I’d gleaned from teaching literature and I wanted to use the blog to write them down for posterity, before I forgot them, and to offer them to anyone who was interested. It was when I ran out of them, about 18 months into this blog, that I started writing more reviews in earnest. I will always write conventional reviews as I want to keep a reading journal here for my own interest, but I’m also intrigued by the thought of new ways to write about books, and I wonder what the book blogging world will come up with next?

78 thoughts on “Why Write Reviews?

  1. I actually read most of the reviews in my feed reader! The only exceptions are 1) if it’s super-detailed, and I already know I want to read a book, I won’t read it to save myself a spoiler or 2) it’s part of a commercial ‘blog tour’ that I’ve seen on other blogs already. But I am less likely to comment on them, because it’s difficult to leave a thoughtful comment on a book I haven’t read…usually I just say ‘adding it to my wish list,’ which sounds a touch vapid.

    Anyway, I did enjoy this post! Lately, I’ve been writing posts ahead of time and scheduling them, and I’ve noticed instead of wanting to do 4 ‘review’ posts M-Th, I’ve been doing 3 (M, W, Th) and breaking it up with a different type of bookish post on Tuesday. So I guess my own tendency is towards fewer reviews too.🙂

    • And I think of you, Eva, as one of the most diverse readers I know in the blogosphere – so perhaps that has some bearing? Your interest is wonderfully wide and reflected in the way you’ll read all your reviews. I know what you mean about the commercial blog tours. It is hard to come up with something to say on the fifth or sixth review of a book! And my ratio of reviews to other posts keeps changing – I wrote hardly any, then I wrote a lot, and now it’s somewhere in between. Don’t you find that you keep changing to keep things fresh? We can discuss this as old blog ladies, with many years of blogging under our belts!🙂

      • I think you definitely put your finger on something: there are almost no books that I write off instantly, so I have to read reviews to see if they should go on my wish list.🙂

        Yep, I think changing and playing around with blogging approaches is *key* to enjoying it as a long-term hobby! I was so stressed at first with all of the typing restrictions I had to implement after my Sjogren’s got cranky (and I’ve certainly been enjoying the steroid-granted return to more typing, although that will end soon since I just took my last dose), but they ended up reinvigorating my blogging!

  2. That’s an absolutely fascinating look at reviewing – I’d never really thought about why we do it at all! I write music reviews – it started sharing my thoughts on new music with friends, then trying it out in the wider sphere.

    I guess people like to give their opinion!

    • I have never in my life written a music review and I can’t think how it would be done – I will have to come and visit you, that’s clear! And oh people do love to give their opinion, but I confess I think I have the most intelligent blog readers ever, so I love hearing what they have to say.

  3. It seems that I’m in the minority, because book reviews are actually my favourite kind of post to read. The main reasons why I might shy away from reading a review are a) I’ve seen too many reviews of that particular book already, and although I might be curious about what a certain reader had to say, I’ve reached a point or saturation, or b) I’m currently reading the book in question or am planning to read it very soon, and would rather read the review after I’m done – not so much out of fear of spoilers, but because I want to have the chance form my own reading before I engage with other people’s. Other than that, book reviews appeal to me mostly for reason number 5 from your first list: because so often they’re about so much more than a particular book. The blogs I enjoy the most are the ones where the writer uses books as a point of departure to explore all the human issues literature deals with, and there’s no limit to what those might be.

    Having said this, I really really hope my comment doesn’t sound all superior, in a “I’m better than everyone because I really enjoy reading reviews” sort of way. I completely understand having a limit when it comes to how many reviews you can absorb (it probably helps that I don’t subscribe to that many blogs), and like you I find the question very interesting. Also, there’s no doubt that the social aspect of blogging is what keeps me going – most of all I want to interact with like-minded people. Otherwise I might as well just read but never comment, and write my own thoughts in a private journal. And yes, I too find all the possibilities blogging offers in terms of different ways of writing about books very exciting. I’m sure more traditional reviews will continue to exist alongside newer formats, and it will be fun to discover what those will be.

    • I love what you say here about reviews that use the book ‘as a point of departure to explore all the human issues literature deals with’. Yup, right with you there. I love it when people do that and can never get enough of it. Funnily enough, I do like to read other people’s reviews before I write my own. I like to bounce my thoughts off other people’s reactions, but I don’t think there’s any ‘right’ way to do this – it’s simply a matter of personal choice. And I cannot imagine that any of your thoughtful and considerate comments could ever sound superior! It’s nice to find other bloggers who love reviews, and it’s encouraging to all of us who write them.

  4. I thought about it again and think it has nothing to do with book reviews whether you get a lot of comments and interaction or not. I checked and some of my reviews have far over 40 comments and others hardly 12. The same happens on other blogs. It has something to do with the choices of my books. There is a trend. And it depends on your blog community. Some bloggers have “followers” because they write very long in depth reviews, others because they write wonderful lists and then there are those who will be followed because the aspects of their private lives are interesting. There is everything really. Some Urban Fanatsy blogs will have 60 comments on a review while I will have 10 if I review Urban Fantasy…
    I never write thinkng about whether a post will or will not be read but I have a tendency to review books that have been translated. Then I have made another test. If I didn’t like a book and it’s a literary book I will have many readers and commenters, if I didn’t like a thriller, they won’t bother saying anything. But when I really love something….
    Personally I like to read and write a mix of longer and shorter posts. But when you are good at writing really good short posts your chances to be read and commented on are higher. What is important for me as well is that a blog has a mix of all sorts of books but still with a tendency. Diversity is the key.
    I can’t say I want to keep track of books as I always did that in my diary. I didn’t even think about anything when I started. I became aware of the possibilites once I was doing it and now what I like most are the discussions that take place. The community that is built.

