Jun 10, 2012

The Sunday Salon – Book Blogs, Audience and Outreach

The Sunday Salon.com

I’ve been reading recaps of the BEA Book Blogger Conference over the past few days, and I started thinking about something that was discussed in one of the panels – the fact that it’s useful for book bloggers not to assume their readers are all fellow bloggers, and to make sure they explain references to community events or insider knowledge to such an extent that outsiders won’t feel alienated.

This is a principle I’ve always tried to follow here, mostly because I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re not welcome at my blog or that I’m not writing with them in mind. It’s not uncommon for people to dismiss the reach of book blogs altogether by suggesting they’re an echo chamber made out of nothing but other bloggers, but I’ve gotten enough e-mails from readers who are not bloggers themselves over the years to know this isn’t really the case.

But on the other hand, it’s true enough that the majority of active commenters and participants in discussions tend to be other bloggers. This is why posts with meta commentary usually do so much better than reviews comments-wise, even through presumably the general reader would be more interested in the latter than the former. Still, comments are a very tangible and immediate sign of engagement, so it can be easy for us to forget who else could be out there reading and what their preferences might really be. I’ve seen some bloggers to reader surveys to find this out, and this is something I'm curious enough about that I might try it one of these days.

I’ve often wondered whether there’s anything about book blogging culture in particular that makes non-bloggers feel reluctant to comment (if any non-bloggers reading this want to tell me if that’s the case, I’d absolutely love to hear from you). But then again, I myself can think of several music or feminist blogs I’ve subscribed to for the better part of a decade and where I’ve never once commented: not because I find them unwelcoming or alienating, but because I simply prefer to “lurk” (a term I actually dislike). And that’s absolutely fine – no one should ever be made to feel that they have to comment, or that there’s anything creepy about, or at all wrong with, simply being a silent reader.

The topic of non-bloggers who are readers of book blogs got me thinking about something else: how useful can book blogs be as outreach tools; as place that help spread literacy and a sense of excitement about reading? The other week, Liz B from A Chair, A Comfy Place and a Tea Cozy wrote an excellent post about writing for readers that pretty much sums up my approach to the whole question of audience. Like Liz B, I write for readers and for anyone at all with an interest in literary culture who might want to hear what I have to say. I wonder, though, whether writing for readers necessarily has to mean bloggers are preaching to the choir. It stands to reason that no one who doesn’t have an interest in books and reading to begin with would become a regular reader of book blogs, but can blogs involve readers further and make them more passionate and enthusiastic? And if so, is this something we should be striving for?

I should start by saying that I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of reader gradations – someone who reads thirty books a year is as much of a reader as someone who reads two hundred, and there could be a myriad factors influencing how much people read besides how passionate or committed they really are. Someone who has always loved books but whose life has been too hectic the past few years to allow for much (or any) reading? Still a reader. Reading is not, and should never be seen as, a competitive sport.

Having said that, I wanted to discuss briefly how blogging has impacted my reading in ways that go beyond numbers. I’ve always been a reader, but after over five years of blogging I can certainly say I’m a different sort of reader. My involvement in the blogging community has made me more knowledgeable about books of all genres, more aware of the different ways people can approach reading, more informed about what appeals to others, even if it’s entirely different from what appeals to me. And with this knowledge came a greater understanding of and respect for the many valid ways of approaching, engaging with, and enjoying literature.

I guess I could also say that blogging has made me into a book evangelist – more than ever before, I want to introduce people to the joys of reading. Reading has so much to offer, it has enriched my life in so many ways, that I want to make it possible for others to discover that too. I know, for example, that I’d never have gone to library school if blogging hadn’t changed the kind of reader I am (and I guess the fact that this decision hasn’t resulted in any actual job opportunities for me is really besides the point here).

Another thing I wonder about is at what point book evangelism stops being about all the social benefits associated with literacy, which people often evoke, and becomes about, among other things, finding more people with whom we can discuss the things we love. There are very different ways of spreading a love of reading, of course – it’s one thing to work with a population with low literacy skills and for whom the idea of reading a whole book is still very daunting, and quite another to work with people who are already confident and keen readers but who want to find more things they might enjoy. And there are, of course, thousand of people who fall somewhere in between these two poles. I’d say that all kinds of work are important, but the nature of book blogs (to begin with, you need to be able to read and use the Internet to find them) means we’re far more likely to engage in the latter.

