Some things on a blogging hiatus

I am not going to lie: I have been in a blogging funk.

And not just a blogging funk, but a review-writing funk. Life has been busy, yes, and free time is always harder to come by in the fall, it seems. There’s been a lot going on in my personal life as well: more derby commitments than usual (start of the season + hosting a statewide tournament – yikes!), an unexpected but pressing home project (rebuilding a bay window – yikes!), and an uptick at work that leaves me feeling ever-so-worn-out when I get home.

Reading has been slower. I finished an absolutely terrible book back in September and it took me forever to read; my stubbornness and unwillingness to put down a book once I’ve started definitely bit me in the ass in a big way. After finishing, all I wanted was to read something else – anything else – FAST. I didn’t want to think about the bad book any more. I definitely didn’t want to write about it. Two books later, and I still haven’t caught up on reviews.

But then, I ask myself: why am I putting such pressure to “catch up” on reviews anyway? This is my blog, my space. I can do what I want with it, even if that means nothing at all. Does it make me sad when I don’t have the energy to write for myself? Yes. Does it make me sad when I don’t have the motivation to write book reviews, especially because writing about books helps me understand and absorb them better? Of course. Do I feel sad about all the reviews I’m not writing right now, since I won’t be able to re-visit my thoughts on the books I’m reading in the future. Yes.

But, you know, that’s OK. Because sometimes, I need a break. Sometimes, I don’t want to hang out here and just talk and talk about books. I’ve read some great, and not-so-great, books lately. And I don’t really feel like talking about them. Well, I’ll talk about them in person – I’m always up for that. But right now, writing about them feels like a homework assignment. And, I’m not in grad school any more, and I’m adult, so if I want to spend my evenings reading and then watching re-runs of Fixer Upper on HGTV, then that’s what I’ll do. (Love that show.)

(Also, I’ll start ALL the sentences with “and” and “but”, and no one can stop me! Weee!)

Given all that, I am still going to record the books I’m reading here – I think that’s easy enough. And I can do it at work, when things are slow (like right now!). Plus, I still like the idea of using this space for things other than books, and maybe, one of these days, I’ll feel like getting back into the swing of writing about those things as well. There’s been a lot going on that I could write about: fall clothes shopping, house repairs, cool quotes and fun links.

But again, I also think there’s something to be said for maintaining a bit of silence about one’s life. For not sharing all the things. My life is validated, and special, and fulfilling even when I don’t tell you about the food I cook, the clothes I wear, or share pictures of my home and cats. So many people have blogs these days – and those blogs are filled with such irritating normalcy – that I wonder: why? Why do you feel it’s necessary to take artsy pictures of your living room and plaster it on the Internet? Does it make you feel special? Does it make you feel better about yourself?

And then I’m like, oh shit. What the hell am doing? I can tell myself I do it for fun, and because I like to write, and because I think it’s cool and neat. But I don’t like to think that I’m using this very public platform as a gratuitous attempt at self-validation. I think I dress very nicely and have good taste in clothes, but I don’t need to act life a lifestyle blogger in order believe that. And I love reading, and think I read a wide variety of pretty great books, but I don’t need to be a book blogger to know that either.

So lately, I’ve been trying to just be – and act like – myself. Live my own private life, and not worry about how others perceive it. Not worry about how it looks on Instagram, or the elegant ways in which I could write about it. Just…do my own thing.

These are not good thoughts if you’ve been blogging off-and-on (mostly on) for more than five years. These are blog-ending thoughts. But I’m just going to let them settle and stew, and see where things take me. Who knows: I’ll probably be back here whenever I get bored and need an outlet. I’ll still record the books I read here, mainly because I have been blogging for so long, and this is a very valuable record of that reading life. But who knows what it will become, or where I want to take it.

I do know that I’m a little weary of pretending like I enjoy a public life. So, here’s to living a private life, not pretending to be more than I am, and sharing when it feels right.