    • Oh now I think you’re onto something here with the idea of reviews matching the tastes of the community. I’m sure you’re right – if you focus on urban fantasy or YA and stick within that network, then yes, I imagine that review posts would be really well received. I love diversity in my own reading (I find it absolutely necessary or I lose my sense of judgement over a book) and I do write about a huge range of books. Also I know what you mean about the literary/genre divide. I always feel I have to add a little something extra if I review a genre novel, because the book itself may not supply quite enough on its own. I also think, like you, that the internet encourages short posts. But there are several bloggers I love who write long ones and then it’s just a question of style – long suits some people. And yes, I love the discussions too. You never know what people will come up with!

  5. I must admit that I also like the reviews best. And your reviews, litlove, I almost always read even if I have so little time that I click away all the other new entries in my reader.

    But not being a blogger myself (with my level of writer’s block I would not get anywhere, I assure you) and only an occasional commenter, I am of course rather an outsider. I do feel guilty because I behave rather like a consumer, reading reviews on a multitude of blogs and cultivating an ever increasing wish list on Amazon. But I must say that I am so grateful for this wonderful book blogging community that gives me a feeling that there are so many like minded people who love books just as much as I do.

    I have noticed that the format that is most successful for me personally is the format of the classics circuit. It differs from a book group because every individual reader still has a choice which book he/or she wants to read, so there is more flexibility. Yet these books share a theme. So very often I pick a book myself and then read of course most of the reviews about “my” book. In addition, I start to deliberately explore also the other reviews since I enjoy to discover connections, similarities etc.

    • Oh Chris, what kind words, thank you! I say that we bloggers really need people like you who are reading and commenting. Otherwise it’s like the worst sort of dinner party with everyone talking at once and no one listening! And what really matters is that love of books – it’s such a pleasure to write here and to visit my blog friends because of that genuine shared passion. I hadn’t thought of the classics circuit but that’s an excellent point. I got really into that for a while because I loved having a whole menu of related book posts to choose from, as well as that particular satisfaction of seeing how lots of others got on with the book I’d read. Are they still going on? I must check now you’ve reminded me!

  6. The perplexing questions are the best kind I think…I have too much other “stuff” to say to just write reviews…even though reading is so much a part of who I am and have always been. But, I do skim most other reviews…I usually skip completely over the summaries that are copied and pasted from somewhere. I want to read what the reviewer has to say if I’m reading blogs. I also love description and specific details rather than generalized comments. I HATE commercialized reviews and sites…again, to me the wonder of the book blogger community is having this group of people you get to know and reading and discussing books with them. With the reviews I write, I’m simply journaling about what I read. Most of the time I’m not reviewing the newest books available because I’m selfish enough to read only what I want to read when I want to read it. I also like for some of the hype to settle down. There are some exceptions, of course…books/authors I follow closer than others.

    • I am so glad you like the perplexing questions too! I always read your family posts as I love knowing what your girls have got up to! I know what you mean about wanting to know what the reviewer really felt – it is the most interesting part, isn’t it? And I think that’s what’s interesting about blogging per se, it does encourage us to really dig deep into the experience we had with a book, and that can be fascinating to think about. And you’re not selfish to read what you want! You’ve got to go where the energy and curiosity are, or else it’s simply not worth doing.

  7. I’m not entirely sure amount of comments corresponds to whether reading the content has taken place or not. I think it is just easier to comment about non-specific concerns we *all* share – whether it’s a shelving challenge or a recipe or talk about the weather. For me, the better the review is, the *less* likely I am to comment, because it has all been said, and/or because any comment I might make would be fatuous at best (“great review!”). But that doesn’t mean I haven’t read it and enjoyed it. In fact, I may have commented on this particular blog only one or two other times – the fact is, the posts are too good, and so I have nothing to say that wouldn’t sound like I was just commenting to comment (again, “great review!) but hadn’t actually read the post!

    • Rhapsody in books – aww what a lovely comment, thank you! It never occurs to me that there might be people out there reading who don’t say anything, although I have no idea why I think that. It’s easy to get caught up in stats and comments and traffic (and believe me, I am far more laid back about this now than when I began blogging!). It is always easy to send encouragement, or birthday wishes and so on, even if those comments are no more profound than a thank you for the review. But it IS much easier to add one’s voice to that sort of post.

  8. Ooo I wanted to comment on your original post, but time flew away from me (an e-mail IS coming your way btw about Mentalist etc, soon, soon). I’ve noticed that while the first two years I was blogging I read a lot of reviews and before I started blogging I read several book blogs, where I used to read the reviews as well. This year I never seem to have enough time to write my own reviews, let alone read ones by other people (beyond the smaller set of people where I try to read every post they put up). Now I find personal posts and more informal conversations easier to fit in, as well as really fun to read. I think I’ve tried to spread myself too thin across the blogging world this year and that’s affected how I read, which I’m really sad about because I really, really like reviews, the big in depth ones are the ones I used to read the most.

