Saturday, September 5, 2015

Just Talking About Books


I recently read and blogged about James Joyce’s Ulysses. My commentary on that book is here. The particular entry on Joyce’s work ended up just a little different from my typical posts. As my comprehension of that novel was so much below my usual level, I chose to devote four or five paragraphs of my post to my personal impressions of the reading experience itself. Though I have posted in similar ways on a few other occasions, this does not reflect my usual blogging style. I should note that I subsequently rounded out this particular entry with some commentary on various aspects of the novel, thus making the commentary a little less centered upon myself.

For a moment as I was formulating the post, I questioned myself, is this the way to write about a book? I am wary of analyzing books from too personal of a view. I often eschew doing so. I believe that too much personal bias gets in the way of understanding what an author is trying to say. Though I did not venture into the territory of “I liked this character” or “I related to that character,” I was writing mostly about my own reading comprehension and what I got out of the book in relation to my own limitations in understanding.

Then I asked myself, is this train of thought taking the idea of blogging too seriously? This thought in turn expanded to thinking about the entire nature of my blog and of what I want to accomplish with it.

I realize that I am not engaged in literary criticism, but what exactly am I doing? I cannot pretend to be conducting serious analysis. I am not qualified to do so, and one look at my commentary indicates that I am not formally doing this. In fact, when I look back at many of my posts, it turns out that to some degree, at least, I commonly incorporate my own experiences in my commentary. Yet, at the same time, albeit in an amateurish way, I do apply some aspects of criticism to my writing.

Of course, what I am doing, plain and simple, is talking about books. With that, part of the way that I like to talk about books is to include some unprofessional form of literary criticism. I liken this to participating in a local sports league. One does not need to be a professional or even a very good athlete to enjoy playing a sport.

So do I need to adhere to strict rules regarding criticism? Of course I do not. I do not want to restrict myself in any way like that. Nor would my unqualified efforts stand up to such a serious approach. As I allude to above, blogging about books, for me, is about sharing thoughts and ideas. Whatever thoughts and ideas seem interesting to me at the time of writing is what I write about. Why not occasionally think about and share my personal impressions of various works based upon my own biases, including likeability of characters?

Yet, sometimes I like to dabble into such slightly more formal territory. Ironically for me, it adds to the fun. One beautiful thing about having one’s own blog is that there are no rules. So I can write posts in so many different ways.

I can summarize a book and give my opinion on it. I can hone in on a book’s main point and agree, disagree or take a neutral stand on it. I can focus on a particular theme, passage or character and analyze that. I can just talk about how a book affected me, how I felt about it or what I learned from it. From time to time, I have found it worthwhile to employ all these approaches.

Since likability or relatability of characters or plot developments is not something that I usually find very interesting, I will very rarely incorporate such musings in a post. However, I reserve the right to do so, especially if I find a noteworthy angle to that chain of reasoning.

I love blogging about books. I love sharing my thoughts on reading and other issues. An eclectic approach, not just in my choice of books, but also to the way that I approach the discussion of a tome, seems to work very well for me. It has added to the joy and fun that writing and sharing ideas concerning books entails. There really are no rules. After all, I am just talking about books.








42 comments:

Gently Mad said...

Brian: I have always enjoyed your posts and I think you should continue to write your reviews they way you have been. I find them objective and insightful. Maybe we don't always agree, we certainly don't always read the same books, and some of the books you've reviewed I probably won't read. Nevertheless, you have certainly made me aware of some valuable reads and I thank you for that.

JacquiWine said...

Interesting post, Brian. I often wonder whether I'm striking the 'right' balance between some form of analysis and personal reflections when writing posts. It does vary from one book to another, and I tend to include more of the personal when particular elements of a book chime with my own life experience. As you say though, there are no hard and fast rules. :)

Lory said...

Wonderful post. I share the wish to say something of substance in my reviews, not just "I liked it." On the other hand, I love that bloggers are free to share their personal experiences when it's relevant in a way that formal reviewers are not. Let's keep on talking about books, and having fun doing it!

