BBAW: Changing Our Reading

Teresa and I have been voracious readers as long as we can remember, and we have been affecting each other’s reading habits for twenty years, swapping books, trading authors, pushing ideas in each other’s way. When we started blogging together over three years ago, it was a natural progression — a way to discuss books even though we lived on opposite coasts. What we might not have anticipated is the way blogging would change our reading habits, the way we acquire books, the way we keep track of and think about what we read, and the ways we connect with other readers.

Jenny: One of the most obvious things blogging has changed for me is the way I keep track of my books. For a long time, I kept a written TBR list in a notebook, but now I have a sense of the shape of my reading — what I’ve done and what’s coming next — that I never had before. Blogging also opened me up to fun community aspects of that, like readalongs, dares, and challenges, which as long as I don’t get too perfectionistic about them, are great ways to branch out.

Teresa: I definitely keep more track of what I’m reading than before, and blogging has helped me remember what I’ve read. I used to just finish a book, toss it aside, and move on. The process of writing forces me to think, to form an opinion, even sometimes to change an opinion as I’m writing. I think I’ve become a smarter reader as a result.

Jenny: I went through some of that process when I was in graduate school, but I really only applied it to the books I was studying. I thought blogging would just be a way to talk about my pleasure reading with a wider audience, but in fact it has asked more of me: I’ve learned to engage with what I read in a deeper way. Now it’s not just “like” or “don’t like,” but “what’s interesting here?” and “how does this work?” and “how does she do that?” and “why don’t I find that appealing?” Blogging has asked more of my pleasure reading, and it winds up giving me more pleasure as a result.

Teresa: It’s interesting how pushing for that greater depth makes reading more pleasurable, but it’s certainly true for me as well.

I think that the biggest change for me has been in how much more aware I am of what’s out there to read. Before blogging, I got most of my recommendations from standard “great books” type lists, a few reliable friends like you, or NPR and similar sources. I used to read lots of different kinds of books, but I wasn’t terribly adventurous—my reading comprised the usual classics, a few award winners, and popular new books. Now I feel like I have a lot more reliable friends who point me toward books and authors I never would have given a second glance. It’s wonderful!

Jenny: I totally agree. And I was less adventurous than you were — I pretty much limited my recommendations sources to friends with the same taste I have. Now I still do that, but my friends live all over the world and are so much better read than I am! My TBR list has quadrupled in size, and what’s more, I’m reading better and better books. I rarely read a dud any longer.

I will say, though, that having a never-ending stream of book recommendations has changed my thoughts on book acquisition. I was always an avid library-goer, but now I get easily 95% of the books I read from the library. I only really buy books at my birthday and Christmas, partly because of budget, partly space, and partly principle (support your local library!) What about you?

Teresa: Well, I think you know that I have a tendency to acquire more books than I can possibly read, but that’s only partly due to blogging. What’s happened is that blogging has made my usual approach to book acquisition completely unworkable. In the past, I would usually treat myself to new books for book club and then would use Bookmooch or Paperback Swap to swap the non-keepers away and get something else. Plus, I’ve never been able to resist a bargain on a book I’m interested in.

The trouble now is that never-ending stream of recommendations from blogging causes me to be interested in many more books, so when I go to book sales or visit online swapping sites, there are more books that I want to read than ever before, and I simply don’t have space for them all (never mind the free review copies and giveaway prizes). So I’m learning to be choosier about what books I actually acquire. Also, blogging has made me more aware than ever of the problem independent booksellers (or indeed all brick-and-mortar booksellers) have staying in business, so I push most of my book-buying money their way. When buying, I try to make a special effort to buy the kinds of books I’d like to see published more—literature in translation or minority authors, for example. I figure if a few more such books sell, more might get published.

Jenny: Of course, one of the biggest differences blogging has made to us has been the community aspect. Reading can be a solitary pursuit, and writing this blog has shown me that I never have to feel alone. There will always be someone who feels the way I do about a book, or has read the same obscure thing I have, or hasn’t read the very famous thing I have also avoided reading. We’ve both made friends through blogging — people whose company we enjoy, virtually or in real life, whose great good taste and common book sense make them wonderful companions.

Teresa: Yes, finding such a large and enthusiastic community of readers has enhanced my reading life considerably. It’s not just the reading recommendations either; it’s also the ways other bloggers push me to think more deeply or look at a book in a new light, as well as the ways they support and validate my views. It’s not unusual, I think, for readers to feel like odd ducks when we’d rather discuss the new A.S. Byatt than the latest episode of Real Housewives, but in the book blogging world, we can all be odd ducks together!

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32 Responses to BBAW: Changing Our Reading

  1. Jeanne says:

    I love this sentence, partly because it’s so nicely written, and partly because I agree so much: “Blogging has asked more of my pleasure reading, and it winds up giving me more pleasure as a result.”

    • Jenny says:

      I don’t know that I was expecting it to be that way, but it has, right from the start. I can’t think of another single thing besides parenting that’s been so rewarding over the past few years, and parenting has certainly been a lot louder, so there’s that.