    However I am interestedd to see what else comes out of blogging. I love people who have regular discussion posts. I really like Jeanne from Necromancy Never Pays way of doing things where she talks around a poem and includes bits about her personal life, because it’s so original and there are haiku bloggers who are cool. It is very exciting to see other stuff come out alongside reviews, although I really, really want my favourite reviewers to keep writing the big ideas ful reviews *hint*.

    • Don’t you worry, my friend. No rush needed. The great thing about the internet is that it usually offers a way of keeping in touch, no matter how pressed for time we are. And I think what’s intriguing about the web is that our reactions to it change all the time. I know that my blog has gone through several reincarnations (even if they are only obvious to me) when I’ve put far more emphasis on this or that. For several years I never said anything personal, and then I gradually began to write posts about my family here and there – and they are always very popular (although I suffer agonies of wanting to take them down as soon as they are written!). Things change all the time – you’ll be back to reading and writing long reviews in time, and in the meantime I’m always delighted to see you here just whenever you can. I love the sound of Jeanne’s blog and really MUST visit. I’m so interested in people doing unusual things with literature. (And never fear, I will always review – it’s a sort of reflex reaction!)

  9. Fascinating topic – I have often noticed that the more effort I put into a post, the fewer comments it gets! Reviews take me ages, and get a lot fewer than memes etc., but they are much more satisfying to have on my blog, for me. Kim mentioned a while ago that someone asked her how she managed to get 600+ reviews on her blog, and how could she achieve this – Kim’s answer, naturally, being that she wrote them over a long period of time!

    rhapsodyinbooks’ comment above makes me feel a bit better about it – it’s so true that a question about favourite literary characters (or similar) will get more responses than an analysis of a Muriel Spark (or similar).

    I must confess, though, that I only read all the way through reviews if they seem like books I am ever likely to read. Reviews of modern novels are quite likely to lose me after the first paragraph… but horses for courses, and all that!

    • Well I am relieved by how many people have found this same phenomenon, that a lot of effort can seem to end up with not a lot of response! I know what you mean, though, about the personal satisfaction that comes from those posts. This year, I’ve most liked writing my biography/review posts, and I’m happiest to look back on those. I think that’s something you don’t realise about a blog until you’ve had it a while: you build up a body of work over time, and then the quality becomes really important (to me, at least, even if no one else bothered about it). For me, it all depends on the style of the blogger, whether I’ll read the review, but I quite understand why you wouldn’t persevere with a book you weren’t going to read. There’s only so many hours in the day the internet can steal, and you have to make choices about how you’re going to use them.

  10. Litlove, hello. I read a lot of paper reviews and write some myself, so I’m in favour of them. But I sometimes skip a review of a book that I know I won’t appreciate: crime thrillers-detective novels-police procedurals, gardening,17th century english literature, and a few other categories. I also try not to read a review of a book I’m going to review, as that would colour my impressions, and I might end up saying the same things. After the first draft of the review is written I may consult them.

    For your blog, I really like the reviews, but there are things I don’t have anything worth saying, or else the book you’ve chosen is unfamiliar to me, and so, for different reasons, I don’t say anything. The post you removed, for instance, seemed particularly personal, and not having any experience in that area, there was nothing to say that could be knowledgeable. I do find that when you write about a book that’s current and unknown to me, it does interest me a lot.

    • Yes, I can well imagine that there may be no point in reading some reviews for you, my friend, when I know you have specific (and admirable!) tastes. I confess that I like reading other people’s reviews before I write my own, but it’s probably more honorable to write with a completely ‘clean’ mind. I quite understand that there would be plenty of times when a review wouldn’t leave much leeway for you to add something. I guess what I’m really intrigued by here are other ways, perhaps as yet unimagined, whereby I could engage you in bookish conversation about a book you hadn’t read, or even thought to read. When I gave papers at academic conferences, I used to build them around a general point that could be taken away by anyone, whether they were working in my field or not, and I suppose it’s a blogging equivalent of that that I’m curious about.

  11. I think I was among those who commented before saying that I’m more likely to read a general post than a review, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I’m more likely to comment on a general bookish post, at least when it comes to my favorite blog. For the dozen or so blogs I read religiously (like yours), I’ll happily read whatever they post, and I love when they post reviews because they’re my reliable sources that help me determine whether I want to read something.

    But there’s a much larger of blogs that I just keep an eye on, and I’m less likely to read the reviews on those, unless it’s a book I’m curious about but haven’t heard much about or if it’s a book I’ve already read and might want to discuss with the blogger writing about it. So my interest in reviews really does depend on the blog. And I don’t think that’s an entirely uncommon pattern, because we get a lot of the same regular commenters for our review posts, but a larger number of regulars, semi-regulars, and occasional visitors for our topical posts.

    • Yes, I agree, that’s a pattern I definitely see here, and I have my own heirarchy of blogs that I always read (definitely yours and Jenny’s) and those I drop in on from time to time. I’m interested in Caroline’s comment in relation to yours, too, and whether we end up with blog friends who have similar reading tastes, and so those we visit daily are always those whose reading choices corresponds most to our own. In that respect, I know I do like bloggers who read a lot of different books. I don’t think there’s anyone I visit regularly who is a niche blogger. But for me it’s also definitely about the quality of the writing – I know that counts a lot.

