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01 January 2007

To Another Year of Reading and Blogging....(with Graphs for Emily)

Blogging review:
I started 2006 by creating this blog, not having a clue how long I would maintain it or if anyone would ever read it. I didn't know whether I would have much to say. I wondered if I was limiting myself by writing about books. I wasn't aware that there were lots of others who maintained book-themed blogs, much less familiar with the term "lit blogger". My only goal in 2006 was to read more, and to write some. Now, 100 posts, 4443 unique visits, and 269 comments later(plus countless comments left on some other great blogs), I can say that I never would have predicted how blogging would change my writing or my reading in the span on one short year.

It wasn't long before I found MetaxuCafe and discovered several other blogs. I wasn't alone out in the blog universe and there were people who wrote about things other than what they had for lunch, how rotten their kids or bosses were, the 'inside dish' on all things political, or Brittany's underpants. Gradually, visitors started stopping by my site, and sometimes they'd even leave comments. I'm thrilled anytime my site counter increments and I love it when people comment. Comments are what make the blogging experience great. It isn't enough to know that someone, somewhere read what I wrote; the dialog provided through the comments is what makes posting something worthwhile.


Here is a map indicating the locations of various visitors to my blog. The map is an combination of several maps that I've downloaded from StatCounter, so while it is accurate, it isn't representative of all visitors to my site. NZ is a little out of proportion, and Alaska is lost of the top left but I've noticed my visitors from Alaska too.

Writing review:
I mostly wrote about books and things I was reading. My wish list of things to read grew exponentially once I started reading reviews on others' blogs. How I wrote about books changed too. At first, I wasn't sure how to write about what I was reading. I didn't want to write criticism per se, at least not what I had to write when I was in school. I didn't like it then; I didn't see much of a point in doing so in a blog. My first few posts were formal reviews; in re-reading them, I don't like the tone. Nothing is wrong with what I wrote; I stand by my opinions, although I don't know that I'd write either of this now.

For example:
In her first book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Lynne Truss elevated a spot-on, sincere rant to a book-length argument against improper grammar. In her second book, Talk to the Hand, Truss tries to ride on the coattails of her earlier success to rage against a decay in manners throughout society. However, far from writing an enjoyable sequel to Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Truss has delivered a long, ill-humored, unoriginal whine about how the world is falling apart due to the unruly, ill-mannered Visigoths rallying at the gates, talking on their cells phones, and screaming "Eff-off" at the slightest offense. Society is bad and all that, but Truss' book, in the end, is an arrogant and rude diatribe.
Or this:
I trod through 30 chapters, nearly 400 pages of plodding prose. ....I felt some twinges of guilt for despising this book so much. The subject, after all, is interesting. But, this book was in desperate need of editing. ....the prose varied widely from overwrought to simplistic as an elementary school composition....Reading [the book] was like being trapped by someone's aging uncle at your second cousin's wedding reception: you want to be polite and listen to the stories, but after some time the stories run together and you'd rather make your escape by dancing the hokey-pokey or drinking more of the too-sweet punch. An experienced editor would have trimmed this book by 200 pages and the end result would have been both an interesting and a captivating read.
I didn't know how to write about a work if I wasn't being critical of it. When I read some books that I liked, I didn't know how to approach writing about them. As I read more book blogs, I became more aware of an audience who might be reading my posts, and the tone, approach, and content of my posts changed as well. I was more willing to put more of me in my reviews, even if writing something that was criticism, like this, from a post for A Curious Singularity:
There is a peculiar feeling that I experience from time to time that I like to think of as 'The Moment'. It isn't one moment that stands apart from all others; it isn't necessarily something profound, maybe not even memorable over time. Yet, it is a discernible present, a second or two that seems to last a little longer than a fleeting tick of the clock. Time seems to hang suspended for just long enough to perceive a difference. And, then, nothing is the same again.

Call it an epiphany, eureka, a paradigm shift, or a sudden flash of insight; it is what I call 'the moment'. It is palpable, perhaps measurable in some strange mathematical system. One's senses reel as one's brain steps quickly to rearrange all of the pieces into a new understandable pattern. It is this kind of a moment that is the culmination of James Joyce's The Dead.
I think this was one of my best-written posts this year. Here is the full post.

Last Spring, I wrote a poem, after not having written one in several years. Posting it was a scary step, but I still didn't have many readers at that time. I'm not sure why I would have more angst around posting a poem than my opinion about a book. Soon I found Poetry Thursday and wrote more poems and posted a few of them. Some of my favorites are Twisting Physics Makes A Poem, Archeology and 80 feet deep.

