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?