Sunday Salon: Appreciating Good Writing About Books

There’s been a lot of online conversation lately about whether book reviewers (perhaps especially online reviewers) can be trusted. Are we too nice, too mean, too easily bought, too elitist, too uneducated, too out-of-touch, and on and on blah blah blah blah blah. The problem I’ve seen with just about every article on the subject is that they try to treat reviewers as a single entity, as if we’re all the same and have (or should have) the same goals. But reviews in newspapers, in literary journals, on blogs, and at Amazon, Goodreads, and Librarything all have different purposes. A review in a mainstream newspaper is generally going to be pitched a little differently than a review in a literary journal. And chit chat about books on Twitter is going to have a different level of nuance than a 1,000-word review in any venue. You’ll even find different purposes within each of those categories. Not every blogger blogs for the same reason, obviously. This is not a bad thing.

Some might think that there’s too much of one kind of discourse and not enough of other, but it seems wrong-headed to wish for all literary discourse to be to our particular tastes. Not all books are suited to any individual’s particular tastes, so why should conversation about books be? If there’s literary conversation that annoys you, the best thing to do is ignore it and focus instead on what you do like.

Today, I’m feeling a need to seek a better way—and to encourage others to do the same. Instead of going on and on about what kind of writing about books we want to see, let’s go on and on about specific pieces of writing about books that we enjoy.

This week on Twitter I started making a point of posting links to reviews that I especially enjoyed reading. You can see those tweets on my Storify page. My taste in book reviews is just about as eclectic as my taste in books, so I’ve ended up sharing a variety, all of which I liked for different reasons.

I plan to keep using Twitter, Storify, Tumblr, and other venues for sharing reviews I enjoy, from professional and nonprofessional sources. (This week’s reviews all happen to be from bloggers, but that won’t be the case every week.) I intend to focus on writing about specific books, rather than writing about books in general because it seems like topical posts don’t need the promotion. I’d like to encourage everyone to find ways to share the review writing they enjoy and to help others find good, trust-worthy sources of thoughtful writing about books. If you have ideas, please share them!

In related news, Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming September 10–14. This is a good time to give some extra attention to the blogs that you love the most. I think this year’s event will be more low-key than in past year—no awards are planned. I’m looking forward to the celebration!

Also, The Estella Society, “a reading playground for book bloggers and by book bloggers,” launched this week. I contributed a post about how I’ve avoided blogger burnout, and there are readalongs, book art, and more.

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24 Responses to Sunday Salon: Appreciating Good Writing About Books

  1. Yes yes yes to your first two paragraphs. And what an excellent idea to spread the words about reviews we enjoy.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with your first few paragraphs. The whole concept of book reviewing continues to evolve with technology and trends in social networking. And as we writing teachers are always preaching, we write differently for various purposes and audiences. One thing is not necessarily more valid than another. I have been trying to do more of what you recommend, posting and tweeting links to some of the reviews I enjoy. I think it’s a wonderful idea.

    http://eclecticbooksandmovies.blogspot.com/

    • Teresa says:

      It kind of surprised me how few of the articles I’ve seen on this topic lately really addressed the whole concept of audience and purpose because it’s something almost all writing teachers talk about.

  3. cbjames says:

    I think you’ve a good idea here. I’ll see if I can remember to keep track of excellent reviews that I read, maybe do a post of links to them now and then.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve thought about doing link posts, but I can never keep track! Twitter is handy because I can share a link right then. And I’m hoping Storify will help me keep track better.

  4. One of the things I value about sites like GoodReads is that you can sort of get to know your “friends” so that you know whose taste in books aligns with yours, whose reviews seem to be legitimate and not for hire. Same is true for the bloggers whose blogs I follow. There’s a lot of trash out there, but I tend to trust reviews of my “friends” over other reviews, even those in from-time-immemorial venues.

    I like your idea of posting reviews you enjoy–I enjoy reading reviews, even for books I’ll probably never actually read myself.

    • Teresa says:

      I like that about both Goodreads and blogs. I think that observing someone’s reviews over time is the best way to get a sense of whether they’re trustworthy and enjoyable to read. I find that’s true when I read traditionally published reviews as well. A proven track record makes me take notice.

  5. aartichapati says:

    As usual, I completely agree with your wisdom. Just as there is a huge variety of books to appeal to different reading tastes, there is variety in book reviewing to appeal to different tastes. I love your idea and have never heard of Storify, but now will become addicted, I’m sure :-)

    And as someone you spotlighted already, I feel so special!

    ALSO, I am going to see Sleep No More in NYC. More after I see it :-)

    • Teresa says:

      I learned about Storify through work, and it seems like a neat way to collect posts, tweets, etc., on a single topic. We’ll see if it works for me.

      And I am so excited for you about Sleep No More. When are you going? You have to tell me all about it! And say hello to Hecate! (She and I are old friends now.)

      • aartichapati says:

        I am going on Friday – I will definitely give you the low down when I am back on the Internets :-)

  6. Megan says:

    What a great perspective! Everybody seems to always be so focused on the sort of naval-gazing pursuit of trying to pick out what’s wrong with book discourse these days that it seems like everybody is forgetting that there is plenty of *good* in book discourse these days, too. It’s ironic that it seems like the posts and articles where we talk about books themselves so often fail to get noticed amid all the drama, so it sounds like a perfect plan to go out of our way to share those reviews, as you’ve been doing. Thanks for putting a positive spin on a what seems to have been a mostly negative conversation!

  7. I have been doing something like this ever since I signed up for Twitter. The overwhelmingly promotional side of Twitter was a bit sickening, so I assuaged my guilt at promoting myself by also promoting, every time I mentioned my posts, the work of someone else.

    Meaning, I doubled the amount of promotion I do. Wait a minute, am I solving the problem or making it worse?

    I actually always try to include a quotation by the writer of the blog. It is really good writing I am pushing.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve noticed that you do that! You’re one of the people who inspired me to try it myself. The only problem I find is that Twitter and fast-moving that a single tweet gets lost. But at least this kind of tweeting ensures that the fast-moving stream gets filled with good stuff–and not all of it self-promotional.

      • I like twitter streams that offer links to other writing they enjoyed – even if it is fast moving and you miss half of it, you’re still picking up on a couple of things you wouldn’t have otherwise.

        I briefly tried this on my own blog but found it a bit hard to keep up with. It does mean that you start to read reviews more critically, as well as the books you’re reviewing, which can only be a good thing.

      • Teresa says:

        Yes, I want to read more reviews and to read them with more attention and thought. I find it too easy to get into a skimming habit when I’m online.

  8. Tony says:

    The blogosphere (and the web in general) is a vast, multi-purpose kind of place, and I agree that there’s a lot of room for all kinds of writing – even negative reviews ;)

  9. I also find tweets get a bit lost (and I find I retweet in bursts which might be annoying for readers but convenient for me!), but it was lovely to see myself tweeted on your list for this week, Teresa! Many thanks.

    • Teresa says:

      I tweet in bursts, too. There are sites like Hootsuite that let you schedule tweets if you have a bunch, but I never have enough to make it worth that amount of trouble.

  10. Rebecca H. says:

    What a great project! I agree completely that there are many types of book conversations, and it makes no sense to expect all of them to be to your taste. Variety is good, surely?

    • Teresa says:

      Variety is one of the things I enjoy about the Internet. It’s wonderful to see the many ways people express themselves, even if some of them aren’t my thing.

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