Reading Journal (9 Sep): What is Rebecca Reads?

I didn’t even respond to comments over my short vacation weekend. It was so refreshing, and yet for some reason, I feel like I was being neglectful. That suggests to me that I’ve been tied to the blog a bit too much, and I think I may make it a habit to not check the blog every once in a while. (Is that just sad?)

I did read a little bit this week, in between the family dinners and my son’s early-birthday picnic (he’s just a few weeks away from age 2). I finished my reread of Beloved, which I loved, and I read a shorter book for my book club.

Because I’ve been away from the blog, I’ve been thinking about why I blog about books to begin with. I’ve wanted to explore what my blog is, and when Lezlie wrote a post pondering how her blog is perceived by her readers a few weeks ago, I put that idea on my radar too. I’m not sure how my readers perceive this blog (that’s a question for another day), but here are some my thoughts on why my blog is what it is, and what I see it as.

Before May 2008, I posted a few book reviews on a personal blog. Then I discovered a world of blogs only about books, and I became very excited to be a part of that community. Because of other blogger’s reviews, I found myself reading more books, and writing more about them. My personal blog is private to family and friends, who aren’t interested in reading my book reviews, so I was disappointed when I didn’t get comments on my thoughtful reviews. I wanted to discuss books! So I decided to move my books to a public space, where I don’t have the burden of privacy (on my private blog, I’m mostly concerned for my son’s sake since I post his baby pictures.)

I like to read in all genres. My fiction is generally classics and literary fiction, but I have begun branching out to the lighter books too. Book blogging has encouraged me to try modern fiction, graphic novels, and young adult. My husband has encouraged me to try some science fiction and adult fantasy, and I’m finding I enjoy those too. I try to read some of the forgotten genres (short stories, poetry, and drama) as well, though I find that to be more difficult to do, for some reason.

While I normally read popular nonfiction, I’ve been in specific nonfiction moods lately and so I’ve been reading more academic nonfiction in the past months.

Because I’m a stay-at-home mom to a toddler, I also read (and sometimes review) children’s literature, including picture books and chapter books. I tend toward the classics since that’s what I fondly remember and want to share with my son. It’s interesting to revisit my childhood favorites in a new generation – and see how inappropriate some aspects are!

I have a hard time seeing my blog as strictly “classics” or “nonfiction” or “literary fiction” or “children’s.” I want to be a broad reader, and I aim for variety in my reading. But I also want to be a deep reader. I write very long “reviews” (usually about 1000 words) because I consider my blog post to be a chance to explore the themes I encounter in a book and the feelings I have during and after reading it. I don’t rate books.

For me, reading is about the book’s impact on me. I don’t accept any ARCs because I am not interested in meeting someone else’s schedule or reading plan. Besides, Jane Austen and Mark Twain and company aren’t writing much these days.

In the end, my blog has two audiences. It is written for the community because I want to discuss and delve into the books I’m reading. But my blog is also for me: I selfishly want to be able to revisit the themes and emotions I encountered via these books at some point in the future. Capturing a book via a “review” does that for me.

Are the reasons you began book blogging similar? Why do you review books?

This post is my thoughts on the past and present of my blog. Next Friday’s BBAW theme is “goals for the future.” Start thinking and planning for your own posts!

Finished Reading

See my notes by each book below.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (275 pages; fiction). FINISHED! For the Beowulf on the Beach Challenge, the Summer Lovin’ Challenge, and The RIP IV Challenge. I loved rereading this book.
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (280 pages; fiction). FINISHED! For my IRL book club next week. It will be good to discuss it (it wasn’t my favorite, but my book club may persuade me otherwise.)

My Books

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (librivox.org audiobook, on 13 of 27 segments, about 16 hours total; fiction). For the RIP IV Challenge.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (42 read of 190; children’s fiction). I am reading this aloud to my son at a very slow rate.
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (25 read of 450 pages; fiction). For the book club I’m hosting at the library. I’ve read one chapter; it started on page 20.
  • The Stories of John Cheever (20 of 61 stories, 820 pages total; fiction/short stories). Part of my Pulitzer Challenge. On hold for the next week. I am not feeling very motivated. Should I read this or not?!