Reinventing Paperback Fool

OK, I won’t lie: I’ve done this a few times.

Part 1

I started this blog – called Paperback Fool because I was highly un-creative – five years ago. It was 2009, and I had just graduated from college, where I earned my BA in English Literature. I had finally found a job working as a bookseller at Half-Price Books in Cincinnati. I had just returned from New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute, where I learned everything you need to know to earn a meager living as a hopeful editorial assistant at a major publishing company. They sent me home with a lot of books. I obviously enjoyed reading – a lot.

But even though I’ve always been surrounded by fellow book lovers, I felt stifled. For the past four years – and in high school before that – everything that I read of great importance had been discussed in classrooms. I wrote papers about those books. I chatted with my classmates about George Eliot and Dan Brown. Reading a book was an EVENT in my life, and I loved it.

Then, graduation and the full-time job happened, and suddenly, no one wanted to listen anymore. I still loved reading, and I especially love coming up with “great thoughts” about those books. I also like sharing those great thoughts, if not to start a conversation with somebody else, but to help me clarify and expand on what’s rattling around inside my head. A naturally quiet and shy person, everything has always sounded better when I write it down.

You see, I also like to consider myself a writer. I was a Journalism major in college as well, and fully intended that field to to serve as my career. I wrote for my college newspaper, had a bunch of internships. For two-and-a-half years, I worked as an online journalist for a company owned by AOL here in Michigan. I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve always wanted to make a career out of it. Unfortunately, I feel that my most marketable skills are those elsewhere in the books/writing world – publishing, editing, and now curating and organizing as a librarian. But I still love to write, and hey! The Internet now gives us the ability to create these online journals of sort, where you can write as much as you damn well please, anyone can read it (or not). They’re called blogs, and they’re awesome.

So I started Paperback Fool as a “book blog”. It was fun, and I had no idea what I was doing. Now, there’s an entire market of book blogs out there – they have their own conferences, awards, and major “issues” – so I wasn’t being super creative. I was just doing what I felt was right for me: let’s write about the books I read! If not for other people, then for myself.

And for the past five years, that’s what I’ve done. With a few exceptions, I’ve written SOMETHING about nearly every book I’ve read during the past five years, and I’m so glad that I did. I can scroll back through my archives, and re-discover my thoughts about this book or the other, and it’s like visiting various parts of my life. Writing about the books I’ve read – from the classics to the not-so-classic – has also been a wonderful exercise in close reading and writing. This blog, more than even my jobs as an actual writer, has given me constant practice with my writing – which can fade if you don’t take care of it. It’s also forced me to THINK, and think deeply, about the books I read, making the reading experience even more fulfilling.

Part 2

At the same time, I’ve always wanted to do more with this space, and do more with my writing. At various times in this blog’s life, I’ve written about my life and stuff that interests me outside the world of books. At one point, I tried to utilize the same techniques that I used to churn out seven news stories a day for my journalism job (phew!) here, resulting in a series of themed, planned posts about various topics. That worked for awhile…until it didn’t. After trying various things, I decided that it was safer, easier, and simpler to stick with straight-up book reviews, with some quotes along the way. Keep Paperback Fool strictly the “reading journal” I created it to be.

But I kept getting struck with the desire to do more. I was interested in more than just books, and I wanted to write about them. I started reading a number of blogs written by fascinating, smart, and driven women who took their core interests and created the most wonderful lifestyle blogs around them. I was inspired. I felt like the posts they were writing would also serve as valuable, and interesting, writing prompts for myself. It would be another way to record my LIFE, not just what I read.

Most recently, I created another blog – A Homebody – on WordPress in order to do this exact thing. But it too floundered. Of course, it’s my fault – I don’t think I had the motivation or the time to work on two entirely separate blogs. But I think I fell into the same trap as before: I tried to give A Homebody a dedicated purpose, and I tried to plan “content” for it the same way I ran my editorial calendar as a journalist. And just like that job completely wore me out, I found myself driven away from A Homebody.