Tracy Terry said...

We all have our own means of 'reviewing' the books we read and I so agree with you that the beauty of having a blog is that there are no rules though I dare say many of us have our own personal codes of conduct as it were.

Such a thought provoking post. Keep on doing what you are doing - I love it - and remember to have fun doing it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - Thanks so much.

I think that it was Ed Koch who said that if any two people agreed on 100% of everything that they would both be crazy :) That is another great thing about blogging, we get to exchange interesting ideas that elicit ideas that elicit different opinions.

I also find that your choice of books is compelling and I gain lots of insights from your posts. Like me, it is clear that are interested in talking about ideas.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lory - I agree, sometimes a big "I liked it!" is a nice thing to tell the world. At least for me, I will want to try to get to "Why I liked it."

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui - I find that your posts strike the perfect balance for me.

Good point about certain books eliciting different kinds of posts. Works that make me think or elicit certain emotions will generate very different writing.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - Thanks for the good word.

Personal codes of conduct is an interesting subject in and of itself. I think that is important for Bloggers. I am finding it even more relevant for mediums like Twitter.

The Bookworm said...

Like you mention Brian, that's part of the beauty of having your own book blog, you can review as you like. We all have our different ways of discussing books and it is nice to see posts generate discussions, like yours always do.
Happy weekend and happy blogging!

Maria Behar said...

Excellent post, Brian!

I think it's important for bloggers to take stock from time to time, and reflect on their own blogging. This shows a willingness to broaden one's horizons, if need be, or simply to become more aware of one's own blogging style.

Your point about amateur literary criticism is a great one! All of us bloggers are, indeed, amateur literary critics. As such, we don't have the type of training and experience that professional literary critics do. However, we do have the capacity to analyze a given literary work, to think about how it affects us and our own personal worldview.

This is a fascinating topic, as is evident from your post! It's one that could be further developed in a series of posts, too.

Since every blogger's style is different, there are, of course, many ways of analyzing a book. Yours is the dispassionate, objective approach. However, I would say that your own personal bias does creep in anyway. I think this is inevitable; each blogger brings their own worldview to the reading of a book, and thus, to the subsequent review. You do strive to remain as objective and analytical as possible. Still, I would not fault you for allowing your own personal bias to become part of one of your reviews. Indeed, I think this is not entirely avoidable. Furthermore, this is precisely what makes a given blogger's posts interesting, in my opinion.

The bottom line, I think, is precisely what you say about there being no rules for bloggers -- at least, for those who don't blog for entities such as Kirkus Reviews. We are ultimately free to analyze and discuss a book in any way we please, and that, precisely, is the beauty of book blogging.

Keep up the great work!! :)

Jonathan said...

I think as long as your posts are 'honest' it doesn't really matter what style or approach you take. I like to hear others' views especially when it deviates from the norm and I think this is where blogging is useful as it allows those of us who do not have professional literary reputations to uphold to say what we think.

R.T. said...

I am congenitally allergic to literary theory and criticism; however, I have been infected because of my past education and career. Still, though, I remain convinced that the best approach to LT&C is simple reader-response: read, think, and respond. And that is the beauty of blogging. It is the perfect format/platform of that kind of LT&C. So, with all that BS having been offered, I say only one thing more: Keep up the great work at your blog. What you are doing is worthwhile. Onward! (BTW, you might find some worth in my "mirror effect" commentary in my posting today at Beyond Eastrod. Let me know what you think.)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - I think that you touch on another important point, that is the diversity of different styles and idea out there in the book blogging world. It is another positive development that the digital age has brought us.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi RT - Thanks for the good word.

I can imagine that too much criticism would wear very thin after a while. As I do read it, but in very limited amounts I enjoy it, if only for the novelty.

As always since I discovered your blog. I will be over there to give your posts a read shortly.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jonathan - I think that you also raise a great point, the book blogging world and other media outlets allow non professions to get in on literary conversations.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for the kind words and great comment Maria.