But when you’re a book evangelist whose audience can be assumed to already enjoy reading, how do you convey your enthusiasm without making people feel pressured? How do you avoid implying, for example, that reading is superior to other hobbies and that they should be ashamed of themselves if they don’t devote enough time to reading? How do you become a cheerleader for books without necessarily putting reading in a pedestal or disparaging other media? And how do you have conversations that go beyond “Why Reading is Cool 101”, but that nevertheless don’t alienate anyone new to literary culture who may happen to stumble upon them?

The other day I was reading a review of Weird Things Costumers Say in Bookshops at Savidge Reads, and Simon raised an interesting point. Should we perhaps be worried that laughing at people who approach a bookseller and ask for a book by Jane Eyre will make those who aren’t (yet) very knowledgeable about books or have seldom set foot in a bookshop before run for the hills and never come back? I’ve not yet read Jen Campbell’s book (though I really want to), but I can see two perspectives here. On the one hand, yes, there’s a cruel streak in this kind of humour. But on the other hand, every community has its in-jokes. I suppose the important thing is to joke in a friendly way and not in a smug or self-congratulatory one. These jokes can be told in the spirit of “Haha, look at the mistakes we, too, made when we were new to books and reading”, rather than in the spirit of “Haha, look at all these ignorant people! They’re not real readers and will never be.”

A vibrant literary community needs to leave a strictly introductory level behind and be able to have sophisticated conversations that make reference to previous knowledge and aren’t specifically tailored for newcomers. And in-jokes are a way of bringing people together, and as such they certainly have their place in a healthy bookish culture. I guess there’s a balance to be found here somewhere, and perhaps book blogs have a role to play in that.

This post is more of a collection of questions than a set of any actual answers, and as usual I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Do you think book blogs can be effective outreach tools? If you’re a blogger, do you keep the fact that some of your audience will be non-bloggers in mind? And if you’re not a blogger, do you ever feel that book blogs are alienating? Do you ever try to curb your book evangelist tendencies in order not to come across as someone who thinks others “should” be reading more? Do you ever worry that being a hardcore reader, which book bloggers tend to be, may sometimes make others feel that they need to reach a certain level before they can call themselves “real” readers?

34 comments:

  1. I know I have non blogging readers and I try to keep that in mind. I've cut back on posts about items that would only appeal to bloggers but sometimes you just have to take care of business. Every once in a while I get a comment from a non blogger, but they tend to email more than comment. I think there's a fear of putting themselves out there on the internet.

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  2. This is such a fantastic discussion! I do think that balance plays an incredibly important roll in the world of book evangelism. As an avid reader, I always try to keep various peoples' preferences in mind while reading, and will always make suggestions or recommendations, but I also never really push people to read them.

    I do think that blogs can be effective outreach tools. I started reading book blogs about a year before I decided to start blogging myself, and through them I found a number of excellent recommendations not only for my own reading, but for others. As a librarian, I find reading a variety of blogs can be a useful Readers Advisory tool as it helps keep me familiar with a variety of genres and books that I myself won't read, but can then suggest as possibilities for others who would love them.

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  3. I definitely agree that nonbloggers tend not to comment (cost/benefit ratio?) and that in turn helps us to "forget" that they are out there, and so we say things like BEA or BBAW without defining it... On the other hand, we probably don't say those things in reviews, only in discussion posts, which nonbloggers may not read but almost certainly may not feel welcome to comment on, so... so no conclusion, just thinking aloud....

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  4. Nice work, Nymeth - a whole host of interesting questions.

    I do think about who might be reading my blog since I know that people I work with - some of whom are much further up the food chain - read my blog. I also know that lots of strangers read my blog. I finally know that I write my blog pretty much for me, although with those two other things in mind.

    My goal is to write something that connects a book to things in my life or to other books I've read or experiences I've had. Of course, there's an opinion in there because I am a person who tends to have an opinion about everything, but especially books.

    I think I'm writing to share the whole process of reading as I experience it and, for me, that means writing about my experience with a book as a reader. I know lots of non-bloggers read my blog either because I know them or because I can glean that they're there from my stats or emails or the occasional comment. I very rarely write about blogging because I'm not terribly interested in talking a lot about my blogging process - just about reading (and sometimes about eating).

    Reading in and of itself is book evangelism (especially if you do it in public), book blogging is the next level of evangelism. I love it when people tell me they read something I reviewed because I reviewed it or read something because they asked me for suggestions.

    Mostly I think I just love to talk about books.

