We listened to Aretha when I was a waitress.  Her version of “Respect” was better than Otis Redding’s, we thought.

We thought a lot about respect.  None of us was really getting it.

Ellen Burstyn and Chris Christopherson in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More.

Ellen Burstyn and Chris Christopherson in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More.

I was a bad waitress.  I was too intent on reading Doris Lessing to pay attention to my customers.  I once dropped a plate of spaghetti on somebody’s lap.  He left a huge tip because I was so embarrassed.

Once a group of 30 Amish people came in and ordered milkshakes.  We had one milkshake machine.  We served them.

But we didn’t get respect.

We didn’t really expect it.

In the Midwest, even if you’re smart, you don’t get respect.  You’re not allowed to brag about your achievements.  You are not allowed to brag in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, or Minnesota.

If you’re a waitress, your achievements are minimal.

If you’ve won a prize, it’s hard to work it into the conversation.

If a friend stops speaking to you when you’ve won a prize he or she expected to win, that’s another reason not to brag.

When bloggers congratulate themselves and boast about their achievements, I’m always thinking, They can’t be serious.  Sometimes I think English bloggers get more respect than Americans.  But then I can think of more star English bloggers than American bloggers.  Who ARE the star American bloggers?

So now I’ll congratulate myself.  I have been blogging here for exactly a year.  When I started Mirabile Dictu on Dec. 11 last year, I wasn’t looking for respect.  I simply needed to do better.

I was tired of reading critics in The New York Times, Slate, Salon, The Guardian (and if I’ve missed anybody, let me know) who said that blogs, Twitter, and other social media were too “nice” and ruining criticism.

Well, fuck, I thought.  Don’t they know we could do better?

I liked some of these critics; some of them I liked less.  I dismissed what they said.  We were not writing essays; how could they mistake us?   But I was also a little worried.  Were reactions on Goodreads changing the way editors edited books? I hoped not.

If they are, that’s too bad.

Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles, used to be an editor.  When she said at a reading that she knew what people liked to read, something clicked in my brain that said, Uh oh.  I like her book very much, but when people think they know what we like to read…no, that’s not good.

Anyway, I didn’t start this blog to get respect or figure out what people like to read.  I just  decided to do (marginally) better at keeping a book journal that is also my diary.

So what have I accomplished this year?

1.  I  intended to write more punctiliously and less often than I did at my old blog.  I still write very, very often. Possibly more often than I used to.

2.  I intended to be more tactful.  I have been marginally.  I lost a reader over Jane Austen, though.

2.  This year 58% of the books I’ve read so far are by women and 42% by men.   Last year my book journal stats were so out of whack in favor of women that I tried to correct them.

3.  I have (I think) written about more contemporary writers this year than last.

4.  I continue to read a lot of classics and reprints.  I have read fewer Viragos. I hope more will turn up at the Planned Parenthood sale.  I haven’t read any Persephones this year.  I recommend Enid Bagnold’s The Squire (which is one of Persephone’s present offerings):   I read it a few years ago.  I need to read more books by small presses.

5,  I interviewed five of my “Best of 2013 So Far” writers (see sidebar): Peter Stothard, author of Alexandria:  The Last Nights of Cleopatra,  Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances, Karen E. Bender, author of A Town of Empty Rooms, D. J. Taylor, author of The Windsor Faction, and Lionel Shriver, author of Big Brother.


It is about writing for myself, being honest about books (a book can be brilliant even if it’s not absolutely to my taste), trying not to over-explain, and amusing myself  with semi-personal essays.


Interview bloggers about blogging.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF BLOGGING?  I do need to find out about more blogs.  Some seem to have burned out.  I recently weeded several from my blogroll, not because they were bad, but because I never visited them.  Please recommend your favorites.

9 thoughts on “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  1. I give you RESPECT, especially as I think we have had a good year together. I grew up in Ohio and they don’t give much respect there either, especially if you are female, especially if you do better than most of the boys in your high school class.