But I’ve never been driven away from Paperback Fool – mainly because I’ve never stopped reading, nor have I ever lost the desire to write about the amazing books I read. And yet, still, I want to do more.

Part 3

Which brings me here: what I’m doing now. Maybe this will be just another phase, another iteration of what I’ve been trying to accomplish for five years now. But that’s OK. Paperback Fool, if anything, is an ongoing project of love. I’m not paid anything. I don’t even own my URL. I had not received one ARC from a publisher for review. While I never wanted to turn this blog into a straight-up journal (bad times with Live Journal as a kid scared me away from that), I’m not surprised that I have this drive to write more about life – my life. Why not?

And so, I guess this is where I’m supposed to outline my “new” goals for Paperback Fool, but the truth it, I don’t have any. What I have is visions of a space without boundaries. This isn’t strictly a “reading journal” anymore, though that’s primarily what I’ll be writing about. This will also be a space for me to muse on other topics, post pictures, share things I like. If I write about one thing more than the others during certain times, that’s OK. If all I can muster up the energy for is book reviews, that’s OK too. I’m not going to plan anything anymore. Is that the best strategy if I’m looking to attract sponsors and become “legitimate”? Probably not. But you know, if I haven’t attracted much “official” attention during these last five years with all the efforts I have made, I don’t think it matters much anyway.

If anything, I just want this space (I like calling Paperback Fool a ‘space’ much more than a ‘blog’) to reflect more of who I am, and I don’t want to split my interests into two blogs in order to do so. And I’m much more than a reader. I:

  • Play roller derby.
  • Am a uber-organizer and cleaner.
  • A wife, sister, and daughter.
  • A cat lover.
  • Am studying to be a librarian.
  • Consider myself to be a feminist.
  • Like to cook to bake.
  • Just bought a house.
  • Live in SE Michigan and work in Detroit.

I’m all that and more. Now, sure, I can share these parts of myself on various social networks, but over the years, I’ve become disenchanted with much of what’s out there. I’ve been hot and cold on Twitter, and now only use it to post my Foursquare check-ins and Instagram pictures. I like sharing on Facebook, but at the same time, am overly conscious of over-sharing. I have Instagram, but I’m notoriously bad at taking pictures (and RSVP’ing).

In fact, I think Paperback Fool is the best online space I’ve found for self-expression over the years, so why change a good thing?

And so, on to the nuts and bolts: I’m going to be making some changes around here, but not all at once. Moving a few things around, changing the links, etc. Not today though…it’s 10:30 am on my day off, and I’m still in PJs, delaying putting off a day of chores and homework. I’m still going to leave A Homebody out there for anyone to find it; I wrote some great pieces (well, I liked them) on some feminism issues over there, and while that’s something I’ll now move over here, I don’t want them to go away.

So, to anyone reading this, I hope you enjoy things. Welcome to my life. Feel free to come in, lay on the couch (but don’t worry about taking off your shoes…we’re not fancy around here), and grab a drink. Let’s hang out.

New ideas, new ways of thinking about blogging

You know, it seems I write about 10,000 words a week for my job, but try to sit me down and write even a measly 100-word blog post for myself, and it’s like pulling teeth. Another two-and-a-half months have flown by sans blogging, and I’m OK with that. It’s been a busy summer. But as I was twiddling around here today, I realized that I do like using this blog as a sort of reading journal — if only for myself, rather than other readers. I mean, I was trying to fill out my summer 2011 reading list and I had a tough time remembering what I had read over the past month. Sad.

So, just as we’re trying to reinvent ways to bring community journalism to readers over the web, maybe I should re-think blogging beyond long, narrative posts. I mean, the fact that it takes me an hour and a half to write a review, coupled with the fact that I have very little time to myself, means it’s easier to avoid blogging all together. But that’s not good.