  12. I started blogging to think about the books I read and interact with foreign readers. Otherwise, I would have made my life easier and joined the French blogosphere. Big success on both sides: I get more of the books I read now that I review them and I did “meet” foreign bloggers. (and my English improved)

    I review everything I read, good or bad. (well except for that Fitzek book, since it was terrible and would have required a lot of work to find the English psychiatric jargon I’d read in French). The French books I review and that aren’t classics or by well-known writers (like Houellebecq) are the ones that are the less read. Too bad for the books and the writers.

    I’m happy to have a few recurring readers who do take the time to read what I think of a book, be it irrelevant, childish or interesting. I’m not looking for a lot of readers at any cost, I like to answer individually to all the comments I receive and I enjoy discussion.

    Unlike the other commenters above, I tend to leave a comment when I read a review, even if I have nothing interesting to say. I think it’s a polite way to thank the blogger for the time spent on the review, a little recognition and encouragement can’t hurt.

    I like to subscribe to blogs and receive new posts in my mailbox. I tend to shy away from very long reviews (I try not to write reviews over 1000 words) or very academic ones because my vocabulary is limited and sometimes I can’t follow the blogger’s thoughts. As English isn’t my native language, I enjoy when bloggers include quotes of the book, it helps me assess if I can read it in English or not.

    I see book blogs as the new literary salons. Virtual, democratic and enthusiastic literary salons. It helps finding like-minded people, discovering new authors. I enjoy reading reviews, most of them don’t include spoilers or have a warning when they do. There aren’t more spoilers in bloggers’ reviews than on book blurbs! I like reviews with a personal tone, otherwise I can read newspapers. I also started participating in readalong and events this year and I like it very much too, the discussions are fascinating.

    • Emma, I am in awe of people who blog in a second language. I would never have the courage to do it in French (although I don’t doubt now that my French needs it – it is getting very rusty!). I also agree with you that it never hurts to leave even a simple comment at a site. Someone’s gone to all the trouble of writing a review and I’d like to thank them for that, for having given me information and pleasure. I’m always delighted when anyone says they enjoyed a post – that’ll do for me. I know I ought to quote more, but I usually find that I have written so much (and like you, I do try to keep under 1,000 words, just!) that I don’t dare make the post any longer. And I love your comment here about lbogs ats the new literary salons. I couldn’t agree more, and that is a fascinating analogy.

  13. If I read any post I always try to comment in some form even if its just to say Hello I just came to your blog as I think its a polite thing to do.
    I know the feeling about book reviews specially when you think that you’ve done a jolly good job and then find out that no one is even
    commenting! can be a bit lonely out there.

    • I agree! I do always try to say something when I’ve read a post through, as a thank you to the blogger for writing it. The internet is like a big ongoing party, I think, and there’s nothing worse than feeling alone in a crowd!

  14. Case in point–see the many replies you have already received and the interesting, well-thought out comments to your questions!🙂 We all have an opinion on this general bookishness. I am also very intrigued by the varied answers–what I love about the book blogging world. I think I am like Emma above–I also prefer to leave a comment when I can even if it is just to say I loved the post or that the blogger has made a book I didn’t know anything about before so appealing that I also want to read it. I know this is not always possible–time constraints and all that–but I know it’s much more satisfying to to get a brief reply even if it is just a friendly nod than to not realize anyone has taken a moment to glance at a post. Of late I’ve been very interested in reading different approaches to “reviewing” or just chatting about books. I find reviews really hard–how to talk about a book that is both interesting, gives a little detail (I get the feeling lots of people prefer not read summaries, though I like to know a bit of the story just to decide whether I might want to read it, too, as well as a record for myself), and maybe a bit of insight into other things that were going on in the book. You sum things up very well and I am also curious to see how book blogging will continue to develop. I guess it’s nice that everyone does have their own take on it all, as it makes for a nice variety and you can find blogs on just about every bookish topic.

    • I have the best and most intelligent blog readers in the blogosphere, I think!🙂 I do also try to add a little something whenever I’ve read a post. I never mind myself if someone has just left a thank you – I’m very happy with that, so assume others will be too. I also like a bit of a summary as the situation of the story, the kind of things that will happen in it, all of that matters a lot in my choice of reading. So I really like to know something about the book – in fact I never even mind spoilers! But I too find it hard to know where to begin a review sometimes – a book can be like a big messy ball of knitting wool, and you don’t know which end to pull on to unravel it. I’m really intrigued to see what people will come up with, because the book conversation is the thing, isn’t it? I do love that.

  15. I suppose it makes sense that as a psychologist, I like best to read your posts that discuss your own personal dialogue with the book you have read and what it makes you think about in your own life. I suppose you might say that I like to see how you handle books as unconscious projective material, because I think you have a very interesting way of thinking and I have very limited time myself for reading anything outside of my professional area. I like to think about how you think. I think you are a very interesting person.

