Now it’s been roughly six months since I starting blogging about literature and books. Time to take a breath and to have a short look back.
I have been an avid and addicted reader as long as I can think. So, although I have been through a lot of changes in my life (just like everybody else), the love of reading and of books is an element of stability and continuity in my life. But it’s not only about reading or the pleasure to have my favorite books around me, it’s also about talking about books. Most of my close friends are readers too, and we inevitably talk about books when we meet – not exclusively, don’t worry. But exchanging opinions about books, argue about books, hinting at books we have discovered and we would like others to read as well, or indulging in our favorite reads together is an important part of my and many of my friend’s lives.
With this background, I think it is normal that you end up as a book blogger. Others do it as well, so it doesn’t seem to be such a frivolous adventure. Technically, it is not too difficult. And it might be fun. Yes, definitely – why would you start blogging in the first place when it is not supposed to be fun?! And it is an interesting new experience as well, which is a good thing in itself. To start something new is always refreshing. And who knows, maybe some people will really like what you do and you will make new acquaintances and friends.
Since I am not a computer nerd – I know what I have to know professionally about computers, but not much more – I found out that even someone with no background in programming can start a blog, thanks to the various platforms that are available for free or for a very modest amount. I choose one (WordPress), and here you go.
After learning the basics of the trade – now I know what a widget is, and how I can get rid of the many spammers that will invariably attack your blog, for example -, the main question you have to ask yourself is: about what do I want to write? For whom? And why do you think your blog is worth your or other people’s time – in other words: are you repeating what other people already do, or are you trying something at least modestly innovative or different? I will come back to this question a little bit later. Let me first report here a few experiences related to my blogging:
Book blogging has changed my reading habits to a certain extent. It has not so much affected what I read, but definitely how I read. When you read a book, and you know you want to write about it afterwards, you read it differently. You start to take notes. You start to underline important passages you want to quote later. You pay more attention to the language, to the structure, to the technical aspects of writing as you would do as a “naïve” reader. I am not saying that it is always a good thing, but in most cases my reading is now much better organized and more focused than before. I even recall much more details of a book I read six months ago then I would do without blogging (and taking notes). So, blogging has made me very probably a much more conscious reader.
In one way or the other, you are a part of a community when you start blogging. There are the potential readers, and there of course the other bloggers as well who are frequently addicted readers too and in a way the people to whom you will feel more or less connected. When you come up with your blog, it will be good to see what others in this field are doing. There will be blogs you like, and others which are not for you.
When I started book blogging, I had no idea how many people blog about books. Now I know that the community is very big. There are blogs without any focus, there are blogs that mainly reproduce book blurbs and other texts of the publishers, there are blogs where you see from the writing that the person behind it has an understanding of books that is not compatible with yours. While these blogs have their audience too, they are not the ones which I want to follow myself. I like blogs with a clear focus that matches approximately with my own interests, blogs with longer and unbiased reviews, blogs with no or very little ads, blogs that don’t do reviews just because they got the review copy for free even when the book is of no interest or literary value. As a policy, I add blogs to my blogroll only when I like the content. Right now I am reading about ten blogs more or less regularly, and the others on my blogroll whenever I have a little spare time.
One of the fun parts of being a book blogger is when you receive genuine comments of readers. It’s nice to see in your control panel statistics section that you have so-and-so-many hits or visitors from this-and-that country. But it is even more nice to have a real contact with real readers who comment on your blog posts. That is still a comparatively rare occurrence for me, but it happens and it is almost always a big pleasure. Now I have not only a considerable number of blogger colleagues who added me to their blogroll, but several of them read and comment my posts. I was almost blushing when two of my colleagues announced that they will start to read a book (and review it) that I have recommended very warmly. Now this is great, and I am impatiently waiting for their review. In that particular case, I got also a friendly message from the translator of the book who was glad that finally this work got some publicity in the blogger scene while it was overlooked by most professional reviewers.
That’s another nice part of being a book blogger. You come in touch with book people. Bloggers, translators, sometimes even publishers, and writers. I got personally in touch with several of the authors which I was reviewing, and that is an extremely rewarding part of being a book blogger.
On the downside, you have to deal with spam bots (machines that will send you hundreds of emails in languages you don’t speak, advertising for products that no one needs), and with the – fortunately! – small number of querulous persons and nutcases that will belittle you and insult your whole family without any reason. I feel pity for them – but finally I know now why a small programme on my control panel is called “Spam Assassin”’…
Do I accept review copies? Yes, but only after prior communication – I just want to review only books in which I am genuinely interested. With the exception of two books I won as a giveaway for the German Lit Month, I bought all books I reviewed on the blog myself. And no, I have no plans whatsoever to monetize on my blog. No adds, please. I earn enough money elsewhere to pay for my addiction.