So maybe shorter posts that document my reading experience (and a little bit of real life, perhaps) is a better idea. Fewer “reviews” and more “diary-like” entries. Maybe that means this blog shouldn’t be public. Lord knows I’ve run into problems with way-too-public blog posts before. And I’ve stopped tweeting for much the same reason — the public/private walls were becoming too thin and it was freaking me out when casual acquaintances thought it was cool to discuss personal issues I had spent several agonizing hours blogging about.

Maybe I could think of this like a Tumblr, instead. Those people don’t seem to have a problem mixing short, random posts with a few well-placed personal items. And no one takes Tumblr seriously, right?

Maybe I should experiment with some formatting. I like doing that in my work-writing — definitely makes writing copious news stories easier and (I think) more interesting for the reader. Maybe I should avoid the Internet and get a regular pen-and-paper journal, like every other self-respecting writer. My handwriting needs the exercise.

Maybe I should stop mulling over it and just try some stuff out. Hmmm. Anyway, if anyone still reads this, bear with me. Or stop reading (if you haven’t already). Or, whatever. Just stay tuned. Things are changing ’round here.

Things are a-changin’ at Paperback Fool

Well, not really.  I guess it would be more accurate to say things are evolving here at Paperback Fool, and only for the better!

In an attempt to move book blogging away from a “sometimes hobby” to a “serious pursuit,” I’ve decided to instill some order around here.  I’ve already created Literary Deovtional Tuesdays and Poetry Fridays, but I think the more I hold myself to regular features, the better.  Readers have something to come back to every week, something to expect.  Instead of random musings mixed with the occasional book review, I want to offer my readers something they can’t get at any other blog.  In short, I want people to come back, day after day.  I want my blog to be a part of their routine.  I want to bring people bookish joy, on a regular basis.

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite awhile, but an idea for which feature/which day struck me this afternoon while I was reading The God of Small Things.  I immediately ran out tofind my daily notebook, where I jot everything from thoughts to grocery lists.  Here is my brainchild:

Mondays: I want to post a book review every Monday.  I think my reading schedule can keep up with the pace, especially now that we’ve moved to Michigan, and while I’m job searching, I’m not out of the house 8 hours a day.  This may mean I don’t post a review immediately after finishing a book, but rest assured, a new review will be there for you bright and early Monday morning.

Tuesdays: As always, I’ll bring you a literary devotional, every Tuesday.

Wednesdays: This is the day where my brain is allowed to wander.  I’ll fill you in on what’s going on in my life (to an extent, of course), and any other random musings I can think of.  As I jump start the job search, be prepared for frustrated rants on the soul-crushing endeavor that is job hunting.

Thursdays: If my reading schedule allows it, I would like to post another review on Thursdays.  If there are none to be posted, I’ll bring you the best in literary news (with my colorful commentary, of course), or even better, booklists!  One of my favorite hobbies is to create lists of books to read, and there’s always room to share.

Fridays: Poetry Friday will continute on, just as it always has.

Saturdays: Since Saturday should be considered a day off, even for book bloggers, I will use Saturdays to share quotes from what I’m currently reading.  Not only will you receive the infinite wisdom of great authors, but it will force me to slow down while I read, and reconsider passages I find particularly moving, and ideas I consider profound.

Sundays: And finally, Sunday will (of course) be devoted to Sunday Salons.  Where I recap all I’ve shared throughout the week, along with any other last minute reflections.

And so there it is.  Hopefully…no, I WILL stick to this plan for the time being.  It may evolve into something else as this blog matures, but for now, I think it will work for both me and my readers.

Why aren’t *I* invited to the Sunday Salon?

For quite some time now, I’ve been aware of the “Sunday Salon” as it exists in the book blogging world.  Every Sunday, book bloggers reflect on their week of reading and reviewing, and rehash it for their readers.  It’s also a chance to reflect on the week and what they’ve learned.  If you’re a member of this club, you can simply go to the Sunday Salon website, and peruse posts from all of its members, keeping you up-to-date and in the know.