    • Squirrel, every time you leave a comment I feel I want to hug you! On that note, I tried to leave a comment on your site this evening, but I am having all sorts of trouble with blogger which keeps blocking me out. Boo hoo! It’s not just your site, I should point out, but most blogger ones. Still, what you say about unconscious projective material is spot on, I think. I love that about the experience of reading, and think we are never more ourselves than when responding to a book. It’s such an interesting way to see your mind in action – or the minds of others as they think about their reading.

  16. While I generally prefer the review or essay format to other blogging “genres” when it comes to reading purposes, I guess I’m drawn more to the individual blogger than to whether the blog is more review-oriented or topic-oriented. For sure, a blogger’s writing chops and flair and the types of books that get play on a blog are far more important to me than whether I’m reading a review or not. For writing purposes, though, I tend to look at all non-review posts on my blog as outright filler. I like reading that sort of thing by others OK, but I always feel like such a poseur if I have more than 1-2 non-review posts a month. I at one time thought about militantly going to an all-review format…forever…but I chickened out somewhere along the line. I’m not a very good militant, it would seem.

    • I love the way you write about books, Richard. If I don’t comment on your site, it is usually because I am sighing over my own writing and wishing I could review as well as you. I agree that my own choices of blogs to follow are primarily about style. But then content does come a big second; even though I read quite widely, there are certain sorts of books (someone mentioned urban fantasy above, for instance) that I would never read. It tickles me to think you’d consider yourself a poseur if you had too many personal posts (and I do understand that because I always hesitate over mine), and a militant if you went all-out review. I’m glad you are treading a middle line!🙂

  17. I read reviews–I don’t often read memes or lists of books that people intend to read. But stats are misleading. Fewer comments may just mean that reviews don’t lend themselves to comments by people who haven’t read the books. Stats can be misleading too. The most visited post I have is the one about tick bites. And that started a year or two after I’d originally posted it. Someone must have come across it and then put it on delicious or some other sharing site, and ever since that time, I get a lot of hits on it every day. I love your blog because it’s intelligent, literate and thought provoking, whatever the topic.

    • Oh don’t, my biggest post is a completely dreadful throwaway thing I wrote one day about the book ‘1001 books you must read before you die’. It sends shivers down my spine to think that’s the most popular post and the way that most people have encountered this blog! And bless you for your lovely comment; you always make my day when you write here!

  18. It’s a really interesting observation this, especially when I examine my own habits. I think I might be one of those people who is ocassionally reluctant to read reviews even though I (very occasionally) write them myself. Maybe that’s because blogging naturally lends itself to discursive writing rather than formal appraisals – I’m not sure. I have tried to find different ways of writing about reading to reflect the medium we’re using, but I’m rarely successful I think.

    Anyway, at the moment I’m trying another experiment at http://pistolandball.wordpress.com

    I’m reading Moby Dick and keeping a sort of reading diary – which I actually plan to be a series of creative response, or something. We’ll see. Anything to alleviate the torpor of work in a call centre. Do visit if you can be bothered.🙂

    TheDervish

    • Dervish, don’t say that! You’re by far and away the most creative writer about books that I have come across in the blogworld, and as you know, my only wish is that you’d write more! I’ll definitely come and visit you at the new site, even though Moby Dick is one of those books I know I’d never read. If anyone can make it interesting, you can.

  19. Interesting Topic! As a blog reader, I only really read reviews of books that I have read myself or are thinking of reading. Saying that though, I have found a few new authors through reading book blogs.

    I often feel disheartened when I put a lot of effort into my reviews (and also my blog series ‘Chapters In My Life’) and then no one replies. However, the main purpose of my reviews are to keep track of the books I have read and also an attempt to get some discussion going. Even if everyone disagrees with my opinions on a book, I would welcome the comments because it’s formulating interesting discussions. Like you I find the science of what makes a blog post popular a mystery, but I will carry on doing so because I enjoy it.

    • It’s a complete mystery, isn’t it? Ah well, perhaps we will just never know – after all, no one knows what will make a book successful, either, so I suppose it’s only appropriate for book blog posts, too! It’s always tricky to balance out the need to write for oneself and the need to write for an audience. I think we all struggle with it – I’m sure there’s a good bookish post in that conundrum, too!🙂

  20. I’m subscribed to quite a few book blogs on google reader and I read a good many reviews. I like reading them though I don’t always read them all especially if they are of books that clearly would not interest me. As for why I write them — I just can’t help myself. I love the challenge of finding (or trying to find) something judicious to say about a book I’ve enjoyed, and it gives me a huge boost when people comment that my reviews have helped them to discover a new writer or novel. So although I am more and more aware that there is an increasing mountain of book reviewing on the blogs and that I am just adding to it, I don’t think I’ll be stopping even if nobody ever reads what I say. I love writing and it’s good for keeping the mind active and alert. Hope you won’t stop either.

    • I’m exactly like you – I can’t read a book without thinking all the time how I’d write about it. I guess that’s what comes from spending too long in academia!🙂 And after all, I also think of book blogs creating this huge wealth of knowledge and information. I love the way that whatever book I read, I can look it up online and usually find someone, somewhere has read it and thought about it, too. I won’t begin to count how many books I’ve ended up reading or acquiring in the aftermath of your reviews…!

