I thought it was about time the blog had a better browsing method than the unwieldy drop-down list of categories. So I’ve added three index pages to the menu:
Hopefully this will make it easier to explore the archives.
I’m changing the way that I read.
Mostly, I’ve always been a one-book-at-a-time reader, and if I ever had more than one on the go at once, they stayed where they were in my mind. I’ve never questioned that.
But recently I’d read a number of new releases in a row, and I enjoyed them, but still felt I was… in a rut somehow. Talking about it on Twitter reminded me that reading can inspire deeply emotional, transformative responses – the sort of thing, after all, that got me into reading as a hobby in the first place. I felt that I wanted to bring my blog closer to the actual reading, even if it meant that a straightforward review might not always be the best way to capture the experience.
First, though, I wanted a different approach to reading: my one-book linear method just tends towards a cycle of read-review-read-review-etc-etc, which I want to break. So now I’m going to have two books on the go at once, at least one of which will be a ‘classic’ or older book. The idea is to increase the potential for the books to bounce off each other (metaphorically!) while I read them. As I go along, I’ll see where the inspiration for blogging strikes.
The first books I’m reading under this ‘system’ are Scar by Sara Mesa (tr. Adriana Nodal-Tarafa), newly published by Dalkey Archive; and A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow, originally published in 1960 and recently reissued by Parthian Books. There was nothing deliberate about those choices; but it seems they have a certain thematic connection, so we’ll see how it turns out…
For Life-related reasons, there’s now going to be a (hopefully) short hiatus in blogging. A time like this naturally leads me to reflect on what I’m doing with this blog and why (as it happens, I’m not the only person to be thinking about these sorts of issues lately – see these posts by Jonathan McCalmont, Abigail Nussbaum, and Maureen Kincaid Speller). It’s not all that long since I decided to change my approach to reading, but it never occurred to me to change my approach to blogging. This time is different.
We all know that the world of book blogging has changed. The personal text-based blog is falling out of favour as a medium, not helped by technological changes such as the decline in RSS. Social media has become the key way for people to discover new book-related content; but its random nature means that the process often feels like starting from scratch with each new post. In these circumstances, certain types of content stand a better chance of being heard: focus on the latest buzz titles or something that’s already popular – or say something controversial – and you have a head start.
Now, sometimes the latest buzz title and I get along; but mostly I find myself as a reader moving in a different direction. I say this not to grumble, but rather to acknowledge the context I’m in. If the book blogging world is not the same as it was when I started, it’s worth asking: is what I’m doing the best thing I could be doing to achieve what I want?
Well, what I really want is to explore how and why I respond to particular books, and (as far as it’s possible) to have conversations about it. Despite everything, a written blog still feels like the best medium for the job. Tweets are too short; Facebook is too general; Tumblr always seems better for contextualising images; a YouTube channel feels to me more appropriate for ‘finished’ thoughts. There might be fewer conversations on blogs these days, but it’s still the right medium for me.
However… my responses to books on the blog have tended to be review-shaped, because that’s what I’ve always done. But perhaps they don’t need to be. Taking inspiration in particular from Time’s Flow Stemmed. I’m thinking of switching to more of a ‘reader’s notebook’ format, to reflect the nature of reading as an ongoing process. For example, instead of writing 950 words on The Wandering Pine, I might have done three or four blog posts, each focused on a single idea – one on the book’s depiction of childhood, one on the significance of the English and Swedish titles, and so on. A blog as a continuous series of thoughts, if you like.
I’ll still write longer reviews on the blog, where it feels appropriate; but I want to try something different and see how it goes (I have some other ideas for types of blog post, but am still thinking them through). There’s also a good chance that I’ll take the opportunity to move the blog elsewhere. Either way, I’d like to thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again in a week or so.
My reading over the last few years has settled into a regular pattern. In a given year, I’ll read quite a lot of books that I end up thinking are OK; they pass the time long, but ultimately I don’t feel much attachment to them. I’ll read a fair number of books that I think are good (or better) and there’ll be just a precious few that change me and become favourites. That’s when I experience what Andy Miller (in The Year of Reading Dangerously) called “the dizzying force of books”; when reading becomes more – deeper – than a hobby for me.
