The Book Blog Culture: Blogger Chronicles, Part 2

Part 2 of a series of featurettes about blogging.  Meet Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambles, Nancy of Silver Threads, Kevin of Interpolations, Belle of Belle, Book, and Candle, and Luisa of Fantastica.

Book bloggers sometimes have more power than they think.

Roman woman writingAlthough few bloggers write formal book reviews, they are members of the “book review culture,” even if their intention is to write book journals or informal musings.  Publishers and writers sometimes read blogs these days. The bloggers I interviewed say publicists occasionally offer free books:  the two English bloggers say they receive books from publishers, while the Americans and one Canadian say they seldom do (many write about dead authors).  Perhaps the publishing culture differs in the U.S. and the UK:  are bloggers more influential in the UK?

Most, but not all, are concerned when journalists or critics complain that blogs are too unpolished and amateurish.  Most regard blogging as a different genre.

Of the 11 bloggers (including myself) who returned the questionnaire about the pros and cons of blogging, four  say we often read book reviews and book review publications and are influenced by them.  Three say they do not read book reviews at all, and one very seldom does.   Four say they are more influenced by blogs than book reviews. All are influenced by a variety of sources of information about books, among them reviews, blogs, library sales, bookstores, etc.

Karen of Kaggsysbookishsramblings in the UK, who writes a blog about classics and 20th-century literature, says she doesn’t read many book reviews.  They simply don’t apply to the dead writers she reads.

There are several [blogs] I read regularly and whose opinions I trust and I’m much more influenced by them than any reviews. In fact, the sort of books I read often aren’t reviewed in printed publications. Sometimes the ‘inkies’ (as we call papers like the Guardian and Independent) will come up with good recommendations – but I lost faith in most of them several years back, when the Saturday edition of the Times stopped doing its book review supplement (which I *did* like a lot). So now I rely on blogs.

She created her own blog 18 months ago during a “readalong” of Elizabeth Taylor’s novels at the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group, and when she was asked to  guest-post on another blog, “I figured that it might make sense to have a blog of my own. I’d got so much from the book blogs I was reading and I kind of wanted to give something back by sharing my own thoughts on bookish topics.”

She enjoys the social aspects–“You meet a lot of nice like-minded people”–and the creative outlet.

Is her family supportive?  “It’s a slight elephant in the room, really. They accept I do this because they don’t want to listen to me rabbitting on about books all the time, though I do get occasional grumbles from OH about spending all that time blogging.  But he does actually recognise that I have review copies or whatever to deal with, so it’s not really a problem.”

Nancy of Silver Threads started her blog five years ago when she was actively commenting at a site called Book and Reader.  She says she does not review books, but rather records her thoughts on books. “I try to post twice a week but my average is a probably more like seven a month. I always open a post What I Read and add to it all month, meanwhile writing posts of books or subjects that particularly interest me.”

Nancy reads a variety of classics, literary fiction, and nonfiction.  Among books she read in 2013 are Fielding’s Tom Jones, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude, and Euripides’ Medea.  She also recently wrote a fascinating piece about the movie Nebraska.

What does she think of critics criticizing blogs? “I am annoyed when their statements suggest that they think all blogs are the same. Are these critics qualified to assume that all bloggers are ignorant or misinformed? I note, by the way, that many very respectable publications maintain blogs.”

Kevin Neilson of Interpolations, who writes about literary fiction and classics, started his first blog, Between the Lines, in 2009.  It consisted of interviews with readers.

Bookish people love reading about other bookish people. It’s good fun, you see. But bookish people like me often tire of depending on others for content. So I shuttered Between the Lines about a year later and started blogging at Interpolations, mainly for selfish reasons. When I read a novel, especially a good one, I suffer it like an illness and have to retch up a few observations before returning to health. That, and I hope one or two readers find something useful in my writing.

He has met people from all over the world through blogging and says it helped refine his “appreciation for works I didn’t like at first blush, as was the case with Foe and Vanity Fair. It’s uncovered some gems I wouldn’t have otherwise read like Embers and The Leopard.”

He is not especially influenced by book reviews or blogs in choosing his reading.

“In general, my reading appetite is dictated by some mysterious source in my head. I submit to it when it tells me what to read next. But I suppose I’m slightly more influenced by blogs than by book reviews in newspaper or magazine pubs, when I’m influenced at all.”

And if book reviewers or critics belittle blogs, he is not concerned.  “No, not at all. Their criticisms are either valid or not. If valid, they help improve the form. If not, they help improve our thinking as we defend and evolve the form. So it’s really a win-win and hence a non issue.”

Belle at Belle, Book, and Candle started her blog in January 2012. “The title for the blog came to me early one morning while I was in bed resting in that dreamy state between waking and sleeping. It is a play on the title of the movie Bell, Book, and Candle starring James Stewart and  Kim Novak. It has always been one of my favorites.”

Belle posts on a variety of bookish topics, from Angela Thirkell’s novels to Donald E. Westlake’s mysteries, to starting her own card catalogue at home to Chats with Southern Writers on C-Span.

Her self-imposed schedule of writing every day can be a pressure because it takes her away from reading, but she enjoys it.

Well, having a blog does give me a creative outlet. (Although I am a freelance writer and editor so it does seem as if I am writing and editing All The Time!) It has been exciting to ‘meet’ other readers through their comments on BB&C and through my reading other book blogs.

Luisa, who writes in English and Spanish at Fantastica,  is a blogging pioneer who tried out Blogger in 1999 when it was new.  Then in 2001

I formally started a daily online journal as therapy. I had just broken up a long-term relationship, I was out of a job, penniless and back at my parent’s house at the ripe old age of 28.
The blog helped me get out of bed, practice a style of writing that was completely new because I knew it was ‘public’ but I wrote like it wasn’t and I liked the feeling of being found out. When I finally started to have readers and comments it was a shocking thing and very addictive.
It was a mixture of personal anecdotes, plus music reviews. I also had a podcast.

She blogged daily till 2008 and now blogs occasionally at Tumblr.  She writes about the dangers of winter (chocolate and agoraphobia), listening to music, how glad she is that she grew up without streaming music service, and preparing to leave for her husband’s sabbatical.

She has made an impressive list of pros and cons for blogging:

*If you’re a writer with “too much on your head” you can quickly get everything out, it’s automatically organized and you can push that organization to your heart’s content with categories, taxonomies, tags, etc..
*You can develop a small community of like-minded people.
*You can personalize it as much as you want….
* It helps you to keep a certain writing discipline (this was my case and my biggest regret when I closed my main blog. My writing got very scattered.)


*Difficult to “not care” who’s reading…. I hate it when I’m happily blogging and suddenly I get traffic and it changes the way I blog. It’s involuntary, it’s ego.
*Readers are less forgiving these days; we forget there is a human being putting themselves out there. Blogging these days requires a strong backbone.
*The blog format is starting to seem outdated. There are so many publishing platforms to test and try and it’s almost as if there is one for each style of writing and one for each style of reading.
One thing is certain, people read less on the computer, more on mobile and attention is too scattered.

These fascinating observations are a great contribution to this featurette!  Thanks, Luisa!

Thanks to all the bloggers who participated in this!

Tomorrow the novelists and a critic speak out on blogs.

6 thoughts on “The Book Blog Culture: Blogger Chronicles, Part 2

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