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  5. I've been following book blogs for a little over three years now and in that time, I've only commented a handful of times. This is mostly because as a general rule, comments feel superficial to me more often than not, often following the lines of "Will have to check this book out" or "Nice review" (Not to say those types of comments aren't worthwhile, but they are ones I personally don't feel as comfortable making because they feel more surface-level to me.) I'm bad at internet communication in general though - I still don't yet understand how to interact with people on the internet in such a way that actual connections are formed, ones where both sides get something out of the exchange and actively seek to maintain those connections. Or maybe I just have high standards when it comes to communication :D

    I started blogging sometime last year and it primarily is me shouting my thoughts into a void for any random person to stumble across. And again, my lack of comfort about internet communication does hinder me from interacting with other bloggers and entering the community. I'd say this all probably translates into the fact that I tend to read blogs that are primarily review-oriented and don't have as many memes or posts applicable only to bloggers, and that my own blog is largely reviews or posts that people other than bloggers would be interested in. It's definitely a balance - blogging in a way that indicates you are a part of a community, but also in a way that reaches people who love to read your blog but are not necessarily part of that community. And I'd say some bloggers are definitely better at maintaining that balance than others.

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  6. Lots of interesting stuff to think about here. I try to keep in mind that not all my readers are bloggers or that some are newbies and that it's nice to define (or link to definitions of) blogging-related terms. I am sometimes curious about how many of my regular readers are book bloggers and how many aren't.


    And I'm really interested in your points about book blogging that resonates with people who aren't necessarily enthusiastic readers already. I've sometimes seen remarks that imply that people who read certain kinds of books or who don't know certain things about literature are somehow lesser than other readers, and that bothers me (even though I'm guilty of it myself sometimes). I think it's possible to have higher-level discussions that newbie bookworms may not get much out of but that also don't alienate them. Not every discussion is suited for everyone, but we don't have to insult people who are just starting to get into reading.

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  7. As funny as those "Bookseller stories" comments are I cringe when I read them. I know I've asked stupid questions at the bookstore and elsewhere. I don't like to think people are tweeting my stupid moments.

    Keeping non-bloggers in mind is something I struggle with. Most of my commenters are book bloggers I "know" so it's hard. I want people to be welcome but if you've been having a conversation with someone for years it's hard to remember other people might not get the injokes. So yeah, I have to work on that.

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  8. I originally had a goal of wanting to promote literacy with my blog. But then I sort of came to realize that just by having a blog and keeping the discussion of books relevant I was promoting literacy without like...consciously doing so.

    I've had people tell me they want to read more or have read more as a result of reading my blog which makes me happy. I would never know otherwise and I don't really know how you can measure the impact.

    Great thoughts!

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  9. This is an interesting discussion. Do you know, I'd never thought of blogs as possible outreach tools for encouraging more people to read. It would be nice, and I wonder if some of them are. Not all, because there is a very wide variety, and some do assume quite a specialist knowledge among their readers while others are more general. For instance, I would say that, if you didn't read much, Wuthering Expectations might not hold much of interest to you but dovegreyreader might well.

    I read book blogs - and other sorts of blogs - for years and years before I started one of my own, and it didn't bother me that I had no blog, but then I almost never commented anywhere, I was too shy. I would say if you want to participate more in this community it is easier if you do have a blog as it helps people to get to know you. You have to comment a lot to reach that same degree of familiarity, and that must be a disadvantage. I don't know though how I would write differently for a non-blogger, I have never instigated a readalong or themed month, though I have participated in such, which are I think the only sorts of thing which might exclude the non-blogger, and only then because they would be unable to write their responses up publicly.

    I think this community is actually very friendly and open. If there are sometimes in-jokes between those who've known each other a long time, well why not? It's never bothered me, probably because I haven't seen it very much. Part of the appeal of blogs after all is having conversations, friendships even, with other people; I can see that too much of it might start to feel cliquey for newcomers but I can't really think of any blog I read that suffers from this. I do not see the sniping and envy which is present in other parts of the internet. Perhaps this is an argument for the civilising influence of reading (then again, the level of vitriol sometimes reached on the Guardian book blog might suggest otherwise)...

    I try never to say or show it, so I probably shouldn't mention it here, but I do feel a bit snobby about reading and I don't really believe that someone who only reads Mills and Boon necessarily has much in common with me simply because we are almost certainly reading for such different reasons and having such different experiences from what we read. Although we are both looking at black squiggles on white paper.

    Too long a comment! Sorry!

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  10. I've been thinking about this topic since the comment from the Community Director of Goodreads at the Blogger Con talked about how book bloggers shouldn't alienate non-book bloggers. I think a lot of my posts are aimed at readers in general, but I am guilty of talking about other bloggers like everyone should know who the hell I'm talking about! I also wondered where memes fall in there and if that was something Patrick Brown was alluding to when he made that comment because he'd talked about checking out book blogs and seeing content that was book blogger community specific (I don't recall his exact words but something to that effect). I do find that talking to someone outside of book blogging does remind me that people don't always know things like what the latest brouhaha is or what a readathon is.

