Oh, to Recover the Leisure in Reading that Gets Lost in the Work Created by Blogging

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

While looking to see which of my read-but-not-yet-reviewed books I’ve photographed, I came across a photo I took for a post some time ago of the pile of acquisitions I anticipated reading. Checking through, I let out a ‘yay’ as it became apparent that, of the ten, I’ve read and reviewed half of them, read-but-not-yet-reviewed one, leaving only four to read. Progress! But then a sinking feeling quickly took over. Am I turning my reading into work?

It feels that way sometimes. And I don’t seem to be alone. Other book blogs have similar lists – buckets, TBRs, progress reports, promises in the comments sections to read what others are reading – and I can’t help feeling a bit anxious at times. The epitome of this is when I come across readers who set reading ‘challenges’ for themselves.

There’s something of the language to it all that smacks of annual reviews at work. And I have to admit that there’s a sense that posting a newly completed review has a ring to it that reminds me of emailing a handover or homework.

It’s hard to say who or what our submissions are for. Are they a ‘please miss, I’ve been good’? Are they a memento that confirms that you’ve read more books than you’d otherwise credit yourself with? Are they a way to add to a bloggerly pot of readerly imagination that everyone stirs to stop themselves from reading in a cul-de-sac?

The book blogosphere that results is a workplace, however leisurely that workplace is. It’s a never-ending free journal we edit from home. Yes, it’s a discussion that’s not limited to a venue’s availability, your personal schedules, or the troubles with travel. But this discussion can be very earnest.

Wouldn’t it be great if book bloggers could come up with something to ease that work ethic? Somewhere to go, perhaps? Or a format? I’m thinking here of something that isn’t directly about books. Something tangential and non-verbal. Something that reinvigorates the leisureliness to reading. Or would that be just another project to work on?

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17 Responses to Oh, to Recover the Leisure in Reading that Gets Lost in the Work Created by Blogging

  1. Guy Savage says:

    But you didn’t realize you’d read & reviewed so many of the books until you went back and looked. So you couldn’t have been goal driven.
    I think some people like their reading to be structured and others don’t. As for my TBR list (room) it’s not work. It’s reading what I feel like reading. There’s pressure with ARCS but I can always decline.

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    • Jeff says:

      I don’t know as it’s the structure so much as piling up and displaying the workloads. Less can be structured.
      Do ARCs cut down your buying? Buying also has a disconnect that adds to the pile. Some people have a talent for restraint and realism though.

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  2. roughghosts says:

    I am new to blogging and I find two challenges: I find myself feeling pressured to keep up with other bloggers who seem to read so many (really interesting sounding) books and review them quickly, and I am less likely to follow my idiosyncratic interests (although I still come off as seriously idiosyncratic). I need to take control of my own reading and slow down on the relentless acquisition of the past few months.

    But on the plus side, I read more deeply, take extensive notes and engage in my reading like never before. And then, if nothing else, I have the blog entries (and their drafts) as a sort of reading diary.

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    • Jeff says:

      The pace of other bloggers can be staggering. I admire them and don’t think it affects my own reading.
      There is a push and pull between your own idiosyncrasies and being influenced by others’ reading? I quite like the influences when possible. It’s getting me into Cold War books, for example.
      What do you take notes for? I do sometimes for reviews. Not often though. Mostly just banged out in under half an hour from the top of my head (or out of my arse).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Eric Wayne says:

    I enjoy your book reviews, but would like to see you write about other stuff as well: art, film, music, just pontificating on various topics, ruminating on existence, or sharing a personal experience. That’s because I like your writing, and I probably won’t have the opportunity to read the books you review.

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    • Jeff says:

      Wow, thanks! I know how individual the interest in reviews can be. They can bring in new bloggers and I try to say something of general interest.
      You have some useful and timely suggestions though. I’ve been thinking that it’d be better to use each book to discuss a wider topic from it. The Le Carre could have been about the Cold War, or just had a title more relevant to the discussion of aged books conveying the physical sensations from the time they’re about. Might need to change the category ‘review’ to something else too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sarah says:

    I think a lot of it comes down to personality. I know that personally, I respond to challenges, it’s the way I am. I’ll either be training intensively for a marathon or not running at all. It would seem I’ve yet to master moderation. That said, I will only use challenges that are useful rather than for their own sake, but I can totally see that for some people, challenges are too restrictive / prescriptive. Either way, I think that reading other stuff for pleasure/leisure outside of what you read for blogging is crucial to keeping reading from feeling like work!

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    • Jeff says:

      I don’t know how much my collecting, making ‘to do’ piles, and then posting photos of them is is down to my personality or shaped by the blogosphere’s ever-changing conventions. Those conventions, I’m suggesting, borrow their language from work. I see what you mean about running. Its a pastime that encourages time-beating and self-improvement. On that note, your comment raises a question about motives. When it comes to content, I don’t waste my time reading light entertainment. So while I don’t set or quite get the desire to read by quantitative targets and measures, I do find myself adhering to what might be called ‘standards’ which, of course, also borrows from a contemporary workplace lexicon of quality and excellence. Does this mean that it’s the act of applying effort in reading that’s by nature prone to sensations normally experienced when working even though the activity is conceived of as leisurely?
      Maybe it’s all a matter of degrees? To what extent does someone, as you put it, ‘personally’ respond? I suppose one indicator that something isn’t dominated by a work ethic is to identify indicators of a leisure ethic. Some kind of shared language of slacking and its enjoyment.

