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!