Saturday, July 17, 2010

Changing Reading Habits

Have you ever regretted starting your book blog?

That may be putting it a bit harshly. What I think I mean to say is: Have you ever wondered what your life would be like without your book blog? If you had never started it? If you quit now?

I do. I feel that, inevitably, having a blog has affected my reading habits and preferences. And not all of it is for the better. Yes, I've been exposed to a ton more YA literature since the inception of this blog. Whereas I barely read any YA during my first two years of college, in 2009 I read over 200 books, most of them YA. The number of books I own has multiplied significantly, as has my TBR pile. Now I will never be for a lack of something to read.

And yet, it is also this abundance of books, choices, and opportunity that seems to be a burden at times. How many times have we looked at our piles and piles of books to be read and been at a loss for what we want to read next? How many times have we guiltily picked up a book to read that wasn't from our gargantuan review pile? How many times have I had book A.D.D., or a reading slump, and then felt horrible that I wasn't reading reading reading all the time, because I have more books than I probably will ever be able to finish in my lifetime, if this pace of book acquisition and publication and lusting after not-yet-released books continues?

I'm fairly sure that there have been studies that have shown that having too many choices may not be the best thing for human beings. I mean, have you ever gone into a supermarket and been overwhelmed by all the choices you could have just for one measly jar of pasta sauce? Do I want the gourmet brand, or the generic store label? Do I want basil-flavored sauce, or sauce with extra cheese? Should I buy the too-big-for-just-me 24oz jar and save a few cents, or spend more money on a smaller size? I just want some pasta sauce, dangit!!

Sometimes, I think having a book blog is bad for my mental health.

(Then again, it wasn't very stable to begin with. I am a weird being. My friends can attest to that.)

I've been told by well-meaning people, just step away from your blog for a while. Take a break. You deserve it. But that is, of course, easier said than done. I LOVE retreats--my idea of a vacation is to go somewhere beautiful and secluded for myself for a period of time--but the thought of being away from the YA industry world, of not being on top of new releases, deals, Twitter, and whatnot, is, frankly, terrifying. I remember the early months of 2009, when I had just started blogging, and how torturously out of the loop I felt (and was) about everything YA. There I was, two years out of reading YA regularly, and I was suddenly being bombarded with years and years' worth of recommendations, news, new and old author news, and more. There is always that insecurity slump several months into blogging, when you've pretty much established a working routine and are consistently producing material, and yet there is so much more out there than you can handle. You feel like you can never catch up. You falter. You sink into the blues. How, you say to yourself, can you ever think of becoming an established and well-respected blogger if you can't even keep up with just general news and be "in the know"?

Do I want to go back to that state? You bet I don't. My ever-expanding knowledge of old, current, and upcoming YA lit is something I worked hard to get and am very proud of. Who doesn't want to be an expert in something? I love that I can recommend good YA books to my friends who enjoy YA but are not as psychotically involved as I am. Even attending TAC 2009 I felt so out of the loop: people were just jumping into conversations with book recommendation and author name after book recommendation and author name. I couldn't keep up. I felt enormously incompetent and redundant. 2010 has been a much better year for me in terms of keeping up with YA news.

I think I'm afraid that if I stop (and sometimes I so very much want to), I'll never be able to start again.

How has blogging changed your reading habits? I think I have a much lower tolerance for books I don't connect with now. In the past, I'd most likely continue slogging through a book even if in the end it wasn't my thing. These days, I really wish I could put down books I don't connect to within the first 30 pages. I mean, come on: I have several hundred books in my TBR pile, I really would prefer to spend my time reading books I enjoy, thank you very much. But such is the commitment one makes when one blogs, the commitment to give more attention and patience to a book sent to you for review than you would've given it had it just been a book from your own purchases or library. I still haven't found a good balance between giving a review book that's not my thing a chance and knowing when to set it aside. (Note to self: work on that in the future.)

Yeah, yeah, I know about the Reader's Bill of Rights, that I have the right to put down a book if I'm not interested in it. But being a human being, being social, taking part in this dance of relationships and communication and etiquette, means that there is an exchange of trust and responsibility taking place. Whether we want to or not, admit it or not, we pay more attention to those things we have more connecting threads with, that we have more personal interest in. Tell me you'd give more of a chance to a book written by a friend, than one written by someone whom you know nothing about, because he or she is one of the last holdouts in this 21st-century social media publicity world.

