Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Shifts in Reading and Blogging

I began a post about "shoulds" and book blogging, but it was a bit long and unwieldy and really two posts.

One about what I mean about how blogging shifts how one reads, how one talks about books. And one about shoulding, which I'll hopefully have ready tomorrow.

So, blogging.

Well. It's like this. By myself? Dinner may be peanut butter on an English muffin. When I have company, is that what I'll serve? Nope. In a way, it's the same type of shift that occurs when one moves from talking with friends about books to the public arena of blogging. Things get cleaned up a little; spelling and grammar are doublechecked. Things get rewritten and revised.

There is the criticism and feedback that comes along with blogging, in a way that doesn't happen in conversations. Oh, I'm not saying conversations about books are all calm and pretty; people can agree and disagree and get emotional! But it does mean that if I post something and someone disagrees with me (either here or elsewhere), I need to be as thick-skinned as I expect authors to be when I talk about their books. I don't think one can go into blogging thinking it's going to be all "I agree, great post!"

And then there is the community. And not just the blogging community. There are also interactions with authors and publishers. Really -- how many people who sit and talk about books casually, outside of blogging (and I'm not looking at you, librarians) ever have the chance to meet authors and folks from publishing? And by "meet", I include doing interviews, Twitter, posts and comments on blogs. How many get review copies, or write articles, or speak at conferences or other programs? Not all bloggers do all these things, of course. But, still, there are connections and things happening that don't happen for the stay at home reader.

So right there, like it or not, there is a shift -- the blogger who is doing all that is no longer the same as the person sitting at home, casually reading. Is the way these two people read, or talk about books the exact same? If the blogger is reading an ARC, for example, there almost has to be a shift in reading, because the blogger knows its not the "final" copy of the book so has to take that into account when reading it.

And what does it mean to go from being "just" a consumer of an end product, the book, to being part of the professional chain that includes authors, editors, publishers, publicists, reviewers, and now bloggers? Does that alter what one does, should it, and to what extent?

Let's use me as an example.

As a librarian (which I still am), I read with two hats on. I read for me; but I also reader to see whether other readers would like that book. When I read for me, there would be a small handful of people to who I would say "OMG you must read this book!". When I read as librarian, I read as book matchmaker: who will be the perfect reader for this book? And then used those books to booktalk (or handsell) those books to library patrons, sometimes individually, sometimes in large class visits.

As a blogger, my audience per day is much more than those handful of people I used to say "read this" to. What does having that audience mean? And what does it mean for me to think, "people will read because of what I blog?" Because I am out here with this blog and these posts, what is my responsibility to the reader?

For me, because my blog is a potluck dinner, it means I try to vary what I read and review here. A bit of this, a bit of that, with a side helping of what I like because all reading for others and no reading for me is tiring and it's a sure fire way to turn the joy of reading into the job of reading.

So yes, I think that the act of blogging shifts what one does. Though what that shift means can vary differently, from blogger to blogger.

But does any of this mean a blogger opens themselves up to being told how to blog? Or allows one blogger to tell another how to blog? Or, well, allows anyone to tell them what to do and how to do it? More of my self-obsessed musings on "shoulding" on people tomorrow.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


susan said...


When I read blogs like yours and Zetta's, I become a little self-conscious. The student in me remembers to think more consciously about how I say a thing. There are times I'm in such a hurry or caught up in emotion that I forget to think of the how and that matters because my audience isn't my small circle of friends but a community I'm trying to connect with.

I'm a little worried about the shoulds I fail to do but I am very interested in hearing them just the same.

Leslie @ This is the Refrain said...

I've done a lot of thinking about this recently. Mostly because the way my blog functions has changed in the past few months. I'm still a relatively small blog, I don't get too many visitors in a day and most of them are picture views! I have ~100 followers, which is small change compared to a lot of folks. Nevertheless, I have recently begun receiving requests for ARCs, authors have commented on my blog (without me emailing them or twittering them first) and authors have sent me books. I never expected my blog to get to that level, I always imagined it a small place for myself. I've realized over the past two months that my blog, while it is still my space, is also a public space. It's important to realize that, because suddenly what you say matters. What you do matters. So like you said, it's a potluck. There's some for me, absolutely, but there's also a lot of reading and reviewing of books that are relevant, important and substantial.

So, should someone tell me how to navigate this new territory? Maybe. I've made many blogging mistakes over the past year, even if someone had told me I shouldn't do the things I did, I probably would have still made the same mistakes.

Really interesting post and I can't wait to read part 2.

Jen Robinson said...

Interesting stuff, Liz. I look forward to hearing about "shoulding" tomorrow.

For me, blogging about books has created a new distinction in my reading. I now have a concept of "books that I'm reading just for me", that I don't intend to review. I find that the longer I blog and review, the more I need those books that I read purely for myself (the english muffins with peanut butter, if you will). Otherwise, it all starts to feel like work...

Sandra said...

