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Why I Blog

September 11, 2013

Five years ago, Andrew Sullivan wrote “Why I Blog” for The Atlantic, and a lot of what he says is still true except that now the context is different. Blogging is still “the spontaneous expression of instant thought—impermanent beyond even the ephemera of daily journalism” but now we have quicker and less permanent ways to express passing thoughts—among them the multiplicity of social media outlets–and daily journalism has mostly moved online.

In the last year, a lot of book bloggers have been writing and talking about how much quieter it’s gotten in blogland. Sullivan compared 2008-style blogging to jazz—“jazz and blogging are intimate, improvisational, and individual—but also inherently collective. And the audience talks over both.” I think that 2013-style blogging, though, is more aptly compared to a solo in a classical concert. There are people in the audience, and they enjoy the music, but some of them are nervous about clapping in between movements, so it’s very quiet in the house.

Because of the diminishing sense of audience, some bloggers have gone back to the old model of a blog as a “commonplace book,” something a writer keeps for herself. Not a bad model; it’s how I began. I’m not sure I’m ready to go back to it, though.

I have a stack of books on my desk that I put there to remind me I haven’t written about them, and when I looked at it today, the stack had eight poetry books, various notes, and four novels. Over the summer, I’d read a novel and put it on the stack, going on to reading the next novel rather than writing about the one I’d just read. I enjoyed them all, but they didn’t strike me as particularly important to anyone else.

I think that’s why I want to blog—to talk about books I think are important, ones that I feel like everybody should read. But I’m not going to limit my reading to books that I think might be important; it’s possible to find that sense of importance anywhere. And what I missed at first about Trivial Pursuit for Booklovers, back when I started with the cards, is that the books I remember are not necessarily the same ones that the people who enjoyed the game remember. That makes me think about one of my favorite book titles ever, What Entropy Means to Me. I love the effrontery of it, as if it could mean something different to me than to anyone else.

Increasingly, the answer to why I blog is the effrontery of it–let’s think about books together, each at our own private screen; let’s think about the ones that may not be important, but were fun; let’s think about the ones that were difficult to get interested in but then turned into something great. Let’s persist in an enthusiasm for reading so great it spills over into writing, across spells where the enthusiasm is spontaneous and through periods where it has to be forced.

Because sometimes a person gets up for a day’s work on what seems to be an ordinary September morning with no idea about how the importance of his work on that particular day will be weighed and maybe even remembered.

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51 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    September 11, 2013 10:30 am

    I prefer to talk about books than constantly rehash the past. Onward!

    • September 11, 2013 10:39 am

      I do tend to get caught up in a Faulknerian sense of “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Readers like you jerk me back.

      • freshhell permalink
        September 11, 2013 10:55 am

        Well, I won’t ever forget “where I was” but I just don’t need to go there. I’ve already said everything I need to say. The baby I had 12 years ago is no longer a baby. The present requires my attention. I guess this is why I don’t make a very good geneaology.

  2. September 11, 2013 10:47 am

    I’ve been blogging for 5 years now and it has certainly changed through the years. I do think it’s time I made some kind of change, but I’m not sure what it needs to be.

    • September 11, 2013 11:09 am

      That’s how I’ve been feeling for a while, and started thinking again about the why of it.

  3. September 11, 2013 10:53 am

    and what a September morning to be thinking about one’s place in the world…

    • September 11, 2013 11:08 am

      I was thinking about it, and then the date came along to give me a larger perspective.

  4. September 11, 2013 11:00 am

    Jesus, Jeanne. I was just reading along, minding my own business, and then you had to craft that last paragraph. . . . 🙂

    • September 11, 2013 11:07 am

      I’m laughing with delight at your alliteration.
      You know, I did spend a couple of years of my life digging up mostly-forgotten topical satires from the last half of the 18th century because I like seeing what the passage of time has done to silly and artfully crafted pieces about things like whether if you boil a flea, it will turn red like a lobster.

  5. September 11, 2013 11:14 am

    This is such a good post, Jeanne, both for the first paragraphs and especially for the last one. I’ve been struggling with blogging a bit lately, but realized today why it’s still important — it helps me remember the important books and events and moments that I don’t have another way to record. I love being able to search and archive and pull up a moment in time and what I was thinking about then (and what I was talking about with other people then). Thank you for such a lovely and articulate reminder 🙂

    • September 11, 2013 8:16 pm

      That’s a good phrase, to “pull up a moment in time.” I’m glad you identify, and thanks for the pretty compliments.

