For the love of books

This must be the week for rather disconnected musings about my life.

I have been thinking about how book blogging has changed my relationship to books.

I used to love to go to bookstores and browse and shop and just hang out. Although, I had quite a few books, if I bought a book I could usually find a way to read it shortly after buying it. Non-fiction was not as easy as I have a tendency to buy serious books on subjects I am interested in (conservatism, the presidency, foreign policy) but end up not having the time or focus for such academic works. On the fiction side, however, I was really free to pick up and read practically anything I wanted. If it interested me I read it. In the early stages of book blogging, I just blogged about whatever I happened to be reading.

One thing changed all of that: free books. Once I realized that publishers would send me books for free it was like opening up a floodgate. Suddenly there was no restriction based on cost or need. The world was open to me. OK, not really, but still it was cool to get free books in the mail. If I saw book that looked interesting I could request a ARC from the publisher. Soon publishers were sending me emails asking if I would like to review their books. I got catalogs and imprint lists. Suddenly, it was like I was a book reviewer.


But I failed to keep in mind the whole “be careful what you wish” for thing. I am in no way one of the big literary bloggers who gets invited to speak on panels and goes to parties with publishers, authors, and reviewers. But I do have a decent amount of contact with publishers and publicists. I am on a number of mailing lists and regularly receive queries on books for review. I get unsolicited books sent to me on a regular basis. I don’t really consider this a “job” but is certainly a more involved hobby than I might have anticipated.

This is all well and good, and I enjoy it for the most part. But here is the part that I didn’t anticipate: the pressure. There is a pressure, sometimes subtle sometimes not, that comes from being in this system. The pressure comes in roughly two forms:

1) There is the pressure you put on yourself. This includes the tendency to request more books that you can possibly read and a reluctance to say no to publicists. If you give into this you are soon rushing down a river of books. Is it fun? Heck yeah, it is in many ways a blast. Free books, advance copies, interview opportunities, etc.

All cool. But the price is that you can soon get the feeling that you are no longer in control. That your reading list is set for you out into the future. You have tied yourself down by over-committing on so many levels. This can take the joy out of going to a bookstore, for example, because you can’t possibly add another book to the TBR pile. That exhilarating feeling of finding a new book can get lost in the onslaught of titles that come your way every day.

2) There is also the pressure that comes from being part of the system. People don’t give you free books for the heck of it. There is an expectation that these books get reviewed. Nobody has put direct pressure on me to review books or complained that I take the books yet don’t review them all or on do so on a timely basis, but the pressure is there.

There is also a pressure that comes from the sales side of the business. The focus is on new books because the point is to sell them. If you want to read the back-list or take a break and read some classics, it becomes difficult because you have all these new books headed your way. Some days I wonder if I will ever get the chance to read the books sitting on the shelf; books I really wanted to read at some point in the past.

I want to reiterate that I am not really complaining. I am not blaming anyone. I love getting new books. I love being able to read these books, sometime before they are released, without going bankrupt. I enjoy interacting with publicists and authors and other bloggers. I find it endlessly fascinating.

It is my choices that are leading me down this path. I am the one who can’t say no. I am the one who can’t seem to focus on one subject or genre for more that a day or two. I am the one who feels the need to be contemporary and in touch with what people are talking about. Etc. Etc.

But I do find it fascinating how this process snowballs and causes a series of unintended consequences. How my view of books and reading is impacted by blogging and the contacts and relationships that creates. I don’t have any easy answer to any of the problems I have raised. I am not sure what I would, or will do, differently. But it is something I need to get a handle on.

I just wanted to share some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head the last week or so. After all, isn’t that what blogging is really all about?

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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7 Comments

  • Ah, that is why I stick to classics and a review from a writer’s point of view. But I could well understand both the percs and the pressures of what you’ve gotten yourself into.

  • Ah, that is why I stick to classics and a review from a writer’s point of view. But I could well understand both the percs and the pressures of what you’ve gotten yourself into.

  • My real degree, not from the state, is from the larger world of reading. It’s accessed, as you mention, by serendipity, or the browsing of used book stores, booksales, others libraries, our libraries. Paul S. McElroy’s ‘Quiet Thoughts,’ sits here now, as does the ‘Portable Victorian Reader’ from Paul S. Haight. A flea market gave the story of children’s author (wonderful author) Elizabeth Yates. Illustrated by Nora S. Unwin, ‘The Lighted Heart’ tells of her marriage years. We have a exhibit of Georgia OKeefe coming and so ‘The Quiet Eye,’ by (Quaker sculptress) Sylvia Shaw Judson, waits to train my seeing; acquired from a library book sale of the past.
    John Hay’s ‘In Defense of Nature,’ came to me in just the same way in 1972. It’s a book I’ve never left. And part of the wild path.

  • Kevin, you will have seen this posting at Power Line.

    http://powerlineblog.com/archives/014200.php

    “Once upon a time liberal education sought to inculate students, in Matthew Arnold’s words, with the best that has been thought and said in the world, with the object of knowing ourselves and the world.”

    My browsing recently netted a 60’s paperback of Shakespeare’s comedies which were edited by Jeffrey Hart’s mentor, Mark Van Doren.

    I’ve not checked out PL’s link to the ” the J. Gordon Coogler award for the worst book of 2005.”

  • Kevin, you will have seen this posting at Power Line.

    http://powerlineblog.com/archives/014200.php

    “Once upon a time liberal education sought to inculate students, in Matthew Arnold’s words, with the best that has been thought and said in the world, with the object of knowing ourselves and the world.”

    My browsing recently netted a 60’s paperback of Shakespeare’s comedies which were edited by Jeffrey Hart’s mentor, Mark Van Doren.

    I’ve not checked out PL’s link to the ” the J. Gordon Coogler award for the worst book of 2005.”

  • I’m wondering if blogging is also changing the way I read books. For better or for worse, I read much more critically now, looking for points to make, either good or bad, in a review. I haven’t decided if I like this way of reading, if maybe it’s slowing me down and causing me to think more or if it’s just making me picky and critical and a little crabby.

  • I’m wondering if blogging is also changing the way I read books. For better or for worse, I read much more critically now, looking for points to make, either good or bad, in a review. I haven’t decided if I like this way of reading, if maybe it’s slowing me down and causing me to think more or if it’s just making me picky and critical and a little crabby.

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