There are a few things I learned about book blogging: if you want to be read, you need to build an audience. It is necessary that you spread the word that you have a blog and do nice reviews. I am publishing my reviews with a link to my blog also on Goodreads, and get also a considerable number of hits from my Pinterest and Stumbleupon profiles. I am also at Twitter, and this seems also to add a few more readers. I have also a Facebook page for my blog (with so far 228 followers), and I am letting publishers know when I reviewed a book. Most efficient seems to be that I comment sometimes on other book blogs. I get a lot of traffic from other book bloggers (and vice versa). Still, there are a few more things I could do, but so far I can clearly see that slowly, slowly, I am building myself an audience for this book blog.
What about my writing? I guess you all know that I am not a native English speaker, so I ask your pardon for the mistakes I am making. Don’t hesitate to correct me – I am still improving myself. When I started blogging, I thought that it will be best to publish in English which is a kind of lingua franca nowadays – in the internet anyway.
How do I choose the books I am reviewing? That’s a really difficult question, because I am not fully aware always about which books I will read next. I might have an idea, but ask me again after my next visit in the bookstore, and I am sure a few new books are already on my list.
Usually I read two books in parallel, so when I get stuck with one or feel that on this particular day I don’t feel like reading this book (especially when it is a thick and challenging one), I have an alternative and still do some nice reading. For the short breaks and intervals during a day, I have the habit to have always a book with short prose or poetry with me, so I am using also these free minutes frequently to do some reading.
Of course I have rather eclectic interests, but I am curious enough to frequently just try something new, because I like the cover, read an interesting review, heard something about the author, or because I like the setting or topic in general.
I live abroad (presently in Prishtina/Kosovo, but with a permanent home in Sofia/Bulgaria) and have lived and worked in different countries (Germany, Poland, Morocco, Bulgaria, Albania, Egypt, Kosovo, Turkey, Syria, Indonesia, Jordan), which is reflected also to a certain extent in my reading habits – I read a lot of books from or related to these countries.
My main interests are fiction (with a strong focus on translated titles – German, Russian, Eastern European, and Arabic literature are favorites), travel reports, books about history, philosophy, culture, art. I am usually not much drawn to Children’s or Young Adult literature (although there are exceptions); I don’t read a lot of SF, but once in a while a good crime novel; I am always suspicious when it comes to bestsellers – but in some cases I might review them.
Is there a review policy? Yes, kind of. I don’t follow a strict rule with my blog posts. Usually I give a more or less short synopsis of the book (I try to avoid spoilers when it is possible – sometimes unsuccessfully), add frequently one or two quotes to have a bit of a flavor for the potential reader regarding the style of the writer, and I give my honest opinion about the book. When it is a not very well known author, I frequently add a bit more information about her/him.
There are sometimes books that don’t inspire me to write about them, so I cannot guarantee that I will write about all the books I am reading. Self-help books usually fall into this category. In general I am a quite positive person, so I try to write balanced reviews that highlight also the strength of the book (and most books, even the not so perfect ones have strengths). But sometimes, I have to speak out when a book is in my opinion really very bad. (There were such cases, and even of very prominent authors.)
When I dislike a book strongly, I have usually very good reasons for that and I lay them out in front of my readers. Of course you are entitled to another opinion – it is just a book, ok? When I call a Coelho book “drivel”, or a Hemingway novel an “unbearable racist book”, I am in no way saying that readers who love these books are stupid or subscribe to unsupportable views. But I want to ask readers who treasure such books, if they really like the book or if they are maybe a bit blinded and influenced by a clever marketing and if they maybe could not be more happy with better books by authors that have something valuable to say – and that are able to say it in a more rich and thoughtful language.
The one question I didn’t answer so far: how is my blog unique or different from the others? Well, it is per se different, because I am a different person and have my individual strengths and weaknesses, my addictions and idiosyncrasies. And it shows in the choice of the books as well, I suppose.
After six months I realize that I have a quite big number of reviews of books posted on my blog that cover literature from Bulgaria (and the Balkans) and the Middle East, and reviews of forgotten, untranslated or almost un-reviewed books that deserve a bigger readership in my humble opinion. I am even quite frequently raving about the necessity to make this or that book or author available in English. I think Anglophone readers deserve to have more choices, and my blog is a very tiny attempt to make a few people aware of that. (I am extremely glad to be able to read books in English, German, French, and Bulgarian – that gives me access to so much books that wouldn’t be accessible for me if I would read only in English; regarding the number, variety and quality of available translations German is by far the best point to start in my opinion.)
What’s coming up in the next sixth months? I will participate soon in the German Literature Month hosted by two blogger colleagues, and am quite excited about it. To focus on a topic or a language or even to read the same authors or books and compare with other people in other countries about their impressions and opinions – that’s something I am definitely looking forward too. Maybe I will one day host a similar event (I have already an idea for that). I am also thinking about making a few changes to my so far rather Spartan design. But this is not a top priority to tell you the truth.
But beside from that, I will be very busy anyway. My TBR book pile is getting bigger and bigger…
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