Like many of us, I was a voracious reader as a child. But required reading in high school and college, as well as general busyness, significantly dampened my ability (or motivation) to pleasure read. By the time I was out of school and had a decent amount of free time, I simply wasn't putting forth the effort to read. I became a high school English teacher, but still I found myself watching TV after school rather than picking up a book.
The real impetus for my return to pleasure reading came my second year of teaching. I take my students to the library for an orientation the first week of school. I was teaching an honors class for the first time, and after the orientation finished, there were still twenty to thirty minutes left in the block. I was getting ready to wrangle the students up and take them back to the classroom when I saw that most of them were sitting around, reading. They'd grabbed books and magazines off the library shelves, and were sprawled around the library, reading on their own accord. I was thrilled. When one came up and asked if they'd have an independent reading assignment that year, I said yes without thinking. I had developed no such project, but I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage their personal reading.
In the project I created, the students were asked to read one book of their choice a quarter and write a book review. I told the students I would participate as well, so I read and wrote reviews for Eats Shoots & Leaves and Alex and Me. As the students read, they frequently came to me for book recommendations or commentary on the novels they were reading. I'd been out of practice so long that I struggled to recommend good books. So I began reading myself-- first beginning with the books my students had chosen (nothing is cooler than having a totally voluntary literary chat with a kid about a book he/she is in to) and then broadening into other books. I borrowed books frequently from my students and shared my thoughts with them.
I had been bored in the afternoons/evenings, watching TV and lounging around with little to do. Now I began to read and was so much more interested. But, as I started to read more and more, I found I was bursting with things to say. My kids could only read so many books, and not always the kind I was interested in, and my husband tried to listen to me, but without reading the books, there was only so much he could say. My raging interior monologues about the books needed an outlet.
I'd enjoyed writing the book reviews for my students, so on January 10, 2009, I wrote my first review, in a notebook. It wasn't until the end of the month that I decided the ease of a blog would be better than pen and paper for my reviews. My January 30th post on The Road was my first actual blog post (the earlier posts I typed in later and pre-dated). So I'm cheating a bit for my anniversary--but only a little.
I loved writing about what I thought about a book, and the knowledge that I would be writing a review after I finished the book helped me think more deeply about what I was reading while I was reading. The blog also encouraged me to read frequently, rather than lapse into laziness, even though no one else was reading the blog but me. Writing regularly was an important skill that I'd neglected since graduating with my English major years before, and blogging gave me the opportunity to practice that skill.
It wasn't until October that I discovered the book blogging community. Obviously other people wrote about what they read, but I had never really given it much thought before. Discovering the community was fabulous, because it helped solve one of my major problems, which was finding new books to read. I was relying primarily on major papers' reviews and organizations' award lists, which didn't always give me the scope I wanted.
This discovery also raised a serious question for me. Until then, no one had read my blog. My husband knew it existed, but he rarely read it, and I hadn't even told any friends or family that I was writing it. I was concerned about feeling the need to censor what I said if I knew others were reading it. I worried, particularly as a public school teacher, about the ramifications of posting personal views on the internet (even though I've kept my identity quiet, albeit not completely secret). If I wanted to be a part of the community, I would have to take some of those risks.
I decided to take part in my first reading challenge and see what came of it. From there, I began subscribing to and regularly reading others' blogs. I got a good idea of what it meant to be an active member of the book blogging community and what it took, as a writer, to achieve a popular status.
So, a year after I began, I've decided on a few things:
- I want reading to be a pleasure, not an obligation. If I have other worthwhile things going on in my life, I shouldn't feel the need to push those aside to read. If that means reading a dozen books one month and two books the next, then that's fine.
- I want my blog to be for my reviews. Although I've occasionally written about other book-related topics, I like (for myself) the aesthetic cleanliness of only (for the most part) posting reviews. In the end, I think my blog is a selfish project that I hope others might occasionally find interesting.
- Acknowledging #1 and #2 means I know that I'll never be an "active" member of the book blogging community. I will continue to read and comment upon others' blogs because I enjoy doing so, but I don't think I'm willing, at this point, to change the way I read, write, post, and comment to drive more traffic here. I'm thrilled when people do read and comment upon my blog, but I'm okay if few do.
- Comment upon more blog posts when I'm interested in or excited about the book being discussed.
- Find more blogs that discuss the kinds of books I'm interested in, to make #1 easier. For whatever reason, I've found a lot of YA-based blogs, but fewer blogs that discuss the kind of adult literature (in general, steering away from romance, erotica, chick-lit, beach-read, etc.) that I'm interested in. So I have tons of YA books that I want to read, but fewer recommendations in the adult arena. I've found a few blogs that I really like, and I'm looking for more!
- Participate in a few challenges when they encourage me to explore something I wouldn't do on my own.