  21. I love when you go all explorer and start poking around! I like reading book reviews and on the blogs I read religiously like yours, I read everything and comment on everything. But on the large number of blogs I just keep and eye on, I tend to only read reviews of books I am curious to know more about. And it looks like that’s what many people do. The non-review posts are fun because they tend to be more general, more relaxed, funny. They are quick to read and easy to comment on. Reviews of a book one hasn’t read and perhaps have no interest in reading are more difficult to say something about. But I do think there is lots of room for creativity and finding new and different ways to talk about books in general as well as specific books. I find the creativity part difficult because I don’t have a lot of time. But maybe that is something of a self-imposed dilemma. I tend to choose to post more frequently over less frequently and more creatively. Plus being creative is hard work! And now you’ve got my brain chugging along thinking about all sorts of things. Darn you for making me think!😉

    • Lol! I do love it when you begin a sentence darning me!🙂 And yay, because I like the poking around a lot, too. Yes, I definitely think there’s a notable and understandable trend in blogging to read everything from the handful of blogs we love (like yours) and then pick and choose from a host of others. There really are only so many hours in a day! Being creative just is hard work, I completely agree, and it doesn’t happen every day, either. I find that creative part hit or miss, too (inevitably). Sometimes I really gel with an idea – my favourite post ever was to review The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas in Mister Litlove’s voice. I just chuckled from one end to the other of that. But there are also a few posts deservedly in the dustbin of history that it’s best not to recall!😉

  22. This is a much needed topic for discussion. I can’t generalize, but I’ll offer my personal, very subjective view. I started a blog which I named Ripple Effects to post movie reviews four years ago upon the prompting of my son, then in his final year of high school. I had no idea of what blogging was at that time. So in a way, my blog was an online journal of my own thoughts on movies and later I included books and other issues. I had no notion of ‘traffic’ until my son said, “you want other people to read what you’ve posted and to leave a comment, don’t you?” Only then did I realize, ah, my blog is a public forum. What I’m trying to say, so inarticulately, is that, posting reviews for me is first a channel of self-expression. Whether my blog was being read by others was not a concern in my mind at the beginning of my blogging experience. It’s only later that I developed the mentality for ‘social media’.

    Writing a review on a movie or a book had never been a ‘social’ activity for me at the start, as with reading. But once this ‘social’ element is introduced, I began to feel the pressure… and yes I admit, sometimes the anxiety/frustration for the lack of comments or negative ones. I’ve a strong sense of the ‘social’ aspect now as I post reviews. One time somebody said to me that my blogging activity was a luxury. I didn’t pose any objection there and then, since I had to think about that point. But now, I can answer that person, no, it’s not a luxury to me, but a necessity… for self-expression, for the sharing of ideas, for the enrichment of mind, for the acknowledgement of my thoughts… not so much for approval, but simply to be heard.

    • It’s fascinating to read how your blog started. Now there’s a general topic that I can never tire of! And yes, I know what you mean. When I first began blogging, I hoped people would stop by and read, I did realise it was social media, but I had no concept of those people or what it would be like. The social dimension of the internet was just so new to me, and unimaginable. And I think it’s got to be that personal desire for expression that lies at the heart of any blog, or else it would be too much work for not enough payback to keep going. Once you’ve crossed through the mirror into wonderland, though, there’s no going back, is there? Once you’re aware of the audience, then you can never forget them, and ultimately that has to be a good thing, because it keeps us on our toes. Completely agree with you that blogging is a necessity, and very glad indeed that you feel that way!

  23. I think I’m more interested in recommendations than reviews. Unless it’s a book I’m particularly interested in I probably won’t wade through a couple of thousand words of analysis but 500 words of ‘I liked this book because’ will generally suck me in. Posts which are not specifically book related then become important because they persuade me that the writer is someone who has enthusiasms I might share, making their recommendation more valuable.

    • I find reviews which say why the reviwer didn’t like a particular book just as informative. In my experience the on-line community is rather reluctant to post anything on books they didn’t like, and I think that is a little limiting for the reader.

    • Yes, it’s interesting, isn’t it, what attracts us to another blogger? There’s something I’ve tried to work out before and always failed. I think that for me, it’s simply down to a question of tone of voice, and then possibly beyond that, a way of responding to a book or an event that I really appreciate (and I’m a sucker for anyone who can make me laugh). There’s a lot of support here for the idea that we end up with like-minded people on our networks, and that seems logical.

  24. This post has made me realise something; I tend to read book reviews based not on the author or subject of the books themselves, but on the reviewer! If I find a reviewer I admire, or whose judgment I feel I can trust, then that helps shape my own reading habits. Otherwise I’d just be in danger of always following only my own tastes, and never opening myself up to something new. Long live book reviewing, whether in broadsheets or on blogs! And if I’m in the minority, then so be it. I’m kind of used to it at this point🙂

    • Dinah, do you think that being in academia means we are inevitably in that particular minority? I love learning about new books and always have an eye out for anything that might look good to me. I would hate to be stuck with just what was in my own head already. The more I think about it, the more I see that it’s definitely a tone of voice and a way of looking at things that draws me into a blog. And nothing puts me off more than a tone of voice I don’t like.