As for remaining dispassionate and objective verses sharing my opinions and biases; with some of my posts, I try to examine a book objectively and in an unbiased way for a few paragraphs, then I move into discussing my opinions on it.

As you point out these diverse views that are reality easy to present and to find are a very good thing. They are one of the big benefits of the digital age. I mention this because I think that it is safe to say that you and I have seen some darkest aspect of the same digital age.

Parrish Lantern said...

Hi Brian, I believe this is one of those subjects that will raise its head quite regularly, I personally am not comfortable with the word "review" although sometimes I can think of no other that covers what we do. My post sometimes have elements of the analytical about them but mainly are just about my relationship with the book, this maybe reflected by me focusing on a certain area or point of interest, it maybe just me shouting out loud "you gotta read this, or your existence is meaningless etc." or it maybe an attempt to replicate some aspect of the book for example trying to write a post following the OULIPO restrictions the writer placed on themselves (A Void). In all cases these are just my reaction to the relationship between myself & the book/ writer & at this point in time I'm happy with that.

James said...

Thanks for sharing your "thoughts on reading". They are always enlightening for me as they represent your observations on books and ideas. I enjoy both the differences and similarities in your perspectives as compared to my own.
My own blogging began with similar thoughts about sharing my reading (and other) experiences. Each of my commentaries are personal in many ways particularly as I share my thoughts in light of my personal literary world. That world was expanded last year by our shared experience reading and commenting on Jane Eyre was one high point in my own journey of blogging about my reading.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Gary - Very well said. Many of us are simply reflecting how a book impacted us, but we are doing it in various ways.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James -

I also got so much out of the Jane Eyre read along. On so many levels it was so very enlightening.

Maybe we can do something similar in the future.

Happy Blogging.

Hibernators Library said...

It's interesting that you had these reservations. Personally, I think that every book is always influenced by the reader's own personality, experiences, comprehension, etc. and part of my interest is always in the reader's interpretation. However, I've always lived your posts and never found anything lacking.

H. R. Jakes said...

"What I am doing, plain and simple, is talking about books." Blogging is about engaging conversation, which you clearly do. Keep it up! I tried the link to the review and got an error message. Could you send my that link?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi H.R. - Thanks for the good word and thanks for letting me know about the dead link. It is fixed.

It should be:

http://briansbabblingbooks.blogspot.com/2015/06/happy-bloomsday-ulysses-by-james-joyce.html

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Rachel -Without a doubt we are influenced by what we read and we that reflects how we communicate about it.

With that, some literary theory calls for trying to examine the meaning of a book without imposing one's prejudices or preconceived notions. Though it is not the only way to approach a book, I think that it is an extremely valuable way to do so.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph, thank you for this very interesting commentary about the written conversations we have about books. You do not shy away from challenging or difficult books, and your reviews are quite fascinating.

Like you and other book bloggers, I enjoy having a written record of my reading. Although there are many reasons why we blog about books, I think I share my thoughts about books primarily to make them clearer and sharper to myself, and hopefully to others as well. I purposely personalize most of my reviews, as a way to make my words more engaging, and to relate to the books I've read. I do not want to post a "book report", but rather, I want to write something that is more unique and hopefully interesting.

Violet said...

I think we should just write about books the way we want to. I think of my blogging as being a 'creative expression of an impression' of books, rather than reviewing, analysing or critiquing. I like your more analytical approach, but I also like it when you allow a bit more subjectivity into your posts. :)

thecuecard said...