  2. Love your goals – I think at the end of the day you have to blog for yourself, that’s what makes each blog individual and enjoyable to readers.


  3. About respect (sympathy might be more accurate, but respect is in the same ballpark): I had an Irish friend, a bookstore owner from County Cork. He told me that so long as you were a hard-luck case, down for the count and so forth, the Irish loved you, respected you for your suffering. But once you got up off the canvas and started winning, envy took over. All at once, you became too proud, arrogant, etc. I believe this pattern extends well beyond the Emerald Isle. But in the Midwest, we admire all success stories this side of those involving major felonies. Failure is viewed as evidence of moral turpitude. BTW, don’t forget Michigan when listing Midwestern states.
    As for blogging, beginning in 2009 I did a fair amount of it, for about three years. But I never developed much of a following. I don’t think it had to do with my writing so much as never getting a handle on how the system works. I found it hard to motor around the Internet glad-handing, schmoozing, high-fiving, liking and nicing everything that types. And that’s what seems to be required in the blogging world.


  4. Nancy, I agree we’ve had a good blogging year. We have our blogs, we haver our things to do, and we know what we want to write about. The whole Midwest is without narrative! That’s why we can’t brag.


  5. Karen, i love blogging! We’re in a whole different land of writing.

    Barry, I’m adding Michigan. I don’t know Michigan, so I left it out..:) Readership of blogs is an odd thing. Facebook helps, if you have Facebook, which I don’t. I briefly had Twitter, and perhaps one or two people found out about my blog. But in general, except for my commenters and some of my fellow bloggers, I don’t quite know who’s reading the blog.


  6. I discovered your blog this year and I think I might have sent you fan mail at one point. I was so happy to have found it because this is exactly what a blog should be. Above everything a blog should be personal but it must be well written. It had been ages since I read complete posts.
    I closed my 10 year old blog in 2008 and it was a stupid thing to do. I loved writing it.

    Now I roam around from platform to platform trying to re-create what I had but I haven’t been able to. I live in a trilingual environment, I speak Spanish as my native language, but culturally I’m all anglophone and I live in Montreal where I’m obligated to speak French so when it comes to blogging I jump from one language to another which also changes the way I express myself.

    I do have paper journals though and this year I bought the moleskine book journal which has been pretty handy in remembering important details of books I’ve read.
    I’m so picky about what I read that I can’t deal with book blogs in general, I think one has to have an affinity with the blogger and in this case I think I might have found your blog while googling stuff about Penelope Mortimer.

    So I’m looking forward to your upcoming blogging year!

    By the way, your blog has also motivated me to leave comments again 🙂


  7. Hevaens, Luisa, thank you for the compliments! I hope you get back to blogging, though that is not the end-all, and the Moleskine journal sounds as though it works as well. Can you revive your old blog? I’m sure you’d have built-in fans from your online writings.

    I do love blogs, but it is easy to burn out.

    I have very much enjoyed your comments, because they are more like conversation than comments.

    Being trilingual sounds good. I do wish I’d learned more “living” languages, but I’m afraid I studied others the way I do Latin, only for the reading. I’d be lost in Montreal. It’s great that you can change the way you express yourself.

    I’m so sorry I missed your fan mail! I usually get Google+, Match.com (why I can’t quite understand), begging letters, and other weird things in my Mirabile e-mailbox. Perhaps yours is still there, or perhaps I accidentally deleted it. It’s hard to know. Occasionally I hear from a real person…


  8. Interesting that critics and journalists in the UK tend to be dismissive of book bloggers and yet craft bloggers, finance bloggers, celebrity bloggers and particularly food bloggers tend to get interviewed in the media, quoted at length, magazine articles etc etc.


  9. Nicola, I have to laugh! Yes, all the publications here have blogs, too. I haven’t read any articles dismissing blogs lately, so maybe it was a 2012 thing. We’re a blogging sub-world, writing our own things, not for the same audience.


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