Old Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

  • Gulliver’s Travels: The Politics of Satire by Ronald Knowles (150 pages; nonfiction/literary criticism). I have yet to write my review of Gulliver’s Travels, but I will probably not read this.
  • Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: Modern Critical Interpretations edited by Harold Bloom (195 pages; nonfiction/literary criticism). I have yet to write my review of Gulliver’s Travels, but I will probably not read this.
  • Twentieth Century Interpretations of Gulliver’s Travels edited by Frank Brady (115 pages; nonfiction/literary criticism). I have yet to write my review of Gulliver’s Travels, but I will probably not read this.
  • The Pooh Bedside Reader by A.R. Melrose (160 pages; nonfiction/fiction). Because I love Winnie-the-Pooh. This has excerpts from books and poems, early criticism, and personal stories of Milne.

New Library Loot

I got a no new books this week. Amazing!

Fantastic Finds

Other than BBAW next week, here are some other things going on.

Fiction

I’m really trying to keep track of books I want to read via this method, but it’s very hard. Are you all going to keep writing great reviews of great books during BBAW?

  • The Thorn Birds by Colleen Mccollough. Reviewed at Bibliofreak (via Historical Fiction Bookworms Carnival). Historical fiction about early 20th century rural Australia.
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Reviewed at At Home With Books (via Historical Fiction Bookworms Carnival). I liked March and this sounds interesting.
  • Gossamer by Lois Lowry. Reviewed by Suey at It’s All About Books. I read lots of Lowry’s children’s books when I was a kid, but I have never heard of this one.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Jenny at Shelf Love loved the three weeks she spent reading this historical chronicle (apparently, it’s not a novel). Because she loved it so much I feel a little less intimidated. A little.
  • The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji. Eva says it’s about colonial East Africa, a subject I know little about.
  • Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong. Eva says it’s a YA book that anyone could appreciate, plus it gives some insight into communist Vietnam.
  • The Reef by Edith Wharton. Eva loves this little-known Wharton, but she won’t even tell what it’s about – we just have to go read it.
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. Eva says this is a stream of consciousness book, and she liked it.
  • The Aeneid by Virgil. Jason at 5-Squared says “Virgil looks AROUND for goodness sake.” It’s been on my “read really soon” list for a full year now, and I still haven’t.
  • The Master and the Margarita by Mikhal Bulgakov. Teresa at Shelf Love says this is just plain fun, politics aside.
  • Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. Emily at Evening All Afternoon says she likes it even better than The Good Earth. Granted, it’s about turn-of-the-century Chicago, not China, but she says the “universalizing approach” is similar.

Nonfiction

You all need to review more nonfiction! This is always much smaller than the fiction list.

  • Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande. Reviewed by Eva at A Striped Armchair. Thoughts on medicine in the 20th century.
  • Paris Review Interviews. Lezlie at Book N Border Collies says these interviews of authors are just awesome. Looking at the list of authors, I believe it!!

Comments

  1. says

    Like you, I started the blog as sort of a public reading journal, as I had been jotting down notes on books I had read for about a year or two leading up to starting the S&TI. I wanted to opportunity to formalize my thoughts and to also work on my writing (which is why I don’t always write about books, but whatever topics strike my fancy and that I feel I want to commit some time and effort to). Of course, one thing I love about book blogging is that there really is a community. Sometimes when I write a book review and it fails to elicit many comments I take it personally, though I know I shouldn’t as first and foremost the writing is for me, and if other people take some enjoyment from it or find it edifying in any way, then that’s really just a bonus. But nonetheless, I want to be able to discuss books with people who also love reading… it’s not about building the stats on my site or getting thousands of people by, but I like the sense of building ties with other readers similar to myself. To know that there are people like you out there whose thoughts I respect and whose posts I always look forward to reading (and whose feedback on my own posts is always appreciated), that’s really the best reward. Well, that and all the books I’ve learned about and added to my TBR list as a result of frequenting all these fabulous blogs, of course! ;)

  2. says

    I have so many comments to this post!!! lol

    I also tend to write long reviews when I’m reviewing an individual book (vs. my TSS post), and I love it that way. I just roll my eyes whenever I see ‘advice’ to newbie bloggers to be brief.

