Questions come to mind as I finally get around to saying something about Plague: Black Death & Pestilence in Europe. I’ve already read and reviewed a book on the same subject, so I don’t know what another review adds. In fact, my more recent experiments in format (comic ‘how-to’s and digests) came about through a feeling that reviewing is rather formal, an industry tool that’s arguably unnecessary for a blogger (unless you’re paid by the publishing industry).
So I read Plague while wondering what I could say about it that would be of any help to other people? Personally, I’ve always had a fascination with an apocalyptic reality that, being biological, is always potentially there. Naphy & Spicer’s particular offering on it adds two social and political angles:
- The reluctance of authorities to institute measures against the plague
- The resistance of populations to following any measures that were instituted.
As a temporary civil-servant, I found the matter of how officials dealt with mass death something that’s both obvious to explore and hitherto overshadowed by the body count figures that are usually entailed. Naphy & Spicer are therefore to be commended for keeping their attention unswerved from practicalities and the role of emotion.
But few people will share my fascination with one of the greatest historical catastrophes. This may be why getting around to writing about this book has taken many months. The delay has been productive though. It’s made me consider what the purposes are to writing about a book in a blog. Here are 5 reasons I came up with:
- Writing about a book gets you to process your ragbag of otherwise idle thoughts. Putting them together into a whole gives a mental picture that is otherwise fuzzier and quickly lost.
- The above parks that book in your mind. You manifest what you got from the read and where this leaves you.
- You get a sense, over time, of the categories of things in the world that interest you. This can reveal a diversity to yourself that can surprise and might have gone unnoticed.
- Responding to comments is an opportunity to confirm or reconsider your views. I notice how many readers who seldom discuss their views on books can end up either viewless or rabidly immoderate.
- There is a sense of where to take a read next. Going over a read doesn’t conclude that read: it poses questions about where to take it or not. And comments to your blog post can help you stay open. This though, as posts about TBRs attest, is as much a curse as a liberation!
What I wonder is how these and other aspects to writing about reading might inform what is written about so that it can make a niche more accessible to anyone less interested? I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s for another post? I’m just aware that the more niche a book is, the harder it is for anyone to comment on it. It’s an inevitable consequence of the way that reading is a niche pursuit for many. Can an awareness of what writing about it is for help that writing along in its cause?