  25. I’ve always been interested in reading book reviews, but blogging has brought the whole notion of “review” to a different level, as you note. Although I don’t write as many book reviews as you do, for a variety of reasons, I do write more than I did when I began blogging. When I talk about them, though, I tend to refer to them as “thoughts” rather than “reviews” because they don’t tend to have all the elements of traditional book reviews. I think what bloggers have done is created something new that’s a blend of personal essay and book review. I love this new way of writing about books, which is more honest than book reviews from Mr./Ms. Snarky Reviewer at National Paper/Magazine

  26. Didn’t quite finish. To continue: I trust the reviews I read on blogs much more than standard review media, and I can’t recall ever having been let down reading a book that one of my favorite book bloggers loved.

    • Emily – I’ll reply to all your comment here. I like what you say about ‘thoughts’ because it strikes me that that’s one of the things that blogging does for reviewing – it opens it up and makes that personal interaction with the book much more important. And ultimately, I think that’s something we all really want to read about. I completely agree with what you say about the blend of personal essay and book review and I think that’s a fascinating way to move forward with writing about books. I know that once I checked up a book I’d just read online and found really bad errors in reporting in three out of the five online newspaper reviews I read. That really put me off.

  27. This is such an interesting post, Litlove, and one of the things I love best about the community of book bloggers is that there are so many options for talking about books other than “reviews.” I’ve never considered myself a book reviewer in the strictest sense of the word. I don’t feel qualified to discourse on a writer’s style or choices or ability, although I do appreciate reading reviews of people who I feel are qualified to make those observations (such as yourself). I like to write about what a book meant to me, how it touched me in certain way, made me think or feel differently about something. So it’s my impressions of a book that make it onto the page. And I also like to read other’s impressions on the books they read.

    It’s great that there is something out there for everyone who wants to share their love of books and reading🙂

    • Becca, I love that about blogging – that it’s made the personal response so much more valid. I think that’s often what people want to know, isn’t it? Not whether the book is objectively good or bad (which leads to all sorts of dull arguments anyway) but how it affected the reading in the experience of it. I completely agree with what you say about the blogworld – it’s wonderful that there is so much choice and variety, and something for everyone.

  28. I like well writtenthoughtful and negative as well as positive reviews. If that makes them “long” then that’s fine by me. I dont “trust” reviews on line any more than reviews in printed media and I have many favourite literary weblogs who review books they love that I don’t warm to at all. In that sense they are no different, in my experience, from The New York Review of Books or The Guardian.

    • Dark Puss, well it’s always great to know there are bloggers out there who appreciate reviews even if they are of books that are less appreciated. I find that I am picky about my negative reviews as if there’s one thing that puts me off, it’s negative narcissistic aggrandisement. People who criticise in order to make themselves look good or clever are anathema to me. But that doesn’t mean to say that there can’t be very good, very interesting negative reviews written. Some bloggers (and I’m thinking of Victoria at Eve’s Alexandria) do them brilliantly. And then again, I guess I’m not keen on bloggers just gushing over a book either. I suppose I like to see a little thought and consideration whatever the stance taken.

  29. I started my blog as a reading diary & I’ve been really surprised & pleased at the number of readers who stop by & comment. But, I’ve also noticed that I get fewer comments on book review posts than I do on general bookish posts or posts about other things – my cats, my garden. I enjoy reading other blogger’s reviews & often comment on them if I’ve enjoyed the review or if it’s tempted to buy or borrow the book or if I can add something to the discussion because I’ve read the book.

    • Lyn – it’s lovely when something comes off so well, and isn’t the book blog world a great community to hang out? I find I’m so happy to be with other obsessive readers – it makes me feel more normal!

  30. Interesting post this, which Simon T had highlighted on his blog. I am going to comment here with a little bit of a comment I left on his blog. You see when I started blogging no one, literally no one read it for well over a year, let alone commented. I then started to get a few here and there which was lovely.

    I love comments, but a little bit selfishly I blog for me (in fact this was a big conversation myself, Kim of Reading Matters and Gav of Gav Reads had on a blogging special of a podcast myself and Gav do called ‘The Readers’) and so if people read along and comment thats lovely, I am genuinely delighted people do, but on the whole its a diary of what I have read and then my thoughts on bookish bits and bobs as I go. The commenting and people reading is just a wonderful bonus when they choose to do it. I think it is something you can loose sight of when you get any kind of audience and I admit recently I have needed to give myself a shake to remind myself why I keep a blog and why I review as I felt I had gotten a little lost. I don’t mean that in a naval gazing way, more in a when you go from reader to reader and reviewer and become concious of it I think something gets lost.

    • That’s a very interesting comment that you make there. When I began blogging I was off work ill and missing my job discussing literature with students. For me, I knew I wanted to find good book conversation. I suppose at heart I will always be a literature teacher and what interests me is how we can talk about books in a way that’s really engaging and meaningful, that draws people in and makes them think. I think of books as this amazing cultural resource with so much to offer, and I’m always keen to encourage people to get as much out of their reading as possible. So I guess that’s why considering the audience for reviews is intrigiuing to me – are they the best way to pull people into thinking about a book? But I know what you mean – you have to like writing about books in and of itself to blog or else the vagaries of the internet would get to you.

  31. I’ve got nothing to add here except to say what a great discussion this is — and to thank you, litlove, for your thoughful replies — not everyone does this (I’m afraid I don’t always do it myself, though I do try to) — but we should, as it really is such a pleasure to read them all.