    I shall think more about how I see my blog and probably end up writing a post on it so I don’t hijack your comments!

    I read The Thorn Birds this year, and it was awesome. It was total soap opera melodrama, but McCullough is a strong writer, so it still works. :D I read Gossamer for the first time last year (havign been a fan of The Giver since I was 7), and it’s marvelous. Sad and hopeful all at once, and with characters I won’t forget (so…pretty much like The Giver).

    And War and Peace is awesome!!! You will love it!!! (Just get the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation.) Have I used enough exlcamation points yet? The Master and Margarita is really good as well! (And there’s a P&V translation.)

  3. Amanda says

    I blog about books for pretty much the same reasons – both to interact with the community about something I love and to keep my impressions for myself – but I do like to rate books. I’ve got a very compartmental sort of mind, I think, and that helps me put things in perspective. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how book bloggers shouldn’t rate, and I don’t agree. Not that I mind when they don’t, but the idea of blanket saying what a book blogger should and shouldn’t do doesn’t work for me. I like options to do things my way.

    Gossamer is a very cute book. I read it around Christmas. I believe it’s a fairly new book of hers.

  4. says

    I agree with so much you said. A blog tour for Jane Austen would be fun :) but yeah, not much new there. Plus I don’t think she needs any help.

    I really need to go back and read my reviews and see if I’ve changed my mind about any of them.

  5. says

    I blog about books because I like to read and talk about books. I plan to have business as usual plus BBAW posts next week.

  6. says

    Steph, I feel the same way about comments. One time i wrote a post and five hours later there were no comments! I was so sad. I went back to reread it and try to figure out why no one was interested and, um, the comments were turned off. Oops. I also find that I get few comments on nonfiction posts. Now, what is that? Why don’t people like nonfiction!!

    I kind of worry about getting more regular readers — I struggle to keep up as it is! So yes, I don’t look at stats so much anymore either.

    Eva, I should have added somewhere in this that these thoughts were also prompted by a comment of yours somewhere — you said you don’t really care about relationships with authors or publishers because it’s all about the book for you! I feel the same way.

    When I was a newbie blogger, I thought brevity was good too. I’ve since changed my mind, obviously :) I don’t think I can possibly be brief.

    I’m glad to hear you liked those books. Some day I’ll get through everything!

  7. says

    Amanda, I have no problems with others rating books: I just can’t possibly. There was a post I found via twitter yesterday about how a review without a numerical rating isn’t valid, which I obviously disagree with, and so the issue is top of my mind. I just can’t do it, but if it works for others, that’s great. Keep doing it, and I don’t mind! :)

    Chris, that’s such a great idea! We should start a “dead people’s blog tour” where we take a book (say Jane Austen’s S&S or something) and each do an author interview and review the book on a schedule…..sigh. Sounds complicated, and I couldn’t send you a free book. If only…

    Kathy, google reader is going to be crazy, isn’t it!!

  8. says

    Why did I start blogging? If I can remember it was because I was bored one day. Of course that isn’t very interesting, so allow me to embellish a little.

    I blog because none of my friends are major readers, in fact, most of them don’t read that much. They certainly don’t talk about books. That’s OK but blogging gives me a chance to talk to like-minded people about something I love.

    I slightly disagree with the notion that blogging is for you and it doesn’t matter if you don’t get comments. For me, comments is the bedrock of the blogosphere. They make the community, otherwise you might as well write on a piece of paper.