I don't like the panicky feeling I get in my chest when my gaze falls on the boxes and boxes of books that I say I intend to read "sometime in the future." Reading shouldn't give me anxiety attacks. When I go on long vacations with limited Internet access, I prefer taking classics with me, which does nothing for the appalling size of my TBR review pile. And I know I spend more time each day online, checking all my blogging- and reading-related sites, than I do writing or reading.

Can I really say that I have healthier reading habits now than I had, say, three years ago?

I'm not quite sure I have an answer to that.

I'm leaving for a cruise up to glorious Canada with my aunt, uncle, and family friend tomorrow, with limited Internet access and phone for the next five days. I have scheduled posts, of course (the only way I can manage to post all the reviews I've written), but I'll essentially be offline until Thursday. It'll be like a mini-retreat for me. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you guys think about the blogging experience, and whether or not it has changed your reading habits. Is there anything you miss about not having a blog?

(Disclaimer: This is by no means something like the beginning of the end for me. I'm pretty sure I will continue blogging and reviewing books at least until I finally get a book published--after which I should probably keep my mouth more shut in an attempt at industry neutrality. I just needed to get this off my chest, this thing that has kept inspiration hidden from me for the last month or so.)


  1. I'm not sure if this is that relevant, but I went to china for about 2 weeks and I was literally, cut off from my blog. I couldnt access it because it was blocked and that experience was a bit of an eye-opener. The kind of forced-stepping-away thing, and I do think it left me disoriented. So much stuff I've missed in such a short time, but it did leave me LESS stressed out.

    Instead of of obsessing over my blog, I could read for fun, and write down reviews to post later. I think it was more positive than negative tbh. A bit hard to start up again after the break because I find myself thinking, "what the heck did I post before? I'm out of ideas!" I think if I *really* needed to get away from my blog, I could do it (which I didn't really think was possible before, haha)

    It also helps that I don't have an ominous TBR pile :p Guilt-free escape!

    I loved the post and the ideas you brought up. And Canada is AMAZING :p have fun!

  2. Excellent post! I'm the same way - if I don't blog for a few days, it gets overwhelming when I return. I'm probably not as involved in the book blogging world as you are, but still!

    Oh, I live in Canada! Hope you enjoy your visit.

  3. Oh, this is a question I already find myself asking day in and day out. With working for Dear Author as well, I also have the added in affect of 'Which should I review on DA AND my blog, just DA, and just my blog..' as well as more ARC relationships to keep track of. >.>

    In two months, I think I've gotten more book anxiety than ever. But I still read books I don't have to review. Adult fiction has essentially turned from my analyzing reading to my airhead reading. Odd, but I like it. It makes me feel powerful as a reader of YA. :P

    Also ditto on getting published. Halfway through a book that blogging is making so hard to finish...but I seriously just cannot think I'll stop blogging, even if I do get published (unless of course I am told not to). Look at authors like Orson Scott Card. That guy explains his opinions (which are extremely offensive to homosexuals, by the way, readers) on everything and is still totally fine.

    I am with you on the 'I have no clue' area. I think, reading habit wise, it's given me more structure - and more time management. As a writer, it's helped me by giving me practice and allowing me to analyze my own work and see what themes I have going, what I need to improve on, and all of that. I think they key is to get to the place where you balance your professionalism with your fun, self-centered purposes and needs. Or something like that. :)

  4. I feel like I could have written this post myself.

    One thing I love to do is re-read my favorite books. But when it comes to it, I think, "Well, I already have a review for that book on my blog, and spending time re-reading will keep me from reading something new and getting content for a post."

    It's so ridiculous, because in those ways my blog is keeping me from reading what I want.

    I love my blog, but it does bother my sometimes how much it totally dictates what I read.

  5. Gosh, I love you guys. You've already made me feel less alone with your comments. :) We will get through this together (even if we don't ever figure it out)!

  6. I was JUST thinking about this the other day! I haven't been blogging for very long, but between BEA, book suggestions, and review copies, my TBR how grown from three books to hundreds. In less than 5 months.

    Suffice to say, I get anxious looking at my TBR pile now. Sometimes, I feel so unmotivated to read (whether it be because I've been reading like crazy, I'm not thrilled about the lineup, or I'm in a reading/reviewing slump). Sometimes, I feel like my blog is taking up all my time. Sometimes, I feel like I'm more concerned with networking, and numbers, and comments, and everything else... which then affects my writing and reading.

    But you know, you started blogging for a reason. It's times like these when you have to look back and think about WHY you wanted to blog in the first place. At the end of the day, you should be doing this because you enjoy it and it makes you happy.

