Friday, August 5, 2011

Reading About Books

Of the blogs I read about books, most of them are maintained by people who read fiction but don't write it. Writers tend to write about writing, not about what's been written, and most of the time writers writing about writing is pretty dull stuff. Your humble author includes himself in that pretty dull group. So mostly I read about books on blogs written by readers (some of whom are professors of literature and some of whom are "just readers"), and that's much more fun.

One trend, or meme, or whatever that's been seemingly making the rounds of the book-blogging world is the "how best should one review books" question. Readers are questioning their role as writers, as reporters, as cultural arbiters. Whom do they serve (the writer, the reader, themselves)? What is appropriate and acceptable (negative reviews, gushing recommendations, amateur deconstruction)? That sort of thing.

I think this sort of thinking is putting it all the wrong way 'round, frankly. The best writing about fiction out there is not coming in the form of a review. Seeking the optimal review template is not the path to good writing.

My advice (for what nothing it's worth) is:

1. If you don't enjoy reading about books, you should not be writing about books. Find something else to blog about, even if you read 5,000 books a year. Be a fan of your medium, not just your subject matter, because what you will be doing is working in that medium, not reading books.

2. Write about what is interesting about what you're reading. Don't have a checklist of topics you should bring up for each book you read. Yawn. Honestly, yaaaaawn.

If nothing about the book you're reading is particularly interesting, the odds are slim that anything you write about it will be interesting. So don't feel obliged to write about every book you read. "'Royal Schism' is a dull book," is dull writing, and not very helpful. If you don't know what to say about a book (or about books), maybe you shouldn't say anything.

3. Write in a manner that interests you. Some people I read have very dense, academic styles and others have more conversational, informal and witty styles. What's most comfortable and familiar to the writer will likely result in the most engaging prose.

And that's really the point. Your writing should be engaging, it should be writing you'd enjoy reading yourself. Don't put on some sort of prosy journalistic hat that's not your size just because you're writing about professional writing. Write something you'd want to read in a way you'd want to read it. Don't think about the "needs of the reader," and think instead about writing something that's interesting and engaging. My bet is that this road will lead you to talking about books in a way that's actually more useful and honest than you'll achieve by hewing to a formal schema* designed to satisfy some hypothetical book buyer.

*how often do you get to say "hewing to a formal schema" in real life?

1 comment:

  1. As one of those people who have pondered aloud about writing about books I read, I find your list refreshing and helpful. And I will use "Hewing in a formal schema" this week.