I’ve tended to assume that this pattern is just a reflection of how things are – but what if I’m wrong? My favourite books, and the strong reactions they inspire, are the key to how and why I read; but I have never organised my reading around this, and now I want to see what happens if I do. In 2015, I’m going to go looking for books that affect me most deeply, and really try to explore what makes me tick as a reader.
What kinds of books am I talking about? Well, that’s a tricky question. They’re books as disparate as The Luminaries, New Model Army, Legend of a Suicide, Redemption in Indigo, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, and Hawthorn & Child – all these books, and others, have left me with intense feelings that I was compelled to write about. But each response was unique, and it’s difficult for me to pin down a common thread. I might suggest that my favourite books often carry some sense of their own artifice – certainly I have learned in recent years that the power of fiction is not diminished for me if I’m kept reminded that it’s just words on a page (quite the opposite, sometimes). But I’m only really going to find out what books I like best by actively reading and thinking; this will do as a starting point, however.
What does this all mean in practical terms for my reading and blogging? Reading more selectively, for one thing; more of a balance of old and new, probably. I still want to take chances on new books (I’ve found plenty of gems that way, after all); but I’m going to be choosing books primarily on whether I think they’ll have that ‘something’, and dropping them more readily if it turns out that they don’t. I know this is vague: it’s going to run largely on instinct, and I’m still going to like some books better than others. The point is that I want to concentrate on books that ‘enrich’ me (in a broad sense) as a reader, and be attentive to all the different ways in which that can happen.
In terms of this blog, I’m not sure yet: my responses to books might get more personal; I might do fewer of the round-up posts; we’ll see. One big change, though, is the name of the blog. I chose ‘Follow the Thread’ six years ago; it was intended to denote following the thread of an argument, but also to echo Theseus following the thread through the Labyrinth, as a nod to the fantasy and science fiction that was my primary reading material at the time. All this is still fine – but my reading has developed in a different direction from the one I anticipated in 2009, and I want my blog to have a name that reflects the reader I am now.
So I’ve come up with ‘David’s Book World’, which is essentially what the blog is about – the books that make my world, and how I see them. It’s also a recognition that translated fiction, and other ‘world lit’, are (and remain) integral parts of what I read. And it even lets me keep the URL.
I never have had a succinct answer to the question ‘What sort of books do you like?’ Now I have a whole blog where I’ll try to find an answer.
The Strange Horizons book club on Patricia A. McKillip’s Ombria in Shadow is now live; go and take a look. We had a really good discussion, which looks set to continue in the comments; I hope the SH book club goes on to be a regular and reliable source of interesting discussion about books.
This experience (amongst other things) has set me thinking about reading and what I want to get from it. I’m not the only blogger who’s been doing that sort of thing recently – see this post by Simon Savidge, for instance. Now, I’m happy enough to be a prolific – and relatively fast – reader; but Simon’s points about reading mechanically, in a way that does a disservice to a book and yourself resonated with me. This is not necessarily an issue of quantity: for me, it’s a matter of what I want reading to be.
The truth is, in the last few years I’ve read too many books which have essentially done little more than pass the time along, which is not what I want. The most powerful books I read change my world, get under my skin, inspire thoughts that I have to write down and share – that’s what I want.
Of course there will be ups and downs. The odd makeweight book is inevitable, especially when you like to take chances in your reading. Equally, I’m not saying that every good book has to scale the highest of heights to be worthwhile. But there have been too many times when I’ve knowingly kept on reading something just for the sake of it; or when I’ve read with more of an eye for having something to post on the blog than for why I’m reading. It shouldn’t be that way.
So here’s a resolution to be more selective in what I read and keep reading.There may be fewer posts on the blog, but maybe not; I expect I will read fewer books, but shouldn’t feel short-changed for that. After all, reading is not a competitive sport, not even if it’s just competing against yourself. Rather, it’s a journey of discovery, and the point of this blog was to share that discovery – so that’s what I aim to keep in mind.
A short admin post today, to say that I’ve changed the way posts on the blog are indexed. I used to have two pages listing all my reviews, but they became unwieldy. So I’ve been working on a new way of categorising posts, which you can find in a drop-down menu to the right. In particular, you can browse for posts on individual authors, or books translated from particular languages. Hopefully that should make it easier to explore the archives.
