On being a litblogger (or bookblogger?)

Courtney has a post on Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, which has some great thoughts about the book, but also some interesting musings on what it’s like to write about books and some ambivalence about claiming the title “litblogger.” She talks about finding it painful to write about books unless she is “absolutely burning up with motivation to do so” and connects that pain to years of writing about books for classes. (Courtney — forgive me if I’ve described your post inaccurately.) As a side note, I think it’s a real shame that people leave literature classes associating writing about books with pain, and as someone who occasionally makes students write about books, I’d love to know how to keep that from happening. I suppose when we’re talking about “making” students writing about books, a certain amount of pain might be unavoidable. But what I’m really interested in are the connections — or lack of connections — between what it’s like to write about books on my blog and what it’s like to write about books for class or for other scholarly purposes.

If I thought of this blog as a place to prepare for scholarly writing, I probably would have quit the blog quite a while ago. And if I thought of the blog as a place to analyze books — you know, to be thorough and careful about it, to be responsible and smart and to write real reviews and give “readings” — I wouldn’t be here. All that’s anxiety-inducing. What’s great about the blog is that I get to write about books in a way that’s purely fun. I often find myself writing about a book I’ve finished, and realizing that while I’ve got more I could say, I’m getting tired, and I’m going to wrap things up, because, you know what? — this isn’t for class or for a book review or for anybody but me, so if I don’t say everything I have to say about a book, so be it. And while I tell my students not to let quotations overwhelm their own voices, when I write about literature here, if I want to have 9/10 of my post be quotation, I can. I can let writers speak for me if I want to. I can be unabashedly personal in my responses to books; there are no restrictions on talking about what I liked or didn’t like, and I don’t even have to have a great reason for it.

It’s interesting that if you look at some of the comments to Courtney’s post, you’ll find ambivalence about the term “litblogger.” I wonder if “bookblogger” isn’t a better term, partly to get away from the feeling that we’re writing about literature, not just plain old books, and had therefore better do it well. It also interests me the way that creating a category begins to cause a bit of tension because of the way people then have to define themselves by it or against it, which can be fraught with anxiety. If I call myself a litblogger, I’ve made a claim that I’m setting out to write about literature and therefore implying that I’ve got some special insights or something to share. That requires confidence.

And you know what? After Courtney’s ambivalence about the term litblogger and about writing about books, she’s got a really great post on Russo’s novel. It’s exactly the sort of bookblogging I love: personal, thoughtful, connecting the book to an ongoing blog conversation (about plot), and offering great insights. To go from a gut feeling to analysis, without getting all serious and scholarly about it, is exactly what book blogs (or book posts, if the blog’s not solely about books) do so well. And I don’t mean to criticize those bookbloggers who get scholarly now and then — not at all; I think that, for those who enjoy it, connecting the scholarly and the personal is another thing a blog is great for, and I’d like to think that blogs might change the way we think about scholarly writing.

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