Karen at Bookertalk wrote http://bookertalk.com/2015/02/15/book-blogs-minus-the-reviews/ last week about Blogs without the Reviews questioning the place and importance of reviews in blogs. I thought about her post.
Once I was a professional audience.
I worked as a journalist and critic writing reviews of books and plays. The newspaper I worked for owned my words. Editors could assign me what to read or see, set standards and edit my copy. My voice, in part, represented them. There were expectations of how much training and knowledge I had, what I’d likely cover and how I might cover it. Always mindful that we were a “family newspaper,” some of those standards involved matters of taste and choice in language. I wrote for their readers.
I wrote reviews.
Not any more.
I blog. I read and write whatever I want. I indulge for my pleasure in what Andi at Estella’s Revenge so aptly calls “Free-range reading.” And I add writing.
Sometimes what I want to do is review; old habits die hard; I wrote one this Wednesday. Book Talk: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Often it’s not. Instead I write what I call reactions to reading.
Reviews, as I think of them in my old-fashioned way, are primarily consumer pieces, written to give readers an idea of a book, play or movie so the reader can decide if he/she might also want to spend time and money on the work. Personal feelings are often set aside; the focus is on the work. Whether or not the reviewer likes the book is less important than the reviewer’s assessment of how well the work accomplished what it set out to do. (Because of my training, I distrust “reviews” where the primary goal is to serve authors or publishers; those whose writers are extensions of marketing departments.) Consumers can find good reviews as well as reactions-- short and otherwise -- at so many websites now – including Amazon, Goodreads, and online newspapers, etc., that I can’t imagine any stranger would simply drop by my blog just for them.
Secondarily, reviews can provoke, entertain, delight, or educate independent of the work they describe; sometimes the reviewer is an interesting enough writer the reader doesn’t care so much about the work reviewed as the work of the reviewer.
That’s the kind of writing I like to read. And many blogs do this really well. They reverse the primary/secondary functions of so-called reviews. Such writing often isn’t as complete, but it’s more personal. Whether one likes a book or not matters. That personal reaction between the reader and the book is the one I’ve come to cherish. It’s the one I’m increasingly interested in exploring. I look to bloggers to seek new -- and shorter - ways of doing this.
My first audience is now myself. Writing is the place I go to think about a book. Because I’m neither quick nor clever, I don’t extemporaneously know or say what I think or feel. I scribble away to discover the thoughts and feelings that emerge as I compose. Sometimes that means including spoilers. Sometimes it means using the book as a springboard to write about something else. I’m interested in how a book makes me feel – and how those feelings change over the course of the book. There’s pleasure but also some self-indulgence in my solitary adventuring – filling white space with the footprints of my thoughts and feelings.
I do publically post my reactions and hope others read what I write. It’s just I am less directed to write for an audience, because I’m so hazy about who that audience is. I am grateful to know members of the book blogging community drop in from time to time, and I look forward to their reactions. My awareness of others – anonymous readers, including some wacky ones who may wish me or others harm, leads to some guardedness, but it is no longer a professional reserve – either that of a professional audience member or a professional writer.
Reading, I’m an armchair traveller. Writing, I’m mapping the emotional and mental territory I’ve covered.
I’m less interested in my footprints than in where my reading-writing roaming leads me next.