Why I Don’t Miss the Hustle of “Pop” Blogging

Writers  at a coffeehouse.

The best article in last week’s New York Times was Brian X. Chen’s thoughtful essay, “I Deleted Facebook Last Year. Here’s What Changed (and What Didn’t).”  Chen, a tech columnist, writes, “The social network’s long-stated mission has been to connect people so that we can live in a more open world. But after being off Facebook since October, I found that I did not feel less connected and that my social life didn’t suffer, even though I was no longer seeing status updates and pictures on my News Feed.”

Chen outgrew Facebook.  He marvels at all the time he wasted there.  Now he reads lots of books.

And he doesn’t miss his 500 Facebook “friends.” He sees about twenty of them in real life.

I relate to the pleasure of giving up an  online activity that no longer gives pleasure. I decided to stop writing my blog Mirabile Dictu last fall.   Six years: 1,567 posts.  Highlights: so many highlights.

I wrote all kinds of sense and nonsense.  And I wrote fast.  It was so much fun for a while.

But turning around copy is not the point at a blog.  As soon as the blog begins to feel automatic, it’s like work. Why am I  writing this, you begin to ask yourself.   Blogs get stale.   And I wrote such long posts (about 900 words).

The cool thing about Thornfield Hall is that it’s like a private blog. It’s a quiet place. Nobody knows it’s here.  And that’s a relief.

The “bloggers-reading-bloggers” thing has quieted down.  Social networkers used to comment at Mirabile Dictu so other readers would click on the links to their blogs.   One blogger commented daily, not only at Mirabile Dictu but at every blog in blogdom! It was a case of amicitia (political friendship), I suppose.

I can’t help their stats now. And anyway I don’t have my comments on all time!

Here’s the really fun thing.  I have received  mail addressed to Thornfield Hall.  I love the Brontes,  but never thought I’d be Jane Eyre!

I have saved the address label.

Polite Primas and Confounded Amateurs: Do We Need Negative Social Media?

I covered my eyes.  “Delete this comment if it’s vicious.”

“It’s medium,” my cousin the librarian said matter-of-factly. “She  hates you but only drips with venom.”

“Ack!”

There are three kinds of bad comments:  (a) sarcasm under a semblance of politeness, which may be just poor writing (consult the I Ching), (b) dripping with venom but the cocky commenter is sure you won’t detect the tone (delete); and (c) so brutal that you have no alternative but to eat a box of cupcakes (and delete all social media accounts).

And not only  bloggers encounter negative comments.

In a recent article at Slate, Heather Schwedel scrutinizes complaints by  writers on Twitter and Instagram who are disconcerted when amateur reviewers tag them on bad or mediocre reviews. They tweet that it’s rude:  they don’t want their weekends spoiled.  Though they must deal with reviews at The New York Times, writers Rebecca Makkai, Lauren Groff, and Carmen Maria Machado don’t want to read negative social media reviews.

This sounds sort of prima donna-ish to me but then I’m not on  Twitter, because I avoid brutality.  I instantly started sweating:  should I not write the subjects of my posts in tags at the blog (which I do for organization).  It doesn’t alert the writers, does it?  That must be a different kind of tag.

And should  I take a note from the novelists and remind commenters that it’s rude to be mean?  Would it work? Maybe for a prima…which I am!

Writers are tired of consumer reviews, and Goodreads is a trigger for many writers. You may have heard of  Y.A. novelist Kathleen Hale’s forthcoming collection of essays, Kathleen Hale is a Crazy Stalker.  Hale sought  revenge on a popular Goodreads reviewer who wrote a bad review of her novel.  She stalked her.  Hale apparently drove this reviewer off Goodreads.