Interesting points. I've blogged for years about what I read but things did change after I began to accept ARCs a year and a half ago. I stopped accepting them after 6 months. I thought I chose carefully but too many are of dubious quality- I am really particular I admit. And I am a mood reader and ill a lot so not always able to keep up with committments. I also found myself seriously stressing over how to make a novel sound better than I really thought it was. I think a lot of us may struggle with that one. So I was happy to stop getting review copies and go back to reading whatever I want. I'm sure I am the exception but I'm old and judicious about what I spend my time on. I'd like to see what others have to say so I'll watch your comments. And I look forward to the second part.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

Great post Liz! I have found the way I read become different since I became a librarian and a blogger. I read a wider variety of books and I read MG and YA, when before I read mostly adult chick lit. I'm like Jen and every once in awhile I have to read a book that's just for me without any thought on reviewing it. Sometimes I'll end up reviewing it because I want to share it and sometimes I won't.

Even though I will post my honest thoughts on a book, I would never tell anyone not to read a book. I often tell my teens "well, I didn't really love it, but I'd like to know your thoughts on it. I'm not a teen and I need a teen's perspective"-they love challenging me on what I read and trying to convince me it really is the best book ever. And they love sharing thier opinions.

I guess I view blogging as a larger library world-more readers to handsell books to.

I'm interested in reading your thoughts on "shoulding!"

Liz B said...

susan, knowing ones audience is hard! especially as many readers don't comment. its actually a little scary to think about, so let's not. but i do wonder some things about audience, like should i always spell out and explain what an arc is? What ala is? how close to publication to post reviews? am i too cryptic or too wordy?

lu, recieving arcs is fun. its also one of those signs of a possible shift in what the blogger thinks. i mean, before, its 'i am blogging for me' but now its like 'ok, they didn't send it because they care what I think....they sent it because they thinkn other people care about what i think'.

greenbeanteenqueen, i so agree with you! about the just for me books, and about how with teens in person a dialogue is so good. my favorite source of what to read next can be asking teens and kids what they think i should read.

jen, part of the reason I could never resolve to blog every title i read is there are some books that i just want to be all about me, still.

sandra, if its not fun? change what is happening to keep it fun and not a job. I'm glad you found the balance that works for you.

Anonymous said...

I wonder where the line is between "Official Blog" and "Online Journal." I started out with what was clearly an online journal, with only people I actually know bothering to read it, but I read so many Official Blogs that generally my posts tend to sound slightly more crafted and pointed-to-an-audience than they used to. But I still tend to write about books more in an "I loved this book! Read it because I loved it!" rambly sort of way, and I still write as if talking to the people I know personally who I know are reading it, even though I think the dozen-or-so people I DON'T know personally are probably actually more interested in what I write about anymore! I don't know if I DO have a responsibility in how I write about things, since I don't even know who my audience actually is anymore-- but I guess that's what your next post is going to be about, with the Shoulds....

Liz B said...

susan, what i'd also like to say is that sometimes, online, because the "real" is a person alone with their computer (even if there are other people in the room!) and it's easy to forget that what gets posted is read, and read by tons of people, and may be agreed with or misunderstood; may be taken out of context; or someone may pick some throwaway line and run with it in a way you didn't imagine. if you think too much about it, you'd never blog; but it's good to know, especially when trying to funny, snarky, or sarcastic, because its hard to do those online.

rockn, i think many bloggers actually have a foot in both worlds (personl and public). some blogs start all "here i am world, gimme the arcs", others are "this is just my reading journal how did people even find it", but most, I think, started similarly to me: looking for a place to discuss books, yet, but not thinking that could mean publishers sending arcs and thousands reading your words.

so, obviously, one thing to me that separates what is "me" and what is public is arcs. NOT saying that HOW one reviews changes, no, no, no. but once you are reviewing arcs sent by a publisher, yes, you're in the public because a publisher doesn't send them to someone who is "oh this is just for me!"

Here is an example of misunderstanding: my post about shoulds that will post in about an hour? Is about staying away from shoulding each other!

That said, here is me shoulding. If a blogger is speaking at a conference about blogging? That becomes public, unless they are there only as "see one real blogger!" capacity. But if they are up in the front of the room, speaking about book blogs, how they work, publishers, publishing, to do, not to do, etc.? That is no longer the stay at home reader; and there is a responsibility there, in part because its public, in part because you are speaking on behalf of all of us and that is a huge responsibility.

tanita✿davis said...

I think you gave a good example with the peanut-butter-English-muffin-dinner thing vs. when you have actual company in your house. Blogging means you use spellcheck, you tidy things up, you use complete sentences, and you... kind of sell the book to interested readers.

Unfortunately, that's my "should." You SHOULD use spellcheck. And proper pronunciation. Because you somehow are a part of the chain of people between a writer and a reader, and if you're blogging to excite readers, you should appear to be a reliable source.

...Hm. But that's something I hadn't really thought out until just now. I find that I (shh.) don't link to people's reviews if they have spelling errors, etc. I now feel like a snob, but...

Well, shoulding. Looking forward to the rest.

Liz B said...

tanita, some of the stuff I read online about the future of publishing & marketing really plays up the role of bloggers. which makes me think it is a greater responsibility, should one then be in that role.

my not so secret shoulding of others? no original plot description, just cut & paste from publisher jacket copy/product description. but I think its a legit "should" when its done without giving proper credit!

Ms. Yingling said...

"Book matchmaker"! I like that. I don't think that blogging has changed what I read, since I need to read everything the students might be interested in. I decided long ago that my main audience would be other teachers and librarians-- I'm not entirely sure this is true, but I had to have someone in mind when I wrote. And interesting thought about the publisher description-- I only do that (with proper citation!) when I was so confused by a book that I can't come up with a synopsis myself!