Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Has Blogging Changed Reading Habits?

Last fall, I had one of those rare moments when I finished a book and wasn't sure what to read next. So I went to my shelf, fixed it with my most withering glare, and hoped a book would present itself. It did. Sean Wilsey's memoir Oh The Glory Of It All jumped right out. That book had been high on my priority list for a long time and I'd just read an article in which Jonathan Franzen had recommended it.

"But," said the red literary devil who popped up on my right shoulder (and who bore a striking resemblance to Nic Sparks), "this is an obscure book, such that when you blog about it later, you probably won't get as many readers/visits/pageviews."

That's when the white literary angel (sporting a du-rag and long hair) popped up: "And but so, read what you want, dude. After all, fiction is what it means to be a f#$%ing human being — even though that book's a memoir. You know what I mean, though. Oh, what a f#$%ing mess." So I did (though I was still reeling a bit by the amount of cursing the angel did). And Wilsey's memoir was great!

The point here is this: Blogging has changed my reading habits in a number of ways (at least five, as you'll see below), but it hasn't changed my fundamental philosophy on choosing books: I'm gonna read what I want. I'm not going to feel pressure to read what's popular or what other people think I should or what will get the most pageviews. I know, bold statement, that. But I think it's important. (And just so we're clear, I'm literally patting myself on the back right now.)

That said, there are several ways my reading habits have changed since I started The New Dork Review of Books in October 2009 (yep, creeping up on two years). Thankfully, they're all positive. Here there are:

5. I read a lot more — I covered this earlier this spring in a post about GoodReads. My greater reading pace has borne out so far in 2011, too. I'm probably going to eclipse by a wide margin the number of pages read last year — which was by far and away the most ever.

4. I've been motivated to read my bucket-list books and authors — Last year, I took down Gravity's Rainbow. Being able to tweet, periodically blog, and receive encouragement about that chore is pretty much the only thing that kept me sane enough to get through it. This year, so far, I've read Gone With The Wind, Anna Karenina, and I'm 11 percent done with War and Peace. That rules. Also, I finally read Haruki Murakami. Twice. That also rules.

3. I've read more indies and other books I'd never have heard of — One of the biggest unexpected benefits of blogging about books is getting free books. I'm still really particular about accepting books for review, but I have a few times, and as a result, read books I might never have heard of. Two examples: Kapitoil, by Teddy Wayne, and Fight For Your Long Day, by Alex Kudera. Reading the latter led to one of my favorite blogging experience so far: The conversation with the author about how he viewed book bloggers. Also, other bloggers' recommendations have expanded my reading horizons widely. But that's a topic for another post.

2. I've read with greater attention and more depth — I mean, you have to, right? Nobody wants to look like an idiotic jerk when they post a review. So I try hard not to. Secondly, and it's hard to avoid being totally unoriginal here and saying something like "I've gotten more out of my reading," but, I've gotten more out of my reading. I use little post-its to mark quotes in books ('cause writing in books is a mortal sin) and reviewing those quotes when I go to write a review or reaction really does jog memory and help solidify connections between themes, characters, etc. I never did that before I started blogging.

1. Frankly, reading has never been more fun — Of course it is. And of course, reading being more fun isn't necessarily a changed habit. But what would this list be without more fun? The reason reading's been more fun is that I know for sure I'll have someone with whom I can discuss the book. And, as solitary as reading is, it's a million times more enjoyable in a community. Cheers to this community!

(For those curious about why there's that weird logo at the top of this post, this week is Book Blogger Appreciation Week — a fairly cool five-day back-pat to all things book bloggery.)


  1. I agree wholeheartedly that reading has never been more fun! I love having such a great forum to share my love of reading with!

  2. I also started blogging in Oct 2009 and I agree with many of your points. Especially about having people to finally talk to about all the books I'm reading!

  3. While I have read some great books based on blogger recommendations, I'm still very much like you--I'm going to read what I want no matter how popular/unpopular it might be. I listen to a radio station Jack FM that always says "Playing what we want" and I always think about that with my blog: "Reading what I want."

  4. Read whatever you want! In college once I asked a musically inclined friend to create a playlist for a party I was having, and he said "But, no one's ever heard of any of the bands that I have." Another friend responded, "You just live to be able to say that, don't you?". That's kind of how I feel with books. I like to read the obscure, random stuff. Not that I intentionally avoid the popular, it just usually doesn't appeal to me as much. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. I so agree with all of your points. Especially it being more fun and reading more indies.

  6. Blogging definitely helped increase my enjoyment of reading. Prior to blogging I had very little opportunity to discuss what I was reading (outside of grad school). In other words, I agree.

  7. When I first began blogging it was to share what I loved to read from all stages of my life. I didn't know it was going to turn me into somebody who read all kinds of literature from all walks of life.
    I may not have as many followers as most book bloggers, but I still have a lot of fun reading and talking about books, authors and anything book-related. Some people don't like it that my blog has turned that way; but that's them. I decided to widen my blog's scope and include the related issues to do with collecting, first editions and authors because these are things I like to talk about (and besides it bores the crud out of anyone else around me; but does interest others who are just like me).
    Reading is a great passion - if not a lonesome occupation - and yet it takes us all over the world and universe without us having to leave our homes.