Interesting post Brian. Sometimes I too have to ask myself what I'm doing this for. But I have no illusions of myself either as a professional critic or reviewer. I'm okay that I don't have the literary analysis or credentials for that. I like how blogging is a freer platform and one can do whatever they want. I guess I like discussing books with others. I also write posts for myself to remind me or instill in me what the book was about, or what ideas got me. I guess I could mix it up more how I write reviews like you mention. Take one aspect or whatnot and delve into it. Sometimes it's nice to blend in the personal. Or compare it to something or what have you. That's what makes blogging fun I guess.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Like many others as well as myself you have mentioned your desire to share your thoughts about books. This just reminds me how the digital age is allowing us to express ourselves in ways that were never possible before.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - You raise an interesting point that I have written about before. That is blogging, and the inevitable extra thinking about a book that blogging entails, instills a greater awareness in what we read.

HKatz said...

"Whatever thoughts and ideas seem interesting to me at the time of writing is what I write about. Why not occasionally think about and share my personal impressions of various works based upon my own biases, including likeability of characters?"

I agree with this and often find myself doing something similar… I know that I'm not giving a comprehensive critique or formal analysis of whatever book or short story I'm reading. Usually I find some angle that interests me most (at the time of writing the post) and go with that (other times, I ramble for a bit). This is one reason I find it so interesting to read other people's thoughts on the same book, and see what it was about the text that they're thinking about and responding to.

I also think that an amateur lit review is still very much worthwhile reading, provided it's a thoughtful one.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Indeed, blogging does make us better readers and helps us think more clearly about books.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - It is so much fun to find to read about how individual points and sometimes small ideas within books strike different folks different ways.

Priya said...

I love your taken on this dilemma I often face of whether to include my subjective experiences in a review. I most often cave and do just that. While a reviewer's individual preferences and biases won't contribute to my experience of the book nor likely give me a fair idea of what to expect in a book I have yet to read, I don't mind reviews that are coloured by the reader's opinions - whether I agree or not. But you're right. Talking about books, that's what matters the most to me.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Priya - I find that I prefer to mostly express my opinion on a particular idea expressed in a book as opposed to likability of things like plot or characters,

JoAnn said...

It seems to me that while book bloggers are united by a common love of the printed word, there are as many approaches to blogging as there are readers. I personally feel unqualified of offer much in the way of "reviews" or "literary criticism", but like to talk about aspects of a book I enjoyed and its impact. Your eclectic approach seems like the perfect blend of both. In the end though, you're right... there are no rules and we all just like talking about books :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi JoAnn - One should definitely write about what they want to write about.

At least unqualified literary criticism does not lead to the very serious consequences of the kind of unqualified actions mighty, like flying an airplane :)

ebookclassics said...

I think about this quite a bit myself and also get confused about what I'm doing and what I hope to achieve. But you are right, we're just talking about books and unless we want to stick to some kind of formal structure, we can muse on whatever we like about the book and express those thoughts in any manner. There are no rules and that really is what's so wonderful about blogging. I think all of your reviews and posts reflect your personality and reading preferences, and readers enjoy getting to know you this way. I know I do!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks CJ. In my opinion your blog is also doing darn good.

You raise a good point about personality, it is one of the things that many of our blogs exude.

JaneGS said...

Viva eclectism! I read blogs because I like finding out about personal responses to a work--especially one I've read or thinking about reading. I like to chat about books and blogging is chatting to me.

Honestly, blogging for me is more about recording my thoughts and impressions. They need to express myself. I've linked to an article I read almost 15 years ago and it still captures so beautifully the human need to communicate and my reason for blogging: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,998411,00.html

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - The variety of different styles and viewpoints out their amoung the many blogs is one of the great things about book blogging.

I was only able to read part of your linked article because I am not a time subscriber, but what I did read was touching and insightful as to why we write.

Caroline said...

Interesting post, Brian.
I think what I like the most about blogs is that each blogger chooses his/her own approach. I do like to read posts that are entirely personal but also enjoy those who apply more rigorous criticism.
I'm not keen on those who spend too much time summarizing.
I like your approach, it's unusual and perosnal. You may not center on your emotions (I loved this and that") but you centre on your thoghts, which is personal too.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Caroline.

As you point out, there is so much variety out there. This post as well as everyone's comments are making me think about that a lot.