  6. PAJ permalink
    September 11, 2013 11:41 am

    Best 9/11 piece I’ve seen/read today. (And I live in the greater NYC area, so I’ve seen a lot of them.)

  7. September 11, 2013 1:00 pm

    So how much of a blog is the outer shell: the form, the software, the levers you can use to control it? How is a blog different from one of those long Facebook posts? I have an inkling that there are important differences, but I doubt I can articulate them.

    • September 11, 2013 8:27 pm

      As you know, I’m a lover of form; I like the way form (sonnet form, for instance) can shape my subject matter. I think the main way a post on blogger or WordPress or a self-hosted site differs from a long Facebook post is that the audience is potentially larger, so the tone is necessarily different.
      To some extent, a blogger is always inventing herself. (But isn’t that true of almost any writer?)

  8. September 11, 2013 1:44 pm

    Lovely piece. I have always thought of writing as a place I go to think and I like thinking about books. I’m not sure that I yet understand much about blogging even as I have slowly and persistently done it for two years.

    • September 11, 2013 8:28 pm

      I wonder if persistence is any reward, in terms of blogging. For other kinds of writing it is, certainly; you have to have a lot of persistence to get anything published.

      • October 24, 2013 8:26 am

        That’s a really interesting thought! I’ve been blogging for about 8 years or more, and have been “thinking about” pursuing writing for about as long… but always say I don’t have the will to write. Yet, I still blog… Hmmm…

        • October 24, 2013 8:54 am

          Might be time to think about your ideal audience.

  9. September 11, 2013 2:12 pm

    I’m starting to feel like the longer I blog, the more important it is to revisit my reasons for doing it periodically. Some of them are the same as yours, but I hadn’t thought of them within the larger context you end with here. Thank you for that.

    • September 11, 2013 8:37 pm

      Sometimes I think about blogging in terms of a line from the movie Bull Durham. The catcher is trying to set a minor league record and when he gets it, he comes home to the woman he loves and says “hit my dinger and I hung them up.” Like a person’s whole life can be that process of going through the motions, counting up towards something that may not ever come to anything as fabulous as even a minor league record, but we’ve still got to go out there and do whatever form of work that gets us closest to hitting a “dinger” on some days.

  10. Jenny permalink
    September 11, 2013 2:38 pm

    I started blogging because no one I knew, except Teresa, liked to talk about books as much as I did, and she lived far away. I’m still doing it for the same reason, and it’s still satisfying for the same reason. Some ruts are there for a good purpose (which sounds like something Robert Frost would say, only what rhymes with purpose? FERPAs?)

  11. September 11, 2013 7:09 pm

    What a great post that actually made me gasp. HT to Florinda for sending me here.

    • September 11, 2013 8:39 pm

      It’s pretty gratifying to hear that something I wrote made you gasp. Thanks.

  12. September 11, 2013 9:25 pm

    “Let’s persist in an enthusiasm for reading so great it spills over into writing, across spells where the enthusiasm is spontaneous and through periods where it has to be forced.”

    OH YES. Let’s.

    Thank you; this post made me feel all warm and bright and fierce.

  13. September 12, 2013 2:47 am

    aw this is a lovelyyyy post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • September 12, 2013 10:12 am

      You are, of course, one of the bloggers I was thinking of, someone who has talked about reassessing the how and why of it.

  14. September 12, 2013 5:09 am

    Phenomenal. I am always pleased by how much you make me thing when I read your posts. I still blog about books, and while I like marketing the great ones, this year has been so much more satisfying because I’m talking about books that have languished on the shelves and ones I’ve found randomly in the library more so than review copies. I want to read more poetry and write about more of that too. It’s my passion and people who share it can come and visit anytime; I welcome their thoughts.

    Someone commented about a 9/11 post, and I didn’t see that at all in your post … merely a reassessment. I like to look at the past and see what’s changed and why, but I don’t like to dwell too much. Thanks, Jeanne for this lovely post.

    • September 12, 2013 10:14 am

      I dwell on everything. Glad I made you think, and that you’re still writing about poetry, because it needs more modern-day champions.

  15. September 12, 2013 9:21 am

    What a thought-provoking post! You had me nearly pumping my fist in the air (like my husband does when his favorite sports teams score LOL) when I got to those last two paragraphs. 🙂

    • September 12, 2013 10:17 am

      All right! That is the only way that blogging itself pays, isn’t it, hearing that something you wrote had a little bit of effect in the world.