    I also agree, once you get published, you should probably stop running a book review blog. That's not to say you can't type up a few encouraging words on Goodreads like I've seen authors do about the books they loved. That's my plan :)

    I think the best part about starting a book review blog was the networking. It's allowed me to meet so many wonderful people I would have otherwise never met. Plus, it was a huge motivator--talking to some of my favorite authors about their work--for my writing.

    In the end, I think that's the most important part. It's nice staying on top of things, and it's frustrating trying to play catch up with your TBR pile... but you're only human. Unless you pick up a second reviewer, then that's just something you've got to take a deep breath and deal with. Unfortunately.

    Have a great vacation! I hope you regain your book sanity when you come back :)

  7. I agree with what you have to say here. I've found myself contemplating quitting many times, especially this year. I love YA and I love blogging, but I feel like I never have time for those books, especially non-YA books that I used to love and still want to read. And I totally have that "feeling guilty for reading a non-review book" think going on too. It's a tough choice. I'll stick with it for awhile, though, but if it ceases to be fun, then I need to stop.

  8. Thanks for such an honest and open post. All of the things you've mentioned are among the reasons I decided to not create a book blog of my own, even though I love posting reviews on Amazon and have a pretty good reveiwer standing there. The mere thought of the overwhelming pressures and expectations I would create for myself were just too much after I created my first (and last) blog post and realized how much work it was. To you I say GOOD JOB, and keep it up only as long as it keeps you happy too.



  9. Ah! I was definitely thinking about this all this week and I completely agree with what you wrote.

    I was planning on doing a blog post on my reading habits and mentioning how I felt about this and whatnot. Is it OK I mention this post?

  10. Bianca: absolutely. :) Link back here when your post is up, so we can take a look!

  11. I think there's a whole combination of things that are making me feel this way, just like you. I'm actually enjoying my reading, but I feel like I'm not putting anything into my blogging, on top of the fact that it's summer and I'm getting nothing done. Who knew summer was so stressful? But I need to remember this blog is for ME. I can't imagine my life without my blog - and I'm not sure if that's good or bad. I honestly don't know what I would do with all of the free time if I didn't have a blog. And that worries me a bit. I want to go back to normal life, but I don't want to stop blogging. Luckily, I have a vacation coming up that'll last for over a week, which will include absolutely no reading or blogging. I think I'll be good after that. Like Bianca, I think I'll make a post and link back if that's alright.

  12. I just loved reading this post - best post I've read in a while. thanks for sharing and your honesty and it all totally makes sense to me :)

    I remember the days when I randomly choose books from the library having no idea about the author or the hype and then getting pumped about finding a book I was into (I found John green and jaclyn moriarty and Melina Marchetta and a ton of others...) I love having a community, but sometimes hype ruins a book that I otherwise may have thought was okay.

    All up, I just want to read b/c I love reading, not b/c I have to read a certain book.

    I also struggled when a had a reading slump and reading became a chore and I realised I was forcing myself and why, really? No one is making me read... (well, so far :)

  13. Great post, Steph! I really enjoyed reading about the things that you had to say. If I ever decide to write a post about my reading habits, would it be okay if I link back to your post? While I agree with what you said that sometimes it's stressful to stay on top of things and keep yourself updated with the latest buzz in the YA world, I have a different perspective because I've never received a book for review. I don't know if this is because I don't ask for review copies or because I live in the Philippines so it's probably harder for publishers to send me copies but I've never gotten an ARC. So I definitely don't feel the pressure that you do. I'm still in that stage where I read what I want. :) Although I don't get to re-read anymore because of my massive TBR (care of recommendations from fellow book bloggers).

  14. I totally understand how you feel. I feel like I've read more YA ever since I started focusing on reviews. I feel weird writing about my personal life and writing, because that's what I would like to do. It doesn't seem like that's what a book blog would do, but I write more book reviews than I do anything else, but I don't want to lose writing about my personal life or things I muse about.

    I enjoy having a blog,but I never gave it any thought about life would be like if I hadn't had one. I always wondered what life would be like if I would have started blogging earlier in life like in high school or something. (I did on myspace, but that doesn't count)

    I hope you enjoy Canada and get a chance to relax.I know I went without internet and cell for a week and I thought I was going to freak, but it was nice to leave and then come back to catch up on things. I hope you have fun.

  15. Thanks for the post! I feel exactly like this about my blog sometimes. Especially about feeling guilty when I pick something I want to read over something I have to review. I've been trying to turn away books for review that I am not extremely interesting in; but that it tough because I am interested in everything :-)

    I will agree that my tolerance for "book that I don't connect with" or