  2. You both rock!

    Reading is a part of life. Any kind of reading. Be it research papers or book blogs. They always keep us going, the dear book bloggers!

    Here is my post:

    BBAW 2011: Readers

  3. Teresa, I like your point about how blogging forces you to really digest a book after you’ve read it. It makes you dwell on the book more than if you weren’t blogging about it. That has definitely made an impact on me, too. Like Jenny, I did that type of thing quite often in college for the books I read for class, but lost that connection after I graduated. Blogging has been a great way for me to reconnect with that habit.
    Great post, ladies!

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you! And we love our connections with our roots, as well.

    • Teresa says:

      It really has made a tremendous difference. I used to think about intensely about everything I read in college and during my mercifully sort teaching career, but I totally fell out of that habit. Blogging has helped me get in back but on my own terms!

  4. Having to think deeply about the books I read has made reading so much better. It’s also just wonderful to be able to go through your book and find your thoughts on a book you’ve forgotten about.

    I’ve always been aware of my ability to vote with my money, but you’re right, book blogging has made me more aware of independent book sellers in my town and how I need to support them. And the same goes for libraries. I’m percolating an idea for the upcoming holidays about book bloggers donating to their local libraries… would you two be interested in helping me with that?

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I love going back to a post of mine about a book I barely remember and see what I thought about it. Though blogging definitely also helps cement books in my memory much better.

      I, personally, would love to help with the library idea. I have strong feelings about libraries. You can count on me.

  5. Eva says:

    I cannot believe you combined Byatt & Real Housewives in the same sentence! :p

  6. Erin says:

    I find I remember books much better now that I think about them so much more than I used to, which I really like. I’ve gotten exposure to a much larger range of books than I would have without blogging. I still acquire new-to-me books, but usually they’re from library book sales, and I use the library to borrow books much more than I ever did. And of course, the community aspect is fantastic. Great post!

    • Jenny says:

      I always did think I read eclectically, but I think I read much more widely now than before, too — books I would never have encountered before blogging. I love that!

  7. Stefanie says:

    Loved this!

    Jenny: ” Blogging has asked more of my pleasure reading, and it winds up giving me more pleasure as a result” Well said! I find the same thing with my reading.

    And Teresa, I am with you on the book acquisition aspects. There are so many more books I am interested in that it is so hard to not grab them all. But I have recently run out of room and I must take drastic measures and be much choosier about what I buy and what I keep on my shelves. I’m using the library more and turning more to local bookstores rather than online buying.

    • Jenny says:

      I find myself “curating” my collection much more carefully, and using my library far more, now that I blog. Purchases are only for books I know I will love and re-read. It’s a whole different point of view.

    • Teresa says:

      I used to hardly ever buy books because I didn’t have the money, but once I did, well, restraint became difficult! I’m gradually swinging more toward only buying likely rereads, favorite authors, some simply beautiful books (like Persephones), but it’s a gradual shift. The hardest thing is to learn to resist good bargains.

  8. Kathleen says:

    I really enjoy hearing other bloggers give their take on how blogging has changed their reading. I would say that my reading has expanded quite a bit and like you both I also read in a more analytical way because I know I have to be able to defend my opinions.

    • Jenny says:

      I never really feel I have to defend my opinions, but I think that some of the bloggers I read have forced me to raise my bar. I remember who my audience is, and I think more carefully about just dashing off an opinion in an insouciant kind of way.

      • Teresa says:

        I think for me it’s more about explaining my opinions, which is similar to defending them, just without feeling defensive :). I want to explain why I liked something, instead of just saying that I liked it. Who cares what I like if they don’t know why? How will that help them decide whether to read it? What’s there to discuss in that?

  9. Kailana says:

    I keep track of books a lot better now, too. I have a few records of what I read a couple years in the past, but mainly I only started keeping track when I started blogging.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s so much fun to me. I kept a notebook with my TBR in it ever since 1999, but keeping it online adds a whole different dimension!

  10. amymckie says:

    Love the way you’ve structured this, interesting to read. Some great quotes here!

  11. This was a fun post to read! I don’t have anything really exciting to say except, that I agree entirely :) And what Amy said — lots of great quotes.

  12. Anastasia says:

    I feel like a “smarter” reader now that I blog, too! I’m definitely asking myself way more questions about books I read now than I did before.

  13. Jenny says:

    I definitely like having a record of what I’ve read in the past. I’m surprised sometimes to go back to old blog posts and find that I said much nicer things about a book than I remember liking it. But I suppose I never want to be altogether negative in my blog posts, even if my feelings about the book were quite negative.

    • Jenny says:

      I knew you were a nicer Jenny than I am! I don’t mind being negative about a book in a blog post (though I don’t ever want to imply that our readers are stupid for liking it, since I honestly don’t think that.)

  14. rebeccareid says:

    i love your conversation posts! And I relate to everything you say here, the more organized reading piles, the overwhelming amount of books acquired, etc. This post resonates so well with me, thanks!

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