  16. September 12, 2013 11:06 am

    I am coming up on ten years of blogging next month and I always tell myself that when it isn’t fun anymore I will stop. I don’t see the fun ending any time soon! I very much enjoy your post 🙂

  17. September 12, 2013 6:39 pm

    Wonderful post. It’s that opportunity to talk together that makes it worthwhile for me, too. As we’ve discussed, I blog partly for the record-keeping, but also for the conversation. Over the years, I tried to be parts of lots of different online communities–e-mail Listservs, discussion forums, etc.–but nothing clicked for me as well or as quickly as blogging has. And blogging has held my interest in a way that Tumbling and Tweeting have not. It’s the perfect combination of elements–I have a place to express my thoughts in detail and I have a place to hear others’ reactions to my thoughts. This might not be the best medium for some people, but it’s the right one for me.

    • September 14, 2013 6:20 pm

      It does seem to be about the right length for conversations about books.

    • October 24, 2013 8:30 am

      I so agree! Nothing has clicked for me, either, like blogging has. And, yes, Jeanne — it’s perfect for discussing books. 😉

  18. September 14, 2013 10:03 am

    I do think that the book blogging community feels a little less communal than it once did — and I’m not sure why! there are many lovely bloggers I still love talking to, including you of course — but I didn’t really start blogging for a community (didn’t expect one). I really did it because I like talking about books and thinking about books and reading about books. And I do like having a source to see what I’ve read and liked in the last few years. If I want to buy someone a present, or if I’m in the mood for a particular kind of book, it’s great to be able to skim through old posts to see what they have to offer.

    • September 14, 2013 6:24 pm

      Hmm, that makes sense to me both in terms of your age (you’re younger) and the way you’ve moved around. I can look at the books on my shelves to remember a particular kind of book, and often do. But I haven’t moved for more than twenty years now, so aside from moving books because of something like the great storm drain failure of the Ides of March, I don’t need the online memory the same way. And the five years I’ve been blogging represents a very small proportion of my reading.

  19. aartichapati permalink
    September 15, 2013 7:33 pm

    I completely understand what you mean, Jeanne. You’re right – blogging DOES feel lonelier these days than it did five years ago. It feels like you are often just out there writing and no one is listening, and then what do you always have to say about a book that is thoughtful or genuine or witty? It’s hard.

    I theoretically like blogging for the same reasons Jenny mentions – it’s nice to have a record. But I rarely look back on that record. I can tell the macro-trends – a general moving away from historical fiction to more non-fiction and diverse authors. But I don’t remember the smaller stuff.

    • September 15, 2013 10:33 pm

      As I read your comment here, I was in the middle of re-reading Bartholomae’s essay “Inventing the University,” where he talks about academic writing as a kind of conversation with those in your field who have written before. “The act of writing” he says “has a personal, cognitive history…as a text that is made possible by prior texts.”

      This is something that underlies the very name of a blog. It comes from Web Log, so it’s a log, a record that builds. I don’t think you necessarily have to look back on your record to be able to build on it.

  20. September 17, 2013 10:46 am

    I love what you’ve said about finding importance everywhere, it makes me think of all the books I’ve picked up thinking they’ll have little to truly say and finishing them realising writing about them is going to take awhile. It does seem lonely sometimes, but I think because we all realise it it’s not going to become too lonely (unless of course everyone stopped). I think appreciating the change is important to the community in general, whether it reverses things or not.

    • September 17, 2013 1:17 pm

      Yes–maybe especially when it doesn’t reverse things, and I think it won’t. Florinda uses the phrase “companionable silence” in her response post to this, and I find myself thinking about that a lot now.

  21. September 21, 2013 9:32 am

    I have met so many new people through my blog and in guest blogging. I’m such a newbie though that I can’t contribute to this conversation in the same way(s) as those of you who have been blogging for years can. I don’t really find it lonely although I do shake my head in wonder when something I’ve written that is basically superficial gets a heap of attention. I have yearned to have my serious pieces both read and commented on because many of them go to the heart of those things that are important to me. I am looking to build a community. I know it’s slow but I still feel that it’s out there. I’m finding it and it’s satisfying. Thanks for the post!

    • September 22, 2013 11:54 am

      We all shake our heads in wonder when the pieces we consider serious don’t get as many comments as the pieces we consider superficial; that’s what I mean about wanting to write about books I consider important, but why I keep plugging away writing about the variety of books I read–because what strikes me as serious and important is not always what strikes other people that way. Basically, you’ve got to be “humble” before you can be “radiant.”

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