On book reviews

I’ve found since I’ve begun blogging that book reviews from traditional media sources matter to me less and less. I’ve kept a list of books I’d like to read for quite a while now, many of the books coming from book reviews and some coming from recommendations from friends or my reading in various non-review places. But the list was never very long, and I wouldn’t add to it frequently. Since I’ve begun blogging, however, the list has grown at a frightening pace. I now have 150 books on my to-be-read list, which I recognize isn’t all that many compared to the lists many of you probably have, but is probably five times as long as my list from my life pre-blog. And it’s continuing to grow at that fast rate, so that by the end of the year, my list might have doubled. Hmmm … should I find a way to get that list under control? Maybe not. Maybe it should just be a list of possibilities, not things I’m absolutely going to read so as not to pressure myself, but things I might read, if the time comes when the books feel right.

I think it’s the different sort of writing I come across on book blogs that inspires me to add books to my TBR list when traditional book reviews don’t as often. I’m very interested in what reading a book feels like. I want to know what the experience of being immersed in a particular book will do to a reader. I’m interested in knowing about the story, the setting, the characters, the ideas, the writing, and all that I can get from traditional book reviews, but I also want to know about the book on a more subjective level. What did it do to you? How did you feel when you read it? And answers to these questions I’m much more likely to find on book blogs, where people don’t have to follow conventions of formality and don’t have the same pressure to keep themselves — their personal experiences and stories — out of the writing. Not all traditional book reviews are that cut and dry, I realize, but I’m much more likely to find personal, impassioned writing elsewhere, and that, I think, is what I really want.

Litlove, in her recent post on the blog genre, gets to the heart of what I want when she says that “blogging always offers a pattern of the mind that thinks, reflects, sifts information, analyses, distinguishes, recommends, enthuses. No matter what format the blogging takes, the blog reader receives a very intimate and immediate contact with a vibrant subjectivity, that is engaging with the world in the way that seems most natural and most enlivening to him or to her.” Reading this sort of writing — about whatever it is a writer finds most enlivening — enlivens a reader too. I read book blogs, and I feel like I’m encountering a mind impassioned by reading and generously sharing that enthusiasm, and I’m inspired to respond, sometimes by writing comments, and sometimes by adding books to my TBR list. I’ve always been excited about reading, but now having been a book blog reader for a while, I find myself even more excited about all the great books out there. I’m having that experience in the bookstore less and less where I’ll wander around and feel like nothing is speaking to me, no book is calling out to me to read it. Now I am much more likely to be overwhelmed with the choices.

This is not to say that I don’t read traditional book reviews anymore, because I do, but I’m much more likely to skim and skip articles, and turn instead to the blog world to see what’s out there.

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