A review of my year of blogging wouldn't be complete without mentioning the amazing experience that was the Poetry Meme. I'd thought about creating a meme previously, but hadn't given it much thought before I developed this. Writing it was spontaneous and little thought was given to whether anyone I tagged would complete it. Now, more than 6 weeks later, I am still getting hits on the Google Alerts I set up to track this. I tracked the spread of the meme for a short time (see here), but I soon lost count of how many people had completed it. More amazing than the sheer number of people who have done this meme, is the wonderfully varied responses. Google "Poetry is like...." and click on the "I feel lucky" button; you'll land on the sites of some terrific poets and enthusiastic poetry lovers.

Reading Review:
So how did I do on my reading goals? I didn't have a specific reading plan for the year. The only goal was only to read more. More than -- what? I hadn't kept a record of what I had read for several years. I think I might have been happy if I had read all of the books I received for Christmas, plus most of the books for my reading group. I wouldn't have predicted that I would join another in-person reading group & two on-line groups by the end of the year. Nor would I have dreamed that I would finish more than 40 books this year. I started 31 works of fiction and 45 nonfiction books. I abandoned 6 of them. 17 are still 'in-process'; some may be that way for a long time before I make a decision to throw them in the 'never open again' heap or give them another go. Some just haven't been completed not because of some inherent flaw in the work, but just because something else piqued my interest; they'll be finished at some point in time. 9 were memoirs, 6 were books of poetry. I heard readings from 4 of the authors I read (Mary Oliver, Chris Abani, Nick Hornby, and Anne LaMotte) and have books I haven't started yet by two others I heard speak (William Least-Heat Moon, Zadie Smith). 24 books were written by females. 11 works were from the 20 & 21st centuries, 5 from the 19th, and 2 from the 18th (only works of fiction & poetry counted). Nonfiction subjects covered a variety of topics, including history, art, politics and religion and travel. The largest category was 'culture' -- which could include all of these topics!

And, now, the graphs.....
Since Emily requested it, following a comment I made on Dorothy's blog, here is my reading review in six graphs:

G1:Reading Timeline in Relation to Blog Posts
G2:Books Read/In Process/Abandoned

G3:Fiction/Nonfiction Books


G4:NonFiction by Subject Category
G5:Fiction/Poetry by Century


G6:Works by Gender of Author

10 comments:

jenclair said...

Great post! It is interesting to see the feelers go out once you've created a book blog. Where are the other readers and what are they reading? Until there is a spider web of blogs crossing and weaving around and through...

And yes, the comments! Who are the people reading your blog and where are they from and what do they think about reading in general and about specific books? What other books by the same author do the recommend - or on the same topic...

I, too, have found that it is easier to write about what I don't like about a book than to pin down some of the effervescent reasons that a book delights.

The graphs are a great idea, Cam. It is nice to see the visual representation.

Maggie said...

I'm glad to see your reviews shift more to the personal. I think that shows an honest growth as a reader/writer. One is surprised at the feedback when she expresses her true feelings of a book and others actually agree. Its a scary thing to put it out there.

We are taught not to write about the "I", but because books are such a personal experience it is only natural.

Love the visuals, too. :)

Stefanie said...

Love the graphs. And knowing you have 17 books in progress is a comfort because I was feeling guilty the other day for having 10 in progress :-)

Dorothy W. said...

Wow -- those graphs are great! The mathematical, number-loving side of me is thrilled by all this!

It's so interesting to think about what blogging teaches us -- I've learned so much and my writing has changed as I've gone along -- it's been great.

Carl V. said...

Great post, love the details, love the graft! For a bit there I was reading and thought you were going to say that you were closing it all down. Glad to see that is not the case!

danielle said...

Great wrap up post! I love the graphs (visuals are great!), and the map is wonderful. I always wonder where people click in from!

charlotte said...

Great post, Cam. I loved the graphs, and also the way you charted your development as a litblogger. I also started blogging in 2006 (though I do mention my children, cooking and events in my German life as well as books), and have found it a wonderful, enriching experience. Glad it was the same for you ...

Emily said...

Maybe three's a charm? This is the THIRD time I've tried to leave a commment. I'm going to shorten it to "thanks for the graphs," and will add more later, if it works.

Emily said...

Well, it worked! So now I will add that it's interesting to hear how blogging has affected others and their writing.

And next year, can I get you to graph my statistics for me?

Cam said...

Emily, I'm sorry to hear that you are having problems posting. I bet it is related to you not having changed your blogger blog to Beta yet. You now need a gmail account to leave a comment as a Blogger name. Frustrating, isn't it? And unless you have upgraded your blog, even with the gmail account, you aren't linking your display name back to your blog. Just a suggestion: you might want to include a link in posted comments if you want people to link back to your blog via your comments until you do upgrade (or jump ship as many have....)

To anyone reading this who doesn't know Emily, you can find her at Telecommuter Talk. A great blog, despite it's somewhat misleading name (it isn't about modems and vpns and working alone & such....)