  8. I agree with #2. I read Infinite Jest because of an online read-a-long, but having the blog to write about the process of reading really helped me get through it.

  9. I've just had my first experience with really overextending myself in terms of shiny new books. Waaaaay too many review commitments, and I don't like it. After this round is over, I'm going back to reading what I want to read. If that's an ARC, fine, but I must be more selective! I admire and applaud you for sticking to your reading philosophy! You deserve that pat on the back.

    Your #4 is something I hope to do more of once these pesky commitments calm down, because I'm finding out that book blogging is the perfect forum to support one in such endeavors!

  10. Couldn't agree more! I am reading more books than ever before and am being prompted to pick up those bucket list books I never would have thought I'd have the time to read before. Love the blogging community!

  11. @reviewsbylola - I had no idea there was such a community so passionate and engaged when I started. It was quite the pleasant surprise!

    @Julie - Yep, in addition to being a great creative outlet, the blog is also a great creative outREACH. Who needs an MFA program when you've got this community to talk to?!

    @Shelley - Yes! The minute you started feeling obligated to read to others' tastes or for any other reason besides the reasons why you enjoy reading - you'll also start losing your passion for reading. That'd be a really bad thing!

    @Julie - Hey, to each his/her own. I like obscure stuff once in awhile, but I would never read something just to be known as the person who only reads obscure stuff. But, read and let read!

  12. @Amy - Glad we're on same page. Hiyo!

    @Trisha - Me too. I thought about going to grad school almost solely to have people to discuss books with. Seems like a cost/reward ratio way out of whack, though. Thank goodness for this book blogging community!

    @Mozette - Your blog should be what you want it to be, not what other people think it should be. I went through a phase where I did try to write posts based on what I thought particular readers would want - and it almost killed this thing. And I really like your last sentence - very true!

    @Kim - But Infinite Jest is so good it doesn't really require any support to get through, though, right? ;) Kidding, of course. As a sort of pre-cursor/practice to the New Dork Review, I blogged about my experience reading Infinite Jest. No one read it, but it did help my own reading - just to flesh ideas out.

    @Erin - I've been dangerously close to where you are a few times, and like you, I didn't like it. What an annoying feeling to be obligated to read and review something when there are so many books out there you'd rather read instead!

    @Amused - Both of those are a totally unintended side effect of blogging - had no idea either would the case when I started blogging, but I'm glad they (and really, all five) have!

  13. As you may have noticed, Greg, I'm not one to follow trends. I'm not out there reading the most up-to-date books, I'm not running around trying to meet great authors who have flown into Brisbane - or Australia (the airfare would kill me!) - and I'm not trying to (as you've put it) please people. I've never been one to follow trends in my life; and if anyone didn't like it that I was like that, well, that was them ( and the last time I tried that out, I was a teenager and it was so exhausting I didn't do it again).
    I find blogging a joy - as much as reading - and that's what it's supposed to be; not keeping up with the Joneses or anyone else. No matter how many people follow you, it's as long as you have fun creating what you've got. :)

  14. What you said! One other unexpected positive I've found in the two years or so I've been blogging is becoming known by my friends and the "book expert". Since I started linking my reviews to my Facebook page, I've had several of my friends say that they have actively sought out books that I have reviewed positively, and many others who have asked me for recommendations. I always imagined my blog as a place for other people who have read the books I'm reading to talk about them, but it's nice to be recognized as the go-to person for all things literary.

  15. Very impressed with your reading! I love the way this question is being answered by all involved. Very cool!

  16. I totally agree with you. And, really, reviews about obscure reads can be a good thing. Sure, not as many people will know what you're talking about, but your review won't be lost in a sea of similar reviews. I reviewed a couple old, little known Newbery winners last year for a book group, and wouldn't you know it, when I looked at my keyword search terms recently I discovered a bunch of searches for these two books I had reviewed. There were more searches for those books, actually, then some of the more popular books I had reviewed! So tell that red literary devil to hush. He doesn't know what he's talking about :)

  17. I'm totally with you on still reading what I want to read! Reading and book blogging wouldn't be any fun if I wasn't reading what I wanted!

  18. @Mozette - The worst thing you can do as a blogger it get obsessed with your follower number - it's kinda silly. Readers and followers are too very different things, and obviously, the former is much, much more important.

    @Heather - That's an excellent point, and I've found the same thing. And you're right, it's very nice to be known as a go-to literary person - I have more standing in some of my friends' eyes now, i.e., a little smarter than a beer-swilling simpleton. ;)

    @iwriteinbooks - Me too - great discussion!

    @Emily - Agree, very much. I love reviewing obscure novels on the site when I really like the book - it's fun to try to get a novel you enjoyed a wider readership. You feel like you're making a difference. Or something.

    @Meg - Agreed. Writing about something you're not interested in or something you didn't want to read in the first place or even didn't like is NO FUN!

  19. How very true - about followers and readers. I used to worry (when I started out blogging) about how many people would follow my blog. However, as time has gone on, I have found that it really doesn't matter; so long I do enjoy what I'm doing. And you're right, it is silly to worry about how many follow my blogs; but when you're starting out, it's a naive thing to do.