    And I'm probably worse on twitter re: discussing things that are really specific to the book blogging community. Most of my real life friends, while they like to read, aren't as into it as I am. I'm actually amazed if they stay following me on twitter when I'm aware talk a lot about books and have discussions that don't necessarily make sense unless you're also a book blogger. :\

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  11. You always are a great one to ask thought-provoking questions. I love it. I DO keep in mind that non-bloggers are reading. I know my mom reads them every day, as well as a couple of very good friends. They are always in my head when I write a synopsis (don't assume EVERYONE knows the premise of an over-reviewed book). I don't get many comments from non-bloggers, though, and that is OK. I know it is intimidating. I was intimidated when I first started blogging. I think some blogs come across as high-brow. I've also seen some very snooty tweets by bloggers about the casual reader who may have just learned about Hunger Games for example. We have to be very careful about this. We have all been there, and need to remember this. Great post today.

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  12. It's often difficult to know when people are lurking, but I hope I don't write solely for other bloggers. But it's often easier to get to know them.
    Heh, I think just telling people I like to read in real life is often coming on too strong for a lot of people. But I love completely excited you-have-to-read-this-one recommendations from other people :)

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  13. I'm a book blogger who is also in library school, and I think that reading a wide variety of book blogs will make me into a better librarian in the future, simply because the amount of information about different genres and authors that I absorb will help me to make better recommendations to others. I tend to try to go into librarian mode when I write my posts--casual enough that the lay person will want to read them, but at the same time providing an articulate (or at least I hope I am) examination of the strengths and weaknesses of a book.

    Most of the people who comment on my blog are other bloggers, but there are a handful that aren't. Friends from where I grew up have told me that they (and their friends) read it, but they don't fall under the category of people who comment. I'm fine with that, even though sometimes I wish that the silent readers would give me some input. When people make suggestions, I tend to follow them as much as I can.

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  14. I love the idea for this discussion! These are mostly things I've never really thought about at any length before, so I love that you've brought them all up.

    I do think that blogs are great outreach tools, though I have to admit that I never figured that non-readers would read book blogs. I do wonder if book blogs have ever converted reluctant readers who were looking for book recommendations though? I really hope that happens from time to time.

    I do try to write for an audience that isn't blogger-only because I know for a fact that non-bloggers read my blog -- my friends. I work at a bookstore, so a handful of my friends are my co-workers and they know I'm a voracious reader, so they'll check my blog for recommendations. And they know about my blog in the first place because I've "attached" my LJ account to facebook, so my posts are immediately posted on FB as well. As for people besides my friends who aren't bloggers? Again, it's not something I ever really thought about. For some reason I always assumed that only bloggers would ever happen to stumble across my blog.

    I like to think I don't sound pushy when I gush about books? I definitely don't think that reading is a "better" hobby than others; I love playing video games and I follow some television shows quite religiously, so I don't think reading is superior in any way. I'm always HAPPY when I meet other people who like reading as much as I do, but I definitely don't, and that applies to people I interact with on the internet as well. I also hope that people don't feel like they need to read so many books a year, or to be SUPER into reading to be "real" readers. The notion is ridiculous to me.

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  15. I absolutely love how you get the most interesting discussions going Ana! I think it's a gift you have :)

    As always, an incredible post and discussion. I know I have non-blogger readers on my blog, though most of the ones that I know about (friends and family) are still fairly avid readers. I know there are likely also others though. It can be easy to just get into discussions assuming people know the basics, but important to remember to explain things, you are right. I'm going to have to try to keep that in mind more especially in terms of things like BEA.

    Great point about the fact that readers of blogs are, of course, people with certain literacy levels. I think that is important (and as you say, inside jokes help foster a sense of community - though I know I've had stupid questions too!) to have these conversations, but also important to think about how to increase the participation in terms of increasing literacy levels and etc.

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  16. Great post, Ana. Sometimes the book blogging community feels very insular--and you're right, I think comments have a lot to do with that. I know I rarely comment on blogs about anything other than books, even if they're about art history; I don't feel the same pressure to weigh in. That's why I always say comments should not be a barometer of the quality of your posts--they're skewed to certain factors. Although it is nice to receive comments, of course. :)

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  17. My book evangelism has always (in person, in the classroom, and on the blog) consisted of trying to get other people interested in what I've been reading. One of the ways I see book bloggers as working against that is the occasional comment about how something I've read is a "classic" (that can be off-putting) or how so-and-so is an author they've never liked. I got this recently when I wrote about Hemingway. Bloggers have their prejudices like anyone else, and I see it as part of my mission in life to expose more people to books they could like in a way that makes those books more accessible to them.