    ………………………………………………

    Ugh, Dracula. That was ruined by me by one of my lecturers who insisted that it was about English landlords in Ireland. I insisted it wasn’t. He ignored me, probably because I said it in my head.

  9. says

    I have always read a lot, but I have a terrible time remembering what I read because I don’t take the time to really think about it. I had tried keep notes on my reading, but couldn’t stay motivated. When I learned that Jenny, who has always been a literary soul mate of sorts, had a book blog, we got to talking about it, and she invited me to come on board.

    At first, Shelf Love seemed mostly like a fun way for Jenny and I to stay connected with each other, even though we live on opposite ends of the country. That’s still a huge benefit, but the other great thing is getting to really talk about books with more depth that I get to with many of my face-to-face friends (even my book club friends). The book blogging community is wonderful, and it’s so great to be part of it.

  10. says

    Your comments about reading old classics were interesting to me, because that’s more what I read, too (I worry everytime I say something like that, like I’ll sound snobbish or holier-than-thou, I hope I don’t… :/). I agree, it’s very hard, community wise, reading an old book, because there isn’t a bunch of people reading it, and, I wonder sometimes, if people kind of just skip past it, since largely they may have already heard of it, and already know what it’s about. Then there’s the fact that when you’re reading, say, Moby Dick, chances are that anything you have to see has already been said, you know? I feel like, “Well, I’m enjoying this, but heckifiknow if it’s doing any good for anybody else.” I’m too dumb for my genre, that’s the problem! ;)
    I love your nonfiction reviews, btw, and sorry I don’t always comment, I’m not as good at the whole ‘being friendly’ thing as Amanda or you or Trish or Nymeth… :/.

  11. says

    DamnedConjurer, it sounds like we were pretty similar: I desperately wanted someone to talk to about my books and none of my family commented on my personal blog. In fact, none of them — not my husband, mom, sister, etc — read Rebecca Reads, let alone comment!

    And yes, while my blog is partly for me to have a record of my thoughts, the fact that I started a separate blog because I wanted comments does testify to me that comments help make it fun. :)

    Re: Dracula. I’m not loving it. I felt it started great and then….went down hill. But it’s not horrible. Maybe it’s the free Librivox narration. It’s driving me nuts.

    Teresa, oh that’s awesome that Jenny was so kind to “bring you on” you have a great balance on your blog together. I always enjoy your reviews.

    I agree, the community is great.

    Jason Gignac, When I told someone I read classics, they said “So….are you a book snob?” I’m afraid I sometimes am, since I have no desire to read Twilight and such. But at the same time, does choosing not to read a classic so one can read Twilight likewise make someone a book snob? Interesting how a term like “classics” does that.

    I personally love to read reviews of classics I’ve already read. It reminds me either (1) why I liked it or not in the first place or (2) why I really like to read it/or not or (3) whether or not I should go reread it.

    As for the “friendly” thing, I imagine being employed gives you far less time to comment :). It is so time consuming!!

  12. says

    Wow, that is an amazing list that you’ve put together there.

    I review books because I like to be able to have a written record of what I thought of the books I have read. I have also found that I process what I’ve read or learned from a book a lot more if I write about it.

  13. says

    Alyce, amazingly, I end up with a long TBR additions list every single Wednesday! Crazy what blogging does to the TBR!

    I remember books better if I write about them too!

  14. says

    I started blogging for very similar reasons to you and like you have found that my reading tastes have broadened a lot thanks to the wonderful recommendations of the blogging community.

    I love the fact that you read your own books and review many forgotten classics. Thank you for introducing me to many great books!

    One thing you are perhaps missing out on by reading older books is the chance to interact with the authors. One of the best things about blogging is that I have had the chance to interact with several authors – I didn’t even think about that sort of thing when I started, but have been amazed by their kindness and willingness to be involved in the blogging community.

    At the end of the day we must ensure we are blogging for the right reasons and enjoy what we are doing. Feel free to take as many breaks as you like – we’ll all still be here!