Kayleigh Donaldson, a feature writer at Pajiba, writes that she knew Blythe Harris in the Y.A. community at Goodreads,  and is horrified by Hale’s criminal stalking of her.  She writes,

Back in the good old days before I was a professional writer, I was a book blogger who focused heavily on young adult fiction. I spent a lot of time on Goodreads, where I cultivated a large circle of fellow YA loving friends who prized the community as much as the literature they discussed. In October 2014, the author Kathleen Hale, who had written a YA novel called No One Else Can Have You, published that same year, wrote a piece for the Guardian. It was entitled, ‘“Am I being catfished?”’ An author confronts her number one online critic.’ The piece was strange to say the least, but it waded into truly terrifying territory when Hale admitted to stalking a critic from Goodreads who gave her book a bad review. The ‘revelation’ of the piece was that the reviewer, known as Blythe Harris, did not live under the name she used on Goodreads. I, like many YA bloggers, had also negatively reviewed Hale’s book. I also knew Blythe and her disappearance from the community left many of us shaken. One of our own, someone who had done nothing wrong, had been stalked by an author, who then turned the story into a quirky essay that once again positioned critics as spiteful shrews. Stalking was simply the cute framing for the age-old tale of evil reviewers.

I looked at The Guardian piece and found it incoherent and scary. Oh, yes, we hate mean comments, but stalking is illegal. They’ll publish the book because it will make money.

O tempora! O mores!

You’d Rather Be Reading, or Would You?

Or would you?

There used to be an online community, we idealistically thought. The internet was the best thing since the counterculture. Remember Readerville and the forums at Salon?   I  also belonged to several online book groups, and was delighted to meet fellow readers at book festivals.   We saw the best of the internet, because we spent little time there.  Our slow dial-up barely loaded webpages.

With the rise of social media platforms, everything has changed. Language has declined (think Twitter), and fake news and misinformation proliferate.  Online book discussions have dwindled from mini-essays to a sentence or two.  I often feel I’m on a long, reckless drive on the back roads of blogs, book clubs, and book reviews.  Occasionally I find something good.

Goodreads is one of the better book sites, though I didn’t appreciate it at first.  I couldn’t see the point.  One blogger says she moved to Goodreads so she could lose the trolls. (Something to think about.)  Personally, I like the consumer reviews, and  I also enjoy the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which is a simple matter of stating the number of books you hope to read. Every time you note that you’ve finished a book, a picture of the book cover pops up. It is very cute.

Weirdly, many writers at online publications have written lately about their anxiety over their Goodreads Challenge.  And they advise other worried readers how to meet their goals.  (Let me sum it up : read shorter books!) What saddens me is this evidence of how social media can depress people.  That number bugs them, and they feel distressed that others read more.

My favorite of these articles is Angela Watercutter’s light, witty take, “Goodreads and the Crushing Weight of Literary FOMO,” at  Wired.  She does read books, but feels she doesn’t read enough. “How do I know this? Fucking Goodreads.”

Watercutter joined Goodreads in 2010.  She didn’t participate, but got updates about what her “friends” were reading.

Every few days or weeks, just when I started feeling positive about my biblio advancements, one of these messages would come across the transom: “Updates from…” Upon opening it, I’d find out that someone who I knew had a full-time job and active social life had finished two novels in the time it’d taken me to get through the jacket blurbs on David Sedaris’ latest essay collection. Deflation followed. Not only did I feel uninformed and slow, I felt somehow left out. I like talking about books, and thanks to Goodreads I had a constant reminder of all the great books I hadn’t read and all the conversations I couldn’t yet join. It was pure literary FOMO. (A point of clarity: I was also that sucker who tried to participate in Infinite Summer, the challenge to complete David Foster Wallace’s behemoth Infinite Jest. That summer ended in nothing but infinite regret.)

Keep track in a notebook: it doesn’t announce the percentage!

Yes, I, too, follow people who read a book a day.  And I get notes on their Kindle progress.  Should I be reading more and faster?  It’s hard to obsess about a number on a website, though.

I’m a pragmatist. I would never challenge myself to an unrealistic goal.   And since this “challenge” is just for fun (I like the pretty pictures of the book covers!),  it’s  one of the least stressful things in my life!

If you are upset about your Goodreads Reading Challenge, I have three solutions: (a) read short books, (b) change the challenge number, or (c) or keep track of your reading in a notebook, which doesn’t announce the percentage!