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  18. I find a lot more of my search traffic is looking for reviews than commentors are, and commentors are more likely to respond to a non-review-post.

    I'd say that being a book blogger makes me feel more comfortable about commenting on a post, but then I'd never really read blogs before becoming a blogger. Though blogging on blogs that aren't book-related feels strange, because of the awareness that you're from a different community - will the blogger find my presence peculiar, will they think I have no place with my link to a book blog, will they feel compelled to comment on my blog which perhaps holds no interest for them, etc.

    I don't think you can avoid implying that reading is superior unless you're willing to censor yourself to the point of not being useful to anyone. But then I don't think we need to worry about that because there are blogs for every interest out there and people know that. You're always going to be passionate about what you blog about, and that's something so important in blogging, that each niche is able, thanks to the internet, to really inform people as to why their hobby is good.

    I can't say I've ever considered that there are levels to being a reader in the way you question. I'd separate casual and avid readers and that's about it, and there's no bias towards either. A reader is a reader. I suppose the fact that I don't read as much as other bloggers negates the possibility as being seen as someone who is preaching a read-more viewpoint, but then since reading is obviously important in my life, my blog being evidence of that, I don't feel a need to curb it.

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  19. I am a non-blogger who reads a lot of blogs for the recommendations..and like a lot of bloggers have stated..it has exposed me to a lot of authors that i never would have tried. for myself...i rarely comment because 1) a lot require to have a google account or some other id which i dont have 2) bloggers seem to spend a lot of time on-line..i dont have that time and i feel like if i leave a comment then i would have to check back and continue a conversation

    i enjoy the snippets of other people's lives without having to reveal anything about myself..perhaps i'm too private

    i tend to like blogs that are review orientated because i enjoy reviews...the other stuff can be kind of irritating...when a blog i read gets whiny because they want a "free" book to read or are requesting books from publishers that are at the stores it makes me think bloggers don't care about the reading...its the acquisitions that count. if you really want to read the book....buy it!
    but as most blogs say at some point..it's my blog, i do it for free...
    dianam167@sbcglobal.net

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  20. So many great ideas to think about in this post, Ana! I read book blogs for a couple of years before blogging and never commented. The primary reason was that I didn't have a blog or an 'identity', and commenting seemed more like a discussion. I felt I should put something of myself out there before joining in. It was, in fact, my primary reason for starting Lakeside Musing.

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  21. Interesting discussion! A few years ago I decided that my audience was the general public, not bloggers, and so changed the content of my blog. I no longer write any posts about book blogging or refer to anything that the general public wouldn't understand. I focus on the books and since then I haven't found non-bloggers comment more, but I have found that they email/tweet me more.

    I do think many feel intimidated by the number of books we read and apologise for only reading 20 books a year. I think this is sad - as you say, it isn't a competition. I wish there was a way to reach out to more people, without them thinking we're in a different league because we read so many books.

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  22. It was almost a year ago I discovered your blog, I read nearly every book review and this is my very first comment (I know, shame on me ;)).
    I think, very often people don't think they have something important enough to share with fellow readers or they agree with your opinion and feel like there's nothing to add because you already said everything there is to say.
    However, I'm sure people not commenting does not mean they don't like your blog (for my part, I adore it).

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  23. I don't consider myself a member of the "blogging community," and I do comment a lot (I'm a blurter in real life, as well.) So I think commenting or not commenting is probably just an aspect of the reader's character; some people like to state an opinion; others are content to listen and reflect.

    I will tell you, though, why I value book blogs (and yours in particular). I read a LOT - hundreds of books a year - but over the years I have found myself rereading old favorites rather than reading new stuff, and I think that is because I have few friends who are readers, or who like the same type of reading that I do. Book blogs have been an amazing gift to me; I'd say I used to reread 75%, new-read 25%, and now those number are exactly reversed. So grateful to Jenny for introducing me to this new world!

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  24. Kathy: That's a very good point. Most of my engagement with non-bloggers as been over e-mail rather than in public spaces as well. People have different levels of comfort when it comes to putting themselves out there, and it's important to remember to respect that. That's why I dislike the pressure for people to "delurk" - some people just don't want to, and that's something we have to respect.

    Heidi: I really like what you said about blogs being useful for you as a librarian. I haven't had the opportunity to work as one, but I think that'd be the case for me too if I got to one day. While bloggers may not be on the front lines working with those who are completely new to books and reading, they can be a resource that allows the people who are to do a better job - and that's a very comforting thought :)

    Jill: I need to do a better job with acronyms myself! And yes, I wonder if those discussion posts are just skipped altogether by anyone who isn't already a part of the community.