  15. says

    I’m going to have to join Eva in her eye-rolling :P People blog for all sorts of reasons and I respect them all, of course, but I don’t like being told what to do.

    I write long posts too, and I’m okay with that. Nothing wrong with brevity, but I’m wordy and I just can’t change that. Also, like you I also blog for myself – if I didn’t have a blog I’d probably be keeping private reading journals anyway. And also like you and Eva, I’m not very interested in relationships with the publishing world. It’s other readers I want to connect with.

  16. says

    I started out blogging in a similiar way as you– as a reflection of all, or most, parts of my life. I became less comfortable posting about my family (although I was always considerate about their privacy from the beginning)– and once I joined facebook, that became a better way to keep family/friends up to date about us :-).

    I also wanted to record what I was doing in my studio– making art quilts, etc; but after a while that bored me (writing about it). Also, I never seemed to have good enough pictures of my projects to post! So those posts have decreased.

    What never bored me has been writing about the books I’ve read. I don’t get to talk books with people very much, so blogging about books has been a great outlet.

    I’m going to try to put up some non-BBAW (but still bookish) posts next week, because I have some catching up to do :-). I’ll see how it goes.

  17. says

    I LOVE the idea of blog tours for classic books Chris and Rebecca! If you ever start something like that, I’m completely in on it. :D

  18. says

    Jackie, I suppose it could be missing out to not interact with authors, but I’m actually not sad about it. I really am not at all interested in authors, especially modern authors, and I’m not sure why. I just like to read the books, not try to talk about “why” it is a book.

    I’m glad breaks are ok in your book! I think I need to read and blog less…

    Nymeth, I’m always trying to curb my thoughts so my posts don’t get even longer! I’m quite wordy, so I don’t mind it when others are either. I, too, am glad for the other readers: it truly does make it fun!

    Valerie, I can totally relate. I started separate blogs for my other hobbies, but reading is the one most conducive to blogging. The other ones are boring to keep online. But also, I haven’t found the communities for them, so it’s harder to be motivated when I’ve never received a comment!

    I think I may post a review or two next week. I’m quite behind. Of course, I havne’t read much this week, so maybe I’ll catch up!

    Eva, I’m going to ponder this. I think we could do it and it would be so fun!

  19. Bella says

    I love this post, Rebecca!

    I recently stopped accepting ARCs and started to ponder why I blogged and for whom. I must say I’m feeling very refreshed at reading on my schedule, instead of a publisher or author’s now. I find I’m actually enjoying every book I pick up now.

  20. says

    Bella, I’m not suggesting that EVERYONE that reads ARCs is reading on someone else’s schedule or that it’s wrong. As you suggest, I also tend to enjoy every single book I read because I’m reading it at the moment I want to be reading it. And I can take my time about it!

  21. Bella says

    Oh no I agree. Some people manage to read them and enjoy most of them immensely. I found that I was missing my library of TBR, and was getting so frustrated by not getting to them. The first book I read after I gave up the ARCs felt so good.

  22. says

    Thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Rebecca. I’m similar to you in that I write long reviews, love bookish conversation, and feel like ratings are beside the point (for myself – nothing against other people using them).

    I think a lot of the time, advice for newbie bloggers makes certain assumptions that aren’t necessarily true. Like, it’s probably a good idea to maintain brevity if your top priority is garnering a huge number of followers really quickly, but that’s not a goal for everyone.

  23. says

    I hate this whole do this, do that mentality. I say do what works for you. Write long posts, short posts. If someone isn’t going to read a long post because they might get bored then they can go somewhere else. I want readers who are going to be around for the long haul not causal readers.

    ugh, Librivox, sometimes free=rubbish. It takes skill to read out loud and also equipment to rid of the breathing and the whatnot.

  24. says

    Great post, Rebecca. I go through spurts with responding to comments. It’s hard to strike a balance for me.