Over the years, I’ve found myself becoming interested in more and more different types of fiction – which I’m pleased about, because I can appreciate more; but it does make it more difficult to balance everything. This hasn’t bothered me too much up to now; but I’ve promised that I will read more works in translation, and I want to make that a decisive change in my reading. But there are other aspects of my reading habits that I want to maintain; to make sure it all happens, I’m going to impose a structure on my reading for the first time.
The first part of my plan is that at least two out of every three novels, novellas and story collections that I read in 2014 will either be in translation, or be Anglophone writing from outside an ‘Anglo-American’ default (that phrasing is deliberately woolly, so that I can have some flexibility of interpretation if I want).
The second part of my plan for 2014 is to alternate between male and female authors. My reason for doing this is that most UK-published books in translation are written by men (I’m sure I read somewhere that the gender split is 80/20), and I don’t want my reading to fall into the same pattern.
(Incidentally, I am not going to include non-fiction or anthologies in this structure; where I read those, it’ll be as a separate ‘track’ in my reading. Doing this may unbalance the whole, but shouldn’t do so by too much.)
So that’s how I’m going to read in 2014 (I’ll have a Reading Log page on here to keep track of it all). I think it should enable me to keep the balance I want while shifting my reading in a new direction. I’m looking forward to it, and to sharing what I discover on here.
Happy New Year! For my first post of 2013, I just want to talk about a few changes in direction that I’m planning. My default way of blogging over the last couple of years has been to mix longer reviews with sets of 250-word “book notes” pieces, as a way of covering as many of the books I read as possible. This year, I expect to have less time for blogging; so I want to be more selective and focus on the books I most want to write about.
I’ll still do longer reviews as before, but I don’t want the book notes pieces just to group together the last two or three titles that I’ve read. I want to try to forge stronger links within multi-book posts, even if that means not blogging about one book until several months after I’ve read it. To catch everything else, I’m planning round-up posts which will treat books more briefly; and I’ll keep a dynamic list of everything I read in the year on a separate page linked at the top of the blog.
It’s time for a short break in blogging, as I’m now in the process of moving house. I won’t have regular internet access for the next few weeks, but I hope to be back to regular blogging in December, or January at the latest.
Before I sign off, here’s a meme from Cornflower Books in which you have to complete the statements with the titles of books you’ve read this year. The links lead to my reviews of each book. Thanks for reading, and see you later!
I began the day by Touching the Void
before breakfasting on Sweets
and admiring The Longshot.
On my way to work I saw Viriconium
and walked by Hawthorn & Child
to avoid The Sisters Brothers,
but I made sure to stop at A Novel Bookstore.
In the office, my boss said, Everyone’s Just So So Special,
and sent me to research The Evolution of Inanimate Objects.
At lunch with Agnes Grey
I noticed Monkeys with Typewriters
greatly enjoying The Bellwether Revivals.
Then on the journey home, I contemplated The Quiddity of Will Self
because I have Fascination
and am drawn to Joy.
Settling down for the evening in The Apartment,
I studied The Panda Theory,
before saying goodnight Still.
This week is the fifth Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I’m joining in with today’s daily blogging topic: ‘What does book blogging mean to you?’ I’ve picked out three things for which I value book blogging:
Discovery – of course, book blogs are a great way to find out about unfamiliar books (Mike Thomas’s Pocket Notebook is just one example of a great book I became interested in after reading about it on blogs). Some will even be books you wouldn’t hear about any other way. But I’ve also found myself reading more widely as a result of book blogging; I hear more about books, so I’m more inclined generally to take chances. I picked up Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal on a whim and loved it; I don’t whether I’d have tried it if I hadn’t been blogging.
Engagement – I think book blogging has made me a better reader. Certainly it’s made me a more thoughtful one, because writing about books regularly has predisposed me to take a reflective approach to reading. I also feel closer to the book world as a result of blogging (it helps me keep up with new books and events). It’s easier to find people who like reading as much as I do – which leads me to…
Community – The book blogging world is a big place, and it’s not possible to keep up with all of it. But I do think that, whatever your reading interests, there’s a part of the community out there for you. There are like-minded readers; similar-but-differently-minded readers; perhaps even readers of different tastes altogether whom you might nevertheless find it interesting to engage with.
All in all, I find that book blogging adds an extra dimension to reading. It turns reading into something larger than just you and the book, and I’ve found that very enriching.