Tuesday 12 February 2013
On Reading (and Books Blogging)
I don't know how it is for other books bloggers – which I guess is essentially what I am, even though Existential Ennui isn't, I don't think, a stereotypical new release/press release/publicity mill kind of books blog, and furthermore I don't define myself by that label, because doing this – this, this digressive navel-gazing excuse for an ostensible books blog post thing right here – this isn't my job or anything, although I do work in books publishing, and my job does occasionally intersect with my passion – which is to say the books I blog about on Existential Ennui... But anyway, I don't know how it is for other books bloggers, but blogging about books sometimes feels to me like I'm making a rod for my own back.
You see, increasingly over the past year or so I've found myself planning my reading around what I believe will make for a good blog post – or even better, series of posts – rather than around what I genuinely feel like reading at that moment in time. Now, you might reasonably surmise that the two pursuits – reading and blogging – would be indivisible – natural bedfellows, as it were (literally, sometimes, when I'm lying in bed reading a book and making notes on my mobile phone; apologies if that conjures up an unsavoury mental image) – and often as not you'd be correct. But not always, and especially not when I've locked myself into a series of posts – and I realise I have no one to blame but myself there; it's me who determines the course of Existential Ennui, me who decides each time to embark on a series – and find myself reading a book purely because I'm currently blogging about that author or genre (or whatever).
Moreover, two related problems spring to mind. For one thing, I'm not sure anyone should "plan" their reading beyond having a vague idea of which book, or at a push books, they might like to try next; it rather takes all the fun, all the spontaneity out of the act. For another, having to adhere to a structure with my reading can make it feel like a chore – like I'm having to read set texts or something: trudging through one book in order to get to the next one, and then the next one, and so on.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I decided that enough was enough. I had various series of posts planned, but I knew that in each instance, the reading I would be required to do in order to write those posts I would be doing because I was required to do so; in other words, out of a misguided sense of duty – Christ knows to what or to whom; I mean, it's not as if this is the most widely read of books blogs – rather than because I really wanted to read those particular books. On top of that, I knew that increasing pressures from my "real", non-blogging life would mean that, going forward, I was likely to have less and less time available to devote to reading (and bear in mind my reading also encompasses comics, which I don't blog about too often, but which I usually have a small pile of on the go as well), let alone blogging. (Coincidentally, Trent at Violent World of Parker – where, irony upon irony, I'm co-blogger – also hinted at this in his anniversary post yesterday – and happy websitebirthday, by the way, Trent!)
With that in mind, I did something I hadn't done for a while: I stood before my bookcases (hold your horses: that's not the thing I hadn't done for while; I do that all the bloody time, frequently in my pants) and instead of trying to work out which of the many unread books on my shelves I could blog about next, I simply considered which one, or at a push, which two or three, I'd like to read next. It was, I can tell you, a liberating experience (wearing only pants might have helped). Divorced of the burden of blogging, I was able to properly focus on the books as the the things they were meant to be – things to be read – and select the one I had the greatest desire to read.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying I won't blog about the book that I picked, because I can pretty much guarantee I will; nor am I saying that there won't be any more series of posts on Existential Ennui: one springs immediately to mind (although that won't require much reading on my part – that's already been done by someone else) and in fact the book that I selected will probably itself result in a short series of posts. It's more the principle of the thing, or, if you like, the intent behind it: if I only have a certain amount of time to dedicate to reading – a thing I love doing above almost (almost) every other pursuit – then it stands to reason that I should choose the books that I most want to read, and that my blogging should reflect, should be driven by, my reading – not the other way round.
All of which begs the inevitable question: which book did I choose to set me on this newfound path towards reading for reading's sake? I hesitate to say it, as it slightly – perhaps fatally – undermines my entire argument, but: all will be revealed in the next post...*
*Although a clue can be found in the image at the top of this post: there's a book missing from one of the shelves...