    Caitlin Martin: While I'm interested in occasional meta commentary, at the end of the day reading takes precedence for me too. Sometimes I feel that some blogs cross the line between being book blogs and being blogs about blogging about books, and while that's as valid a choice as any I personally get bored of too much meta. Talking about books will always be my number one passion.

    Emily: Sometimes I feel wary of leaving "This sounds good" type comments as well. I'm not good at small talk in real life, and I guess this is the blogging version of it. But much like small talk in real life, that kind of comment can be used to start and maintain relationships. Sometimes people don't have much to say, but they still want to let the blogger know they're on the other side reading. I guess it's the Internet equivalent of nodding to let the other person know you're there listening.

    Teresa: Yep, exactly. I'm sure I've said things that imply that kind of gradation myself, but it bothers me too. It's something I want to do my best to be aware of. And yes, discussions can be higher-level but still friendly enough to let people know they're not barred from them.

    Chris: Yes, same here. The jokes that are based on mispronouncing titles or author's names get to me the most, as that's something I surely do to this day.

    Amy: Aw, that's always wonderful to hear. The impact may be hard to measure, but like you I truly believe it's there.

    Helen: I wouldn't call anyone a snob for thinking that not all people who read do so for the same reasons or will necessarily have much in common - I'd just call them realistic :P I think we only have a problem when we start judging people because of how they approach reading, or assuming that someone who reads Mills and Boon one day is unintelligent and incapable of picking up, say, War and Peace the next if they feel like it. And I'm with you on the friendliness of the community - I've been a "lurker" on music blogs for many years and the way people interact there is so much harsher. But yes, the comments on the Guardian book blog are a big exception (I've adopted a Don't Read The Comments policy there, especially when it comes to anything gender related.)

    Janicu: Thank you for giving me a bit more context for that comment at the BEA con! I can see how memes might have been what he had in mind - they ARE primarily about community building and most likely don't hold much interest for the general reader. Of course, this isn't to say they have no value. Like with everything else, it's all about finding balance.

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  25. Sandy: Very good point about synopses, and also "I'm the last person in the world to read this!" type comments (which I'm guilty of). Just because a book is everywhere in blogland it doesn't mean that your average reader who doesn't subscribe to 200 book blogs will know all about it like we do. Also, very true about how we have to be careful to avoid being snotty.

    Bina: I love them too! But yes, it's hard to predict when people will welcome those recommendations or when they'll react defensively. Being a reader is so tangled with self-worth and intelelctual prestige that I don't blame people for their complicated reactions.

    Grace: Yes, I agree! And like I was telling Heidi I think I'll really notice how blogs have impacted my knowledge if I ever have the opportunity to work in libraries. I'd love some input from those silent readers as well - I wonder how successul an anonymous survey would be...

    Michelle: "I do wonder if book blogs have ever converted reluctant readers who were looking for book recommendations though?" I wonder too! Even if it happened only rarely it would be worth it, I think. And yep, I agree that the idea that to be a real reader who have to be all about reading all the time is pretty silly. But like Amy was pointing out the other day on a defense of TV post, it's not rare to see a book blogger go "Ugh, why don't people turn off the TV and read a book?" on Twitter. Which makes me sad.

    Amy: I like what some people have suggested - we might never get the chance to work directly with people who don't already have a certain level of literacy and confidence with technology, but we can be a resource that helps those who do to do a better job.

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  26. I've reread my comment and feel rather an old git... You're absolutely right about not judging people based on what they're reading. I never would! I mention Mills and Boon purely because I've read some myself! ;) Nor would I think any the less of someone who only read Mills and Boon. But I would judge a book, and I am snobby in that I think some are better works of art, more challenging, more imaginative, more beautiful, more true, than others.

    Someone mentioned memes as excluding non-bloggers; I don't think that's necessarily the case. They usually tell you something more about the person who writes the blog, and because I am a very nosy person, I like that! I like knowing that they have a secret addiction to cheese or spend every weekend wrestling crocodiles. Part of the appeal of blogs, for me, is the tastes, the interests of the people writing them.

    Your other comments are all very interesting - there are a lot of thoughtful, and nice, people out there! Thank you for hosting the discussion.

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  27. Ana, you've done it again! Once more you stop me in my tracks and make me think hard about my own views on a topic. I particularly liked what you said about "someone who reads thirty books a year is as much of a reader as someone who reads two hundred." I run into this issue a lot. A friend or family member will nervously broach the subject of books with me. They want to ask for recommendations, but feel the need to explain they are a reader, but not a real reader like me.

