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Sunday Salon: What I Talk About When Talking About Reading

February 26, 2012

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When you’ve been book blogging for over five years, you notice that certain topics seem perennial. The most recent one to re-surface is whether or not book bloggers are writing reviews; Iris wrote an excellent post last week that has had me thinking. I’m not going to talk about whether my posts are reviews or not, or even go into the pitfalls of ‘objectivity.’ Instead, I want to talk about the discrepancy between my actual experience while reading a book and how I write about that experience (w nods to Carver & Murakami for the post title!).

I don’t want to sound conceited, but my reading is so much more complex than my blogging. As I move through a book, my brain is engaging with the author on a variety of levels; if it’s a novel, it might be teasing out themes or catching references to other books or just bringing the words to life so that I can almost see the action playing out in front of me. If it’s nonfiction, I’m evaluating an author’s claims, weighing their evidence, storing away random facts for future conversations. Reading is active, on a mental level anyway, and by the time I finally sit down to write a post, I’ve sifted through so many thoughts and reactions, deciding which ones are important enough to merit mention. Inevitably, most of that process, the process of really delving into the book in front of me, gets lost. None of this is to say that I’m embarrassed by or even frustrated with my blog posts; I just want to recognise that reading and talking about reading are two very different things. They have to be: in order to truly record all of my reading experiences, I’d have to have an almost minute-by-minute log! And then I’d just run into the observer effect anyway.

All of this has been heightened by my new need to limit my typing and thus writer shorter posts than ever before. I suppose if I wanted to, I could simply devote multiple short posts to one book, perhaps going into a different title every week. While this appeals to me on one level, I just can’t accept only writing about, at most, fifty-two books a year when I read so many more than that. So I employ generalities, and shorthand, and lots of adjectives to try to capture the big picture of my reaction to a book. Because at the end of the day, describing every little moment of my reading experience, every nuance and concept and thought a book provokes in me, would be impossible anyway. And the little sketches I create are enough to keep my memory of a book alive and with any luck explain why I hope others read it; while they may be formed with quick, crude lines, they’re certainly better than nothing at all.

Let’s move on to a few of those sketches, shall we? :)

Books I Loved and Found Every Page a Delight

Read Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor if…you enjoy well-written memoirs with a spiritual flavour or you’re interested in the Episcopal church or you love books set in the American south.

Books I Would Have Loved, Except for One or Two Little Quibbles or Books I Really, Really Liked

Read Feminism Is for Everybody by bell hooks if…you’re a feminist already looking for some preaching to the choir or you’re not sure of the connection between racism and sexism or you’d like to review the basic theories of feminist philosophy.

Read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers if…you have a thing for well-written fiction by young authors or you love southern lit or you enjoy character-centered novels with a varied cast.

Read Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery if…you’re looking for a classic comfort read or you’re trying to branch out from Anne.

Books That Aren’t For Me but I Could Still See Some Good Points

Read Eucalyptus by Murray Bail if…you love stories with a fairy tale/magical realist flavour and can overlook the truly unfortunate gender issues that permeate the whole book.

The Sunday

19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2012 7:39 am

    I understand your process completely. I still write multiple posts per book and I don’t manage to discuss everything I want to discuss. I think that might be impossible, especially when reading so many classics! But I would rather have too much to say than nothing at all and the pieces I do manage to write about work until the next time I read the book.

    I read “Ain’t I a Woman” by Bell Hooks in college and really loved it. I still have my copy somewhere…but it was an interesting read regarding race and feminism. It was my favorite book from that class and gave me a lot to think about. I’ll definitely add that other title to my TBR!

  2. Jillian ♣ permalink
    February 26, 2012 8:00 am

    “Observer effect” was interesting to read about…

  3. February 26, 2012 9:10 am

    I agree–when I sit down to write a review, I have a tough time deciding what particular reading experience I want to convey. Because it’s hard to fit all of my book-related feelings into a five- or six-paragraph review, I’ve really come to love using a rating system. It forces me to be clear about what points I want to touch on. If I know after reading a book that it was only an okay read, rating it as “three stars” gives me a goal for writing the review: I want to convey that it had roughly equal pros and cons, and give examples to support this.