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      • Sarah says:

        I suppose I resist seeing reading/writing/blogging as ‘work’ – In fact, the word ‘Work’ presses too many ‘Protestant work ethic’ buttons for me and smacks of resigned effort towards goals that are not my own. If I view something as work, I struggle to get it done. If the concept of ‘work’ is swapped for ‘drive’, that changes the emphasis. There’s still a lot of graft going on, but it’s luxury graft – pure focussed enjoyment. I love that feeling of being driven whether I’m reading, blogging or knitting footballers! When ‘work’ shifts to ‘drive’, there’s no need to escape it by creating a state of ‘leisure’ as it’s not about reclaiming your own time. I don’t know whether that resonates with you at all. If it does, why does reading and blogging feel like work and not drive?

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        • Jeff says:

          I don’t know as I see it as work or drive. I don’t resist it being work either when I’m keen to get a post written before an evening’s end. There’s different kinds of reading and writing. There’s the difficult kind of each that gets possessed with a determination to get something finished. And there’s the loafing around way of approaching either. There’s also the dipping in and out that chips away and keeps contact with something. I was really more interested in the way that book blogging has self-reporting, planning, and targets that, taken together, express the language of the workplace. What yourself and Lucy seem to be talking about is whether your own personal view / experience of what you do is intended or thought in work terms.
          Funnily enough, when I wrote the post I wasn’t thinking about your blog – it was a mix of having more to do outside days of things to do, and seeing so many blogs expressing a high level of industriousness.
          I’ve had various blogs since 2005, and it never used to be like this back then. The thing I remember about when I started was not a keenness to show work, but a keenness to engage in political polarity and show pure left / right wing credentials. Maybe that stuff’s still out there somewhere. Oh, and another change is the rise of the blogger as publisher selling their wares. Profile – that’s probably the word. Listen to the old codger me! Ooh, them were days. Cawse, I’m talking years ago.

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  5. Lucy says:

    My mum would never let me go to Brownies, and due the awful gulf that never earning badges has left me with, I find challenge and completion has become the model of my adult life, and reading is fun so they are fun challenges, just one up from challenging myself to eat sweets. Blog-wise, I find doing more than one post per title helps me, and also having a blogging partner to do half the work, and my own rather shocking standards of the quality of work I personally turn out, makes it quite easy. I also see it as a kind of social media, I’d rather post or discuss a post on another blog than see a colleague’s new hairdo/cat/baby/sofa on Facebook 😉

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    • Jeff says:

      I quite admire the way you spread out your reading experience of a book across posts. It defies the way that book bloggers normally follow the professional format of one book, one review. Not as if a review captures a book – nobody capable of writing a review would think such a thing – but as if the reading experience were a series of dispatches or snapshots.
      I take your point about posting on books vs hairdos/cats/babies/sofas etc. I’d go further and suggest that while those types of postings are valid in their own right, they’re almost always crap, and anyone spending more than a cursory glance at them here and there is demonstrating that its an inalienable democratic right to waste your life.
      I also respect your choices of climbing the big peaks. There is the benefit from such climbs to consider. But what do you do to relax?
      There’s probably reading experiences somewhere that can cater for the serious reader without demanding commitments, deadlines, achievements. My nearest thing to this is Radio 4 podcasts like In Our Time and Thinking Allowed. Cappuccino Intellectualism!

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      • Lucy says:

        I suppose reading is how I relax, even tough reading provides escapism and quite frankly therapy from what can occasionally be a traumatic day job. And like Sarah, I also run so commitments and deadlines are like smack to me. Although, I am capable of sitting and doing nothing, slobbing about the house with a duvet over my shoulders and chocolate round my mouth, and so can switch off, but not for long.

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        • Jeff says:

          I quite like reading at bedtime. It guarantees retaining contact with a book. It’s easy to leave a book by the wayside when busy and then find it alien when returning some time later. I’ve never slobbed around with reading, but there’s nothing like a few hours in the back yard on a sunny Saturday while the rest of the world is away in the mall. Bliss.

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  6. Ste J says:

    I don’t tend to do much in the progress report, I do add a lot of books to a wishlist but other than that I am happy in the knowledge that I am fairly rubbish at reading books people recommend unless I already own them or am in the mind to read them. I find it more like work writing the reviews but recently it has all been about the writing with less and less reading involved sadly. I find it best to ignore the blog when i pick up a book and write whatever notes occur to me and only think directly about blogging when I have finished the book. I do a better job at separating them than the country did with church and state.

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  7. Stefanie says:

    I never think of blogging as work, the day I do is the day I stop blogging. It does take time and effort though and I can understand how you may feel anxious about “keeping up” but that’s the thing, there is nothing to keep up with, there is no boss demanding your report or deciding you don’t get a raise this year because your productivity is down. Just do your own thing and have fun, that’s what matters.

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    • Jeff says:

      As I’ve said elsewhere here, book blogging is structured by the kinds of workplace formats I’ve listed – whether it feels like it’s a form of work will no doubt be experienced differently by different people. I think it’s great that people set themselves reading objectives. Better still when they’re demanding. What’d be refreshing amid these and our other endeavours is formats to give balance.
      One of these might be posts that take seriously reading sources that are usually dismissed out of hand. Another might be the reverse. Another might be slacker short-cuts – I posted some time ago about digests:
      http://wp.me/p2Sk7r-dS
      and indulgence:
      http://wp.me/p2Sk7r-dN
      There is another thought I’ve had since reading so many views here that are unequivocally positive. I might just be seeing athletic reading in a negative way. So in keeping with this post – i.e. by borrowing something from the world of careers – I’ve taken stock of some self-help books. I wouldn’t have normally touched them with a barge pole. But it’s interesting amid the blogosphere endeavours that there isn’t more interest in them. Maybe I’ll find out as I start posting on them in the near future? I’ll keep in mind to be my own boss about the pace of this instead of answering to any calls to ‘seize the day’ and whatnot!

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