    I absolutely hate the fact that they think I would ever look at it that way. If they get to 5 books a year and not 50 I'm thrilled. I just want them to read! I've tried to make it a priority lately to make sure people understand that and that they know that I love discussing books with them no matter what they are reading. I don't want readers to be an exclusive group that intimidate others.

    I remember feeling so silly when a friend couldn't believe that I'd never heard of Graham Greene before. It was a few years ago, before I was blogging and I was still a huge reader and I was still embarassed. I want people to find new books and authors and feel like they are discovering them, not trying to catch up because they've already missed so much.

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  28. I apologize for not reading the all the comments before I comment myself, that is bad style, I know.

    I am an internet person, but I normally hang out on tumblr and read a lot of fanfiction. I am certainly not a book blogger. To be perfectly honest I don't even read that many books anymore. (On that note, thanks for saying that reading is not a competitive sport, I like to still consider myself a booklover.) Yet I always read your posts. Sometimes a little late, like today, but I always read them. Or, ok, I will admit to not having gone past the read more on a couple of meta posts, but other than that I always read everything. There are several reasons for that:

    1. Your posts are thoughtful and, more importantly, thought-provoking and they make me think about things I wouldn't otherwise have thought about and think about things I have thought about in new ways.

    2. It makes me feel like a little bit of an insider.

    3. You review so many books that I would never have heard of otherwise, but that I desperately want to read.

    4. You increase my motivation to read.

    5. I am possibly in love with your book related political views.

    6. I learn a lot about English classics, literature history and authours I didn't know about or didn't know much about. (I will admit to having thought Jane Eyre was an authour for quite some time.)

    I don't normally coment much, though. There are three main reasons for this. First and least importantly, English is not my first language and you all seem so smart I don't want to make any embarrassing mistakes where you can see it. The second is that I am not more than at most averagely knowledgable about the subjects you blog about and have rarely read the books, and therefore don't feel like I have anything valuable to add. That is probably the most important reason. The third reason is indeed that there seem to be a group of you who are close, read eachother's blogs and talk to eachother as friends on a regular basis. Coming in as a commenter to that, I feel a bit like that awkward child in the schoolyard who tried to enter a conversation among a group of close friends that was already well underway.

    In conclusion: As a non-blogger i love to read your blog, but I rarely comment. As someone who could definitely read more, your blog inspires me to do so and to think more about the books I do read.

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  29. I tend to write my blog for bloggers and people I know. Most of my friends and family don't read as much as I do but I just assume they have some sort of interest in books. That's good enough for me and I hope that my blog would inspire them to pick up my favourite books! My sister reads my blog but has never commented. I keep urging her to but she's too shy. I totally understand that as I used to lurk on many of my favourite blogs. It took me ages to actually write a comment and then realising it wasn't that scary after all!

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  30. What? How come all of you guys get emails and happy faces and hugs and smiles from your non-blogging reader and I have had zero interaction with any of them EVER?! I mean, I know some people in my personal life that read my blog (this makes me nervous - my soon-to-be boss told me he looked over my blog and enjoyed some of my reviews, which is nice [HE LIKES NEIL GAIMAN!], BUT I don't like that my blog is his first impression of me, if that makes any sense. Though I guess if I put it on my CV, I'm just asking for it... but I digress).

    In any case, I've really not had any interaction with non-blogging followers on my blog except for those I know in real life who are like, "That book sounds great, can I borrow it?" I am pretty jealous of everyone who has had more than that.

    I don't think I really consider my audience when I write my blog, which sounds really insensitive, I realize. That is, I try not to offend people too much, particularly authors, but I also am a very straight-forward person and tend to me straight-forward in what I like and dislike about books. I don't ever do memes and I rarely do meta-posts, though, so hopefully I am not being too insular in my scope.

    As to encouraging non-readers to read as bloggers.... hmm, I am not sure how one could do that without actively going out and trying to find people to follow your blog who are not really readers? I think that's more of a face-to-face conversion. I am not sure that I could convince a stranger to read a book through my blog, but I think I could convince a friend to read one if I were to be rapturous about it in conversation one day.

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  31. Tasha: Very true! It's easy to forget it, but comments are definitely not an accurate reflection of how many people are reading.

    Jeanne: Demystifying books that seem intimidating is hugely important, and you've certainly contributing to doing that for me when it comes to poetry!