    PS I love your short “sketches”– they’re great!

  4. February 26, 2012 9:58 am

    I added all the ones you liked to my wishlist! :-) I’m the same as you – I have so many layers of thoughts as I read and then I don’t know what to talk about when I blog. I wish I could capture the thoughts as they come but I’m not organised enough. I don’t like calling what I do reviewing, it’s really more like random thoughts.

  5. February 26, 2012 10:13 am

    I’ve been reading a lot about whether bloggers write reviews or not and see both arguments. I thought about changing the post titles, but figured the title doesn’t really matter – the content does.

    • February 27, 2012 1:26 pm

      I use ‘thoughts’ in my post titles rather than ‘review’, but I use ‘reviews’ in my categories. You’re so right, though: the content is what matters rather than the label!

  6. February 26, 2012 12:07 pm

    I see what you mean about shorter posts, and I understand the reasons why you do them, but I still kind of miss your longer posts from back in the day.

    I do multiple posts if I’m reading a particularly long book over a longer period of time, which is rare these days. What I like most about writing about books is the way it forces me to think through what I think about a book. Having a reason to really decide what I can take and keep from a reading experience has been very useful and pleasurable.

    • February 27, 2012 1:22 pm

      I miss them too CB! But it’s short or nothing, at least until they find a longer term solution to sjogren’s. :)

      I might try doing multiple posts on one book, just to see if I enjoy it.

  7. February 26, 2012 1:26 pm

    I think it’s clear that you’re smart and a deep reader from your posts. :) And it’s true that it’s impossible to record all our reactions to a book.

    It’s been a long time since I read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter I may be due for a reread.

  8. February 26, 2012 3:44 pm

    I so love your thoughts here and have to agree 100%! By the time I finally settle in to share my thoughts, they feel so trivial when compared to what I know I thought along the way. It’s just hard to recapture that internal conversation and feeling that you got while reading.

    Thanks for sharing your list AND your thoughts! :)

  9. February 26, 2012 4:30 pm

    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a book that has been on my TBR list for some time now. I really MUST read it at some point (and hopefully sooner rather than later!) It sounds like you had a pretty solid week of reading :)

  10. February 26, 2012 4:54 pm

    Aw, Emily Climbs. Emily Climbs contains one of my very favorite moments in all of literature, when one shocked old lady is describing Ilse to another shocked old lady and she says that she heard Ilse saying “‘Out, damned Spot!’ — probably to the dog.” Ahahahahahahahah, that kills me every single time I read it. Oh God. L. M. Montgomery is an underrated comic genius.

    • February 27, 2012 1:23 pm

      I thought that was hilarious too! Montgomery has a great comic touch; the scene in Anne of Green Gables when she & Diana freak themselves out in the woods is hilarious too. Oh, and when Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk! *giggle*

  11. February 26, 2012 5:43 pm

    Yes, that is true, but I also find myself sometimes engaging more deeply with a book while reading because I plan to write a review.

  12. February 27, 2012 1:40 am

    I so totally agree with your description of the difference between reading and blogging. I have to admit that once I close a book, I’m kind of done with it. It’s hard for me to go back and remember all of my thoughts and internal discussions. And I’m not the type who can take notes while reading — it interrupts my flow and every book would take me weeks to read that way! So, instead I write a brief post with my general thoughts and anything that really stood out to me. I wish I could write more but I also think that would take some of the fun out of reading and what would be the point of doing that?!

  13. February 27, 2012 1:17 pm

    I like the shorter bits. The extensive reviews you used to do were wonderful but just as it is difficult for you to take the time and energy to write them it was also hard to find the time to read them. So in my busy life where blogging is way down my priority list (boy, I don’t I wish it were higher) I can take the shorter bits and get enough to determine whether or not I want to read something in the future or not.

  14. March 6, 2012 2:01 pm

    I think that’s a great point about reading and what we write in posts being so different. While I often get some or parts of my reading experience into posts, a lot is definitely lost!


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