…And Then It Changed My Brain

Today’s topic for Book Blogger Appreciation Week: “Reading and Blogging.” What it’s all about, right? And our clever hosts asked us to write today about a range of reading questions but the one that snagged my attention was ” Has blogging changed the way you read?”

First, a confession. I started blogging as a form of self-promotion. Back in December of 2008 I sold my historical novel Leaving Van Gogh to a publisher and it occurred to me that one way to prepare for eventual publication was to stake out an online presence. Blogging, naturally, was the logical option. And the only possible subject for a blog was books, since about all I do besides write is, yes, read. Fast. So if I wrote about each book I finished, I could count on two or three blog posts a week. More or less at random, I settled on 500 words as a length limit. Gradually I figured out about linking and adding an image to each post.

Even more gradually, I realized that self-promotion had been left far behind. I had become, in the years since college, a pretty lazy reader. I had acquired the habit of more or less filleting a book for the plot. Fine for Lee Child, less so for Herman Melville. As a blogger, I began paying closer attention as I read, dog-earing pages, following themes,comparing and contrasting. I also became more attentive to the author’s goal. I read a pretty wide range of fiction and some of it tries only to divert, while some introduces new ideas. You can only judge the merit of a book on whether it succeeds in its task, right?

But I’ve found that as a reader, even judging a book is a pretty simplistic goal. You see? A few years into the project, my intentions have shifted completely. Self-promotion is no longer the point, and I’m not really even trying to review books, per se. In fact, I’ve suffered pretty serious mission creep, because it turns out that my 500 words are an attempt to engage with each book. Maybe I highlight one aspect that strikes me. Maybe I focus on something discomfiting. Often I gush. (Those posts tend toward formlessness and run over 500 words. Sorry.)

And, yes, I do read with an awareness that I’ll be reporting to other eyes. I will be sharing my opinion, and you’ll be sharing yours back, with links and comments and suggestions. So my previously private activity has become, in the diluted but wide-ranging online world, a two-way street. I originally titled the blog “Book Group of One” because I’m too cranky to belong to an actual real-time book group. But it turns out that I now belong to a book group of multitudes.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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8 Responses to …And Then It Changed My Brain

  1. Teresa says:

    Yes, engagement with a book is the exciting thing about blogging, and I totally agree that it’s different from judging. I try to do a little of both, but judgment without engagement is not all that helpful or interesting, unless I really know the reviewer’s taste. Engagement, though, can be interesting on its own, even when I’m not interested in the book being discussed.

  2. Erin says:

    I like hearing about how people get into book blogging, and also how being a blogger changes their reading. Yours was quite a big shift, it sounds like!

    • carolwallace says:

      No more than most, I suspect, Erin. Gosh, I really like the way you’ve got your blog organized. It makes me realize how many different ways there are to choose books, and to think about them — and makes it easier, too, to navigate. Very impressive.

  3. Today’s topic has been fascinating for me – your piece and many, many others – because I read, reflect, discover books and so on, post-blogging, pretty much exactly like I always have.

    I write differently. Curious that writing is not at all a part of the topic.

  4. carolwallace says:

    If I may, Amateur: given the consistent rigor of your analysis, this does not surprise me. I’d be curious, though, to know how you write differently. I have a little notion that (at best) we develop different voices for each of our writing outlets.

    And: Maud Newton, in the NYTimes Book Review, made an interesting case recently that the demotic blogging voice descents from David Foster Wallace.

  5. How do I write differently? Many ways, I think, but the most important is more control over my argument. These days, when I make a wild leap, skipping three or four steps, I am usually doing it on purpose. But also: more control over shifts in register, more practice with complex sentences. With short ones, too. Less wobbly ponderosity. Less throat-clearing – or, just as much, but now I am likely to delete it before hitting Publish.

    Looking at the BBAW site, I now see that none of the topics, now or in years past, have been about writing.

    That Maud Newton piece reads like one of those McSweeney’s jokes I don’t get. One might think that there was slangy informal writing before Wallace. Did Newton never read the Village Voice?

    • carolwallace says:

      Good point about the “Village Voice.”

      Reading your analysis of how your writing has changed — very interesting, especially the point about shifts in register — suggests to me that many bloggers write without much awareness that this is what they are doing. Which would make “Writing” an especially good topic for next year’s BBAW.

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