    My goal for next year is going to be all about balance – balancing ARCS versus whatever strikes my fancy, writing for my blog versus reading and commenting on other blogs, etc…

  25. says

    Bella, I’m always missing my TBR! Reading 12-16 books a month won’t even make it smaller, since I add about 100 a month!

    Emily, I do think I had different expectations when I first started out, which is why I did things a certain way. My goals have evolved and I like that!

    DamnedConjuror, I’ve had some great Librivox experiences, but this one is really hard to get through…ah well. It’s not the breathing, just some of the readers have irritating voices.

    Yeah, I’ve reached the point where I will write what I want to write. If someone doesn’t like it, there are 1000s of books blogs out there.

    Literate Housewife, I’m thinking my goals are going to be about balance too. It’s just what I need more of this year!!

  26. says

    Rebecca, you’re amazing! I have no idea how you read so many books! Or post so often about the books you read! And leave thoughtful comments on other people’s blogs! :D

    To be honest your question about why we blog/began blogs makes me feel a little guilty, because I’ve really begun to enjoy not taking extensive notes (or any notes at all) etc etc. Though sometimes all the thoughts in my head start to spill out into my blog, I’ve been content lately with just reading and reading and reading. I really do love discussing books, but then sometimes I think my blog isn’t worth all the effort.

    Anyway, getting to the point, I just wanted to say that I’m also reading War and Peace right now and it is so incredibly good. I’m finding it so much less of a drag than Anna Karenina.

    Hope you enjoy it too :]

  27. says

    Exactly.

    I’m terrible at reading out loud from a book, I adopt a monotone and my mouth gets all dry, so I stumble on words. Also, I sound silly on tape (but everyone says that).

  28. says

    Tuesday, I don’t know how I read them all either! To clarify, though, the Fabulous Finds are reviews that make me want to read the book; I’m not reading ALL of those!

    Don’t feel guilty: you are in school right now being mentally tried. I approach my blog and reading as my post-graduate “education.” If I were in school, it would probably not be fun to sit down and try to write a “report” when I finished reading. You just touch base whenever you can.

    I do look forward to War and Peace someday; I haven’t started it yet!!

    DamnedConjuror, yes, some of the librivox readers should just NOT be readers…

  29. says

    Thanks for sharing about your reasons for blogging. I think your blog is great, and I appreciate your thoughts.

    I like to blog about books I’ve read. I mainly do it to keep a record of books I’ve read, and also how I felt about them. I have accepted a few ARCs, but I don’t really go seeking them out.

    I guess I am not a blogging superstar. I feel like my blog is far and away from the quality of others. I don’t do giveaways or author interviews. I think if I tried to do all those things, it would just take more time away from reading and being a mom. I blog to record my thoughts and write my haikus and that works for me.

  30. says

    This is a wonderful post. I think that every once in awhile, I need to revisit why I started blogging and what my intent is because it is so easy to become distracted and forget what it was in the first place.

    I blog for myself, mostly. After I had my daughter, I felt like I had neglected myself for too long and I needed to do something that I enjoy…I used to go to writing classes, but it’s difficult because I work, too, so I don’t get a lot of time at home. So, now, I blog when she goes to bed or is taking a nap. Works for us.

    In regards to all thing blogging (and most things about life), there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. It’s about doing what works for you :)

  31. says

    Haiku Amy, I don’t know what “blogging superstar” really means, but I don’t think giveaways makes someone one. In fact, sometimes lots of giveaways are a turnoff to me because they aren’t necessarily books that interest me! If I did them, it’d take away space for what I really want to talk about. So I think blogging is really about what you need: like you say, you’ve found the right balance in your life! I love how everyone does something a little different and it’s OK.

    Tracie Yule, I’ve been writing so many reviews lately, I haven’t been thinking about what my blog is! So it is good to slow down and ponder it.

    I think my son’s birth (and my subsequent quitting work) prompted me to find something for me too, and blogging was it. I am always so impressed with those people who work as well as blog as well as have kids! So many things to do! I’m glad you still find time to blog on top of it all. Like you say, it’s something for *you* to enjoy.