At least several times per year it seems, there’s a post which sparks some debate about the nature of book blogging, what makes a good book blog, or if there’s a better/best way to blog one’s thoughts about books. I look at these flutters of disturbance as opportunities to assess and reassess my own purposes and intentions as a blogger and to conduct a self-critique of my own blogging practice. The latest flutter has to do with the “responsibility” of the book blogger to the larger reading community. Do bloggers have a responsibility? If so, what is it? How do we know if we’re meeting it? And does that “responsibility” extend beyond the blog to other outlets like Goodreads, Library Thing, Shelfari? (Goodreads is the only one that I use.)
I’ve felt conflicted about this topic since it popped up. I read Adam’s initial post several times over, I took in Jillian’s response, as well as Allie’s and O’s. And still I couldn’t figure out quite where I stood. A LOT of different issues are brought up in these posts, so many that if I were to attempt to cover them before proceeding to my own thoughts I’d spend the entire post just in recap mode. So if you’re unfamiliar yet interested, I urge you to read these posts for yourself. Having said that, my comments below should in no way be considered a direct response to any of the ideas presented in the posts above, they merely inspired me to compose my own statement on blogging, my blogging manifesto, if you will.
For what they’re worth, my thoughts on the nature of book blogging, responsibility, and community:
In an ideal world, everyone would be thoughtful and prolific, justify every claim, support every argument, and never say anything stupid. We don’t live in an ideal world. Life is messy and complex. People are messy and complex. Everyday (and I’m making this personal because I’m trying to avoid making general statements) I brush against people who say things I don’t like, who don’t share my interests and fascinations, and who often want to spout their opinions but have no interest whatsoever in a conversation. This happens. By the same token those same people, who are passionate about different things, may very well feel exactly the same way about me. I’m just another person they can’t talk to about what’s really pressing on their mind. People have jobs to go to, families to feed, lawns to mow, cars to wax, sports teams to cheer on, television to watch, and on and on, and by and large most don’t really care to discuss the symbolism of the green light in Gatsby, or how it’s hard to find a good translation of Flaubert, or the mystery of Shakespeare’s life. What draws me to the book blogging community is that being part of it lets me know that I’m not the only one in the world who feels profoundly impacted by Thomas Hardy, or who has a burning desire to discover the ins and outs of Dostoyevsky, and who spends hours upon hours compiling a list of 200+ books to read. You, all of you, help me to feel less alone in my passions.
( I mean, let’s be real about this, it’s nearly 9:00pm on a Friday night and here I sit, writing about “the responsibility of the book blogger.” )
I am also aware that my passion is not always front and center on my blog. I conduct myself in this community much like I do in “real” life. I am a quiet person of quiet passions. I observe more than I speak, I watch more than I participate, take in more than I dish out. That’s just me. And rather than be critical of how others write their blogs and conduct their blogging/reviewing experience, I’m more likely to say, “That’s just you.”
I think we have to be as forgiving and accepting and understanding in this virtual community as we would be in person. I see the book blogging community as one massive book club, only we’re all reading different books and instead of meeting up at a cafe or a library, we hop around to each other’s little spaces and offer what we have to offer. That’s all that I can promise really, I will offer you what I have to offer, and I will provide some space for you to offer what you have to offer.
I think it’s important to remember that behind the banners, behind the logos and gravatars, behind the “about me” and “interest” boxes are real people. I would never want to isolate, embarrass, or call out a blogger or reviewer for offering an opinion I didn’t like or for not thinking about something as deeply as I think they should. I want to hear what you have to say, whatever it is. If I say something that you don’t agree with, tell me why. If I got very little out of a book that for you was earth-shaking, tell me why. If you want to speak profoundly, then speak profoundly. If you want to share a memory, then share a memory. If you just want to leave a brief remark to let me know you were here, then by all means be brief. I’m glad you stopped by. Whatever you have to offer, whatever you want to share, I thank you for it.
We accept the profound with the mundane in real life, so why not in the virtual one too?
That brings me to what I see as my main responsibility (I won’t attempt to define it for anyone else) as a book blogger, and it boils down to three words : Open for discussion. Whether I write 3 pages or just say, “meh . .” every thing I communicate here or at Goodreads, or anywhere else is open for discussion. I cannot promise that everything I say will be insightful or eloquent or well supported. I can’t promise that every argument will be backed up with sufficient proof or that every feeling I have about a book or author will be justified. The only thing I can promise is that I’m willing to talk about it. I’m all ears if you want to help me see the light. But then I can’t promise that I will see the light. You might convince me, you might not. But I’m open for discussion. Discussion fuels growth; and that’s why I’m here.
Some of my early reviews on Goodreads as well as my early posts here make me cringe to reflect on them. At times I’ve considered deleting them, but I haven’t, because they are part of my process and I needed to write those posts in order to get where I am now. I still have a looong way to go, but I’ve grown a tremendous lot from the work that I’ve done here. And that never would have happened if I hadn’t just started putting my thoughts out there, for better or for worse. I’ve learned by writing and continuing to write, and continuing to read and eek my thoughts out of the muck. If I worried constantly about whether or not those thoughts were the right kind of thoughts or whether they were “worthy” of publication. . . well, I wouldn’t still be doing this.
I am sometimes objective, sometimes personal. I might be inspired to share a memory of the orange marmalade massacre that was my kitchen after my first attempt at canning, or I might be inspired to think about how a novel fits into the romantic movement. Sometimes I have so much to say I have to break it up into three extra long posts, other times I only feel inspired to write a paragraph. Sometimes my thoughts flow easily and other times I fear I’m not making any sense at all. But in order to keep growing as a reader and as a writer, I need to keep pushing my thoughts out there. I will offer you what I have to offer, and that’s all I can promise.
My opinion, as it stands now is that this “responsibility” issue is a rather personal thing. My responsibility as a blogger is driven by my individual decisions. And those decisions are quite different from the paths chosen by other book bloggers. We all have to decide what audience we hope to reach and what our goals and intentions are, and I believe that those decisions are what ultimately drive our “responsibility.” I write because I don’t want to put a book like Middlemarch back on the shelf without forcing myself to at least try and think about it a little more deeply. I write because if I didn’t I wouldn’t remember a single thing about most of the books I read. Rather than in a private journal I choose to write here, on a public space, because knowing that you are going to read it motivates me. And because connecting with you enhances my journey.
I’m just here to listen, to contribute, and to keep the conversation going . . .