Book Bloggers: An Appreciation

Last week was Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I wasn’t involved in it at all directly. I’m not exactly a “book blogger,” I suppose–more of a blogger who often writes about books, if there is such a distinction. I haven’t really been very bloggy lately, either: I haven’t been linking around a lot, or writing posts that respond to other people’s or that intervene in debates that are circulating around the blog world. I used to do more of that kind of thing, and I kind of miss it, as you get more of a feeling of connection if you do, in fact, make connections. But it requires more immediacy than my blogging has had for a while, partly because my writing attention has been spread a little thin recently. I do like taking the time to write longer reviews, but I worry that in a blog, that kind of thing can start to seem rather self-absorbed! And I think it’s not true that, as one fellow blogger recently suggested to me (perhaps tongue-in-cheek?), blogging is all about narcissism and craving attention. Well, OK, there has to be a little of that, even though we all probably insist both to ourselves and others that we do it for the instrinsic satisfaction. We do, but if that was all we wanted, we could just use a scribbler and a pen. But the attention we crave is that of like-minded people, people who will enter into our idiosyncratic interests and share their own, people at once curious and generous enough to come into our space. And we try to get their attention by freely offering our ideas about books, which is also a pretty generous thing to do. So in the spirit of reciprocity that I think is really fundamental to blogging, I’d like to note my appreciation for some other bloggers who write about books. I appreciate in particular that in the world of these blogs, unlike in the world of mainstream book reviewing, you don’t get overwhelmed with multiple and thus inevitably repetitious reviews of the same handful of new books. This is very much the world of publishing’s long tail. It’s a world in which books published in 1798, or 1817, or 1946, or 2007 are all equally vital. It’s a world in which there’s room for personal responses, but it’s not the taste-test world of Amazon “top” reviewers: in this world, it’s expected that you’ll think about your reactions and write about them as well as you can. This is not an exhaustive list of the blogs I follow (neither is the blogroll on the right, which reminds me–I should update that), but it’s a start on acknowledging some of the sites that consistently replenish my own stock of ideas and enthusiasms about books and blogging, as well as my TBR lists.

Wuthering Expectations: ‘Amateur Reader’ has just celebrated the third anniversary of his wonderful blog. This is the site that brought us the Scottish Literature Reading Challenge (eep! I haven’t finished The Perpetual Curate! But I did read all of The Antiquary) and Sympathetic Character Week, among many other finely themed interludes. His posts are smart, entertaining, and often unexpected in the direction they go or the insight they discover. AR manages to have fun with writers from John Galt to Elizabeth Gaskell to Thomas Carlyle (and you’ve gotta love a blog that turns up 19 posts tagged ‘Thomas Carlyle’).

Tales from the Reading Room: ‘Litlove’ is another of my go-to bloggers. The tone is more introspective than at ‘Wuthering Expectations’ but the effect is just as engaging. Each post, whether personal or bookish, is patient and nuanced. You could do a lot worse than spend an hour browsing in the Reading Room archives, where you will find thoughtful encounters with writers as diverse as Orhan Pamuk and Jeanette Winterson, Steig Larsson and Henry James. At the top of the page today is a wry (and, to me, familiar) story about disagreeing over Facebook. I have litlove (and DorothyW of ‘Of Books and Bicycles,’ below) to thank for recommending Rosy Thornton, whose gently incisive academic novel Hearts and Minds I just finished.

Necromancy Never Pays: Jeanne wins the prize for most unusual blog title! (Its provenance is explained in the sidebar, if you click on over.) In addition to reviews and reflections on recent reading, lately including Franzen’s Freedom and Temple Grandin’s Animals Make Us Human,  NNP offers regular doses of poetry (often her choices are new to me) and Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers (discouragingly, for a supposed professional, I almost never know the answers!).

Bookphilia: Bookphilia’s Colleen is another blogger who offers not just sharp and refreshingly personal reviews of a wide range of reading material (particular interests include Japanese, French, and 19thC British literature),  but also special features, in her case including ‘Curious Creepy,’ in which she spies (for lack of a more tactful word) on what people around her are reading, and ‘I Interview Dead People’ (including Wordsworth, just for example). Her posts on George Eliot’s Romola are not only spectacularly interesting but were also well timed to show my graduate seminar last term (a) how to work well with such difficult material and (b) how to write great blog posts that invite high-level conversation.

stevereads: Is there anything Steve doesn’t read? With his inimitable energy and enviable fluency, Steve covers  everything from the weightiest historical biography to the fluffiest Harlequin Romance with equal rigor and in equal detail. Wondering which edition of Moby Dick to read? Steve’s your man. Wondering what’s new in comics? Once again… Steve keeps tabs on the ‘Penny Press‘ (those lowly competitors of OLM!), reviews Penguins on Parade, and shares the very different beauties of National Geographic and Paul Marron. He offers his original takes on classics (Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?) and illuminates corners of the book world so obscure we can all only wonder: has he, in fact, read everything?