    • Harriet – it’s lovely of you to join in, thank you! Normally I do replies to comments in a big comment of my own, but this time, I kept forgetting what people had said as I scrolled down the page to the comment form, so it was easier to do them like this. It was quite good, actually, and it’s tempting to keep replying in this way!

  32. Fascinating post, litlove, and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments very much. I don’t have much to add other than I review books because it helps me make sense of them and also, I hope, helps bring them to the attention of a wider audience. I rarely get more than 4 or 5 comments per review, but I can tell by my site stats that the review has been visited by upwards of 800 people. But then I don’t blog to get comments — although it’s lovely when I do, and I appreciate every single one of them — for me it’s more of a compulsion just to write and keep track of my reading life. I love going back through my archive to see how my reading tastes and my reviewing skills have changed over time. So, if anything, I blog for me and me alone, but I love it when someone else gets joy out of my blog or finds it useful — it’s a lovely added extra, if you will.

    • Well 800 views is huge, so you don’t have to think at all about reaching a broader audience, do you? But as I was saying to Simon a comment or so above, my interest here is not so much about the number of comments but about the way that blogs offer interesting approaches to literature and their ability to draw readers into a conversation about books. It used to be my job, teaching literature, making people get as much out of their reading as possible, and I’m still interested in that now, and probably always will be. How can we make books and conversation about them exciting and engaging? That’s the question that keeps niggling at me.

  33. I have enjoyed reading this post and everyone’s comments so much, thank you litlove! Henceforth I shall definitely comment more on people’s blogs. I’ve always felt shy of doing so before unless I have something ‘proper’ to say. And I’ve just discovered some fabulous blogs belonging to people who’ve commented here, so am very happy.

    The only comment I have to add is to wonder whether the readers of book blogs are like many enthusiastic readers, quite shy on the internet as in real life. I read blogs for years and years before I started one myself, and I was a real lurker who never commented because I was too weedy. I still feel ambivalent about exposing myself in a public place (!) because my feelings about books are so personal. Maybe other people feel the same? But of course, now that I’ve started, I’ve been touched at how kind and friendly book bloggers are. There don’t seem to be any monster egos in this part of the internet.

    As for book reviews, I prefer to read those on books I’ve not heard of and even on books I know I’ll never read. I don’t like negative reviews on the whole, although of course I’ve read many very interesting ones. I’d like to discuss books more, but reviews don’t always seem the best way to do this, for the reasons people have written above; I like what you say about there being no limits to what we can try…

  34. I probably said totally the wrong thing in my comment! I read a lot of reviews, but I just don’t always comment on the reviews I read. Not because they’re not interesting! Only because of the thing I said, where I feel like “Hey, I should give that book a try!” isn’t a comment worth leaving.

  35. Pingback: Back from Hiatus « Sequestered Nooks

  36. In my case I love reading reviews and find that I am so busy reading all of the good reviews that I don’t take enough time to write my own. Your reviews are always completely inspirational to me because you always make me want to be a “deeper” reader.

  37. Interesting discussion! I think I read reviews selectively; there are so many out there, on blogs and in print, that I’d drown in them if I read everything. I’m less likely to comment on a review unless I connect to the book in some personal way. And if I don’t comment, I don’t generally click over to the blog itself (I read it in my feedreader), which means the site’s stats go down. So I wonder whether blog stats and comments are a reliable measure of readership. But I don’t doubt that reviews get fewer readers, generally. I’m very curious to see what new ways of writing about books people come up with. I wish I had more time to experiment myself!

  38. Great post and a really exciting discussion! I loved reading it all and I really can’t add anything apart from saying that I identify with a number of the comment posters here. I seldom post comments – I think it really is a time issue for me – but I do enjoy reading both the reviews and the comments of others.

    ***
    Fan of The Book Report – a weekly radio show covering all things book-related. See http://bookreportradio.com for station listing and show recordings.

  39. I like reading reviews because I’m always on the lookout for something new.. This is the case with translated fiction. I also like reviews of books that I;m not likely to read – this is case with most non-fiction. I guess I like reviews period. I rarely have the time to leave thoughtful comments given all the reviews that I read.

    I’ve also noticed that I get fewer comments on my longer reviews but that’s okay. Interestingly, I get quite a number of comments on my negative reviews or on books that just didn’t do it for me. I’m going to reread one of such books because the commenters all thought that the book was interesting based on my ambivalent review!

  40. Pingback: Reviews « The Book Jotter

  41. I do enjoy your posts AND reviews. I consider you one of my lit professors! I usually do not comment, though. Thank you for always “writing really engaging and meaningful [posts], that draw me in and make me think.

    Oh, I consider Jeanne of http://necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com/ on of my lit profs, too. I was wondering if you knew of her blog – and vice versa.

  42. A very, very belated response to your fascinating post. I just began blogging today and started with a book review. Unlike what you’re discovering about other people, I mainly read blogs that provide book reviews. I gather them from a number of sources. I’ve even learned to research the New York Times archives to find reviews from as far back as the early 1900’s. Also, unlike others I rarely read the reviews until I have finished the book as I don’t want it to influence what I’ve read. At the same time, I like to find out what other people’s opinions are about the books that I choose. I’m very much interested in the authors of the books I read and am always interested to read a number of their different works.
    You spelled out beautifully what someone like me can get from reading and I will save it for future reference. Please keep on reviewing.

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