In the hopes of improving my blog, I thought adapting something akin to the Sunday Salon would be fruitful.  It would force me to write here more regularly (instead of disappearing for lengths of time, and then overloading everyone when I’m bored), and help me reflect on my writing and reading.  And hey, it might help my readers (all…four of them).

Then I thought, why not just join the Sunday Salon itself?  From its description, it sounds like a blast…intellectually, that is.

Imagine some university library’s vast reading room. It’s filled with people–students and faculty and strangers who’ve wandered in. They’re seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they’re all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they’ll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon’s literary intake….

Hell yeah, invite me to this party.  But then, I read on and found this:

The membership of the list has just grown to over 500 participants. For some time I’ve been thinking that once we reached 500 blogs it would be wise to cease accepting new participants. This is because of problems we’ve had getting Yahoo Pipes, which aggregates all the posts, to work smoothly with such a large number of blogs to sift through. Thus, at least for now, I’m closing off the Salon to new memberships.

So OK.  I guess I can understand the problem with Yahoo’s “pipes” (whatever that means).  But closing off the Salon to new members?  I’m sorry, but was the aforementioned library located at Cambridge during the 1800’s?  Because I’m sorry, but closing off this intellectual soiree just reeks of elitism.  It’s the old money club looking down their noses at the nouveau riche all over again.  If I was feeling feisty, and this metaphorical library actually existed, I might have to scrawl this across the doors:

“I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things.”

OK, maybe I’m taking this a bit far, but this just doesn’t seem fair.  Who’s to say that the original 500 members of the Sunday Salon are still blogging?  Or if they are, are they still participating in the Sunday Salon?  Considering it’s the World Wide Web, and the project was kicked off more than two years ago, I’m betting more than one blog is now inactive.  The best solution to this problem would be to open the Salon up to the public, so that any book blogger is free to participate.  Clearly, the image isn’t difficult to obtain (copy and paste is a beautiful thing).  So OK, maybe whoever aggregates those things won’t include me in the weekly blog wrap-up (since I’m not listed as a member).  Maybe no one will particularly care whether I call my weekly posts Sunday Salons or Sunday Saloons.  But it matters to me, because damn it, even if I’m not invited, that library sounds like an awfully cool place to hang out.

So I guess this is a long way to tell you:  I plan to host an unofficial Sunday Salon right here at Paperback Fool.  Like any other active member of Sunday Salon, I plan on recapping the books I reviewed, my thoughts, the week and any other musings.  If anyone else has been barred from participating in the Sunday Salon, and wishes to do so on their own terms, let me know!  I’ll create…something…for all us outcasts to refer to.  I know that sounds vague, but come on!  Who wants to get in at the ground floor of something new?  See ya on Sunday.

Imposing a little order on this blog

Although I’m happy to say I’ve gotten one thousand times better at posting on a regular basis here at Paperback Fool, I’m still a bit dissatisfied.  Like any work in progress, I guess I’m always trying to find ways to improve the site, an idea concerning which hit me while I was reading my daily excerpt from The Intellectual Devotional this morning.  Every Tuesday’s devotional is about literature–normally on an author, but sometimes a particularly famous work.  I thought these devotionals would be great to share with my reading audience (at least the ones that pertain to literarture…I won’t bore/confuse you with science).

I was also dwelling on this yesterday, after I stumbled across a particularly beautiful poem from Good Poems (edited by Garrison Keillor).  I would have posted it yesterday, however I had plans to write that uber-long review of Persepolis and Reading Lolita in Tehran.  What is a girl to do?

To solve this problem, I’ve decided to give this blog weekly installments in literary knowledge and poetry.  We all need an infusion of literature in our lives, and hopefully this will give even the lay reader a healthy dose of the good stuff.

And so, for your future reference, every Tuesday I will bring you a literary devotional, while I’ll then host poetry Fridays.  Get excited!  Can you feel your brain expanding as we speak?