Of Books and Bicycles: Unlike me, DorothyW has finished The Perpetual Curate, and her write-up is as clear and inviting as her book reviews usually are. She has a knack for making me feel inadequately sporty, what with the whole cycling thing (but I run! not far, not fast, but I do run!). She also writes about teaching and about a wide range of writers, from Sara Caudwell to W. G. Sebald. Like litlove, she participates in the Slaves of Golconda reading group, which has always looked like a fun thing to do. Hmmm…do you think I would want to belong to their club if they were willing to have me as a member?

Bibliographing: Nicole at bibliographing is another blogger I count on for fresh, pithy, but thoughtful perspectives in all kinds of books. She recently weighed in on a little-noticed title by some guy named Franzen, for instance, but she’s as like to write on Melville (didn’t he also write a Great American Novel?) or Roberto Bolano. (You know, as I write up these little blurbs, I start to wonder how, with all the reading going on out there, anybody actually gets any of their real work done…)

The Little Professor: Miriam Burstein’s Little Professor blog may have been the first one I started reading, and it’s still the very best place to go for detailed write-ups of completely obscure 19th-century religious novels. If that sounds dry, well, it’s a testament to Miriam’s style and savvy that while I have never finished one of these posts with any desire at all to read the book under discussion, I have never regretted reading the post itself! She exemplifies the possibilities for academics who want to bring their expertise out into the public eye. A good example is her recent post on Roger Scruton and Newman’s Idea of a University. For something completely different, but also typical of her wit and creativity, try LP in the House.

To all these bloggers, and to everyone else on my blogroll and Google subscriptions, thank you for bringing your intelligence, humor, and passion to writing about books–for free, and for everyone. It’s much appreciated!

7 thoughts on “Book Bloggers: An Appreciation

  1. Dorothy W. September 22, 2010 / 11:39 pm

    Thanks for the lovely mention, Rohan! I really appreciate it and am pleased to be in such great company on your list. It would be awesome if you read along with the Slaves of Golconda one of these days!

  2. Amateur Reader September 23, 2010 / 1:12 am

    That’s it. Too much praise. I’m going to do something to really alienate people. I already have some ideas.

    The funny thing about Dorothy’s Oliphant post – maybe I said this at her place – is that is does all sorts of things that I didn’t do at all, and probably should have. Like – what is the novel about? Would you, dear reader, enjoy it? All with great elegance and admirable concision. Utterly different than my ramble through the book.

    Anyway, thanks so much. You (and Prof. Burstein) were early eye-openers for me. Ah ha – look at what blogs can do.

  3. litlove September 23, 2010 / 4:20 am

    Oh I’m really thrilled and honored to be part of your list here – thank you! And I’m in fantastic company (which means I will have to check out all the other blogs you mention that are new to me). You know I’m a big fan of what you do, because we need to get what happens in universities surrounding books out there to a wider audience of book lovers. It’s a great conversation that anyone can join in on, and your blog is one that really shows people how interesting and accessible literary studies can be. I also love what you say about blogging – it may have a narcissistic edge, but it’s mostly about the joy of finally finding people who love chatting about books as much as we do!

  4. nicole September 23, 2010 / 11:02 pm

    I’m beyond flattered to be on your list, and in such amazing company, too. You would most definitely make my shortlist; I so appreciate the well thought out, critical perspective you provide and the forays into academic life and issues.

  5. Litlove September 24, 2010 / 11:49 am

    Oh and I meant to say – DO join the Slaves. For 31st October we are reading May Sarton’s The Small Room which is all about being a female academic. It would be perfect! I’m email Danielle to issue an invitation (unless any other Slave reader seeing this has access to the admin of that blog??).

  6. Rohan September 24, 2010 / 12:34 pm

    You’re all too modest, seriously.

    Thanks for the Slaves invite! That sounds like a great choice of book. I don’t exactly know how the group reads operate but I can come over and explore until I figure it out.

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