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.
Even though I worked for newspapers years ago, I never wrote reviews, but when I think about writing reviews, I think of that same sense of obligation and maybe that's why I chafe at the idea of writing reviews and don't write them on my blog anymore. I did once, but even then, looking back, I didn't do that many and maybe for the same reasons.ReplyDelete
Yeah. It can feel like a lot of work -- and I'm here to have fun. I particularly remember the burden of going to a play and having to have an opinion about it when others could just go home and forget about it . Sometimes that was what I wanted to do too. On the up side, I loved working in a newsroom.Delete
I don't write real reviews because I don't know how; I'm not a professionally trained writer. It's a nice feeling to know that about myself and it's a nice feeling to share that on my blog. It seems to lower expectations.ReplyDelete
Truth be told, most journalists in my day were not "professionally trained" and that was particularly true of critics at small papers. Usually they came from other areas and picked up what they needed along the way. Daily writing, feedback and being edited was the best training.Delete
Reactions to Reading... I like that idea.ReplyDelete
Calling myself a book reviewer never felt comfortable because I did not feel qualified for the job. But I do love to read and I enjoy the book blog community.
We are all qualified to say what we feel about a book and in so many ways book blogger voices are more interesting.ReplyDelete
I loved your thoughts on reviewing, writing, and reading, and especially enjoyed the summing up at the end: "Reading, I’m an armchair traveller. Writing, I’m mapping the emotional and mental territory I’ve covered."ReplyDelete
I love that armchair traveller idea about reading, and when I write, I sometimes feel a catharsis afterwards. Writing one of my novels helped me grieve through a significant loss via a similar event the characters experienced.
Thanks for visiting my blog.
I'm not sure I write for catharsis, but I do gain understanding when I write --and then can let it go.
Love this post, and particularly the sentence Laurel quotes. Perfect description!Delete
I'm not sure where my own blog falls on the reviewing/reacting continuum but I'm not sure it really matters. I do what I do for the pleasure I get from it and it sounds like that's where you are in your blog writing as well. :-)ReplyDelete
I think the distinction is my own. I quit blogging for about a year because I thought I should be writing reviews -- but really didn't want to and wondered why.ReplyDelete
I like how blogging about books even when you're reviewing a book on a blog is so different than a formal review at a newspaper. It's less formal and one can cut to the chase or say whatever comes to mind when thinking about the book. The freedom is so cool in blogging. When I started my blog I did so b/c I wanted to remind myself what the book was about long after I finished it. So I wrote blog reviews but luckily I consider them different than newspaper ones. I worked 15 years for a big newspaper I remember those days. But blogging is more immediate and just for fun really.ReplyDelete
Writing in first person alone can be liberating. You own what you write. Sometimes I think journalism just stiffened up my writing. I prefer the breezy styles others seem to create so effortlessly.ReplyDelete