    Charlie: "Will they feel compelled to comment on my blog which perhaps holds no interest for them" - I worry about this too, that me "barging in" on certain blogs will be perceived as self-promotion. Then again, I don't assume that about the people who comment here even if they're not book bloggers, so maybe others wouldn't make that assumption either if I comment. Still, I tend to worry.

    Anon: Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share your perspective. Sometimes I do wonder how bloggers going on about exclusive ARCs that your average reader doesn't have access to come across to said reader, so I particularly appreciate your input. I wouldn't say that everyone who requests ARCs is in it for the prestige and exclusive status, but sadly I also can't claim this isn't something that happens some of the time.

    JoAnn: I wonder how many of us where around in the edges of the community before jumping in. It seems to have happened quite a bit!

    Jackie: I wish there was a way too! But it's hard to battle such an ingrained social perception of reading. I think addressing your blog to the general reader is a very good start when it comes to making people feel welcome, though.

    Mary Britney: Aw, thank you so much! But no, it's not shame on you - I absolutely meant it when I said that I didn't want anyone to ever feel pressured to comment or interact with me in any way. I do know you guys are out there reading, and that matters a lot to me even if I don't know who all of you are.

    Mumsy: I'd say you're pretty much an honorary member by now - and I'll use this as an opportunity to say that Jill's idea that you guest post on Jenny's blog while she's taking a break for the summer is an excellent one :P And thank you! It makes me so happy to help introduce people to books they might not otherwise have discovered. That's exactly what my fellow bloggers do for me, and I'm so so grateful for it.

    Helen: Aw, you're not an old git at all! I just suspected you were too nice to ever be judgemental :P I actually feel similarly to you about memes (though I like the ones the blogger personalises more than the ones that are more or less samey). I'm a bit nosy myself, and it's always nice to get an idea of what the person behind the blog is like. Please it would be useful to know who I could approach for tips if I ever need to wrestle an alligator myself ;)

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  32. Melissa: It makes me sad that people make a distinction between "reader" and "real reader" at all, though I don't really blame them when those ideas are so ingrained. It's good that you make an effort to fight it among the people you know, though - change has to start somewhere!

    AnneH: Like I told you on Tumblr, thank you so much for your comment. It really meant a lot to me. What you say about how you sometimes feel like an outsider looking in on a group of people who already know each other makes a lot of sense to me, as I've felt that way about online communities I don't belong to (or even subgroups of book bloggers, to be honest). I guess it's one of those things that are hard to avoid no matter how welcoming you try to be. I know that in my case it also helps that I'm shy. Anyway, like I was telling Mary Britney I want you to know that it's okay not to comment. You took the time to tell me you appreciate my blog and that's more than enough to me.

    Sakura: Sometimes taking that first step is the hardest, isn't it? I still sometimes feel that way when it comes to commenting on new to me blogs for the first time.

    Aarti: It's only happened a handful of times all these years, so it's not a super regular happening or anything :P First of all, that's so awesome about your new boss! Though yes, sometimes I worry about putting my blog on my CV and what impression people who don't know me and visit it will get. Secondly, I really wouldn't describe your blog as insular at all, so don't worry! And I really like what you say in your last paragraph. Non-readers may not be reading book blogs, but we do meet many on our everyday lives and get countless opportunities to share our enthusiasm for books.

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  33. I look at blogging this way: I'm talking about what I love. Hopefully to other readers who read books, whether they have a blog or not. I would hope that none of us give the impression that the amount of what you read makes you a reader or not - I personally think that if you read a book a year, you are still reading. And I want to convey my love of books as a way of encouraging any one else that books are approachable and fun to read, as well as inspiring conversation and knowledge.

    When I imagine my audience though, it is always someone who loves books too. And some of my family and friends read my blog just for the book recommendations! lol

    I think on the whole that the book blogging community is very friendly and welcoming.

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  34. I'm so behind on my google reader that I'm late to this post. This is a really interesting discussion. I know that before I had my own blog, I felt very weird commenting. I don't feel this way now, but when I first came across book blogs, it felt like all those commenting were friends and that if I were to comment it would be like asserting myself into a group of people where I wasn't necessarily welcome. I now know that to be completely false. Bloggers love new readers and through commenting you can become a part of the community. I don't know how to break down that barrier.

    I know that there are many more consistent hits to my blog than there are comments on any given post. I'm assuming that there are some lurkers, but I forget that sometimes. I guess I should be more conscious of that when planning posts.

    I'm very private about my reading outside of my blog and family. My family knows about my reading, but I haven't really told them about my blog. Most people in real life know that I read, but don't understand the extent to which I read. I should be more willing to share that part of me and maybe it will help others to be more enthusiastic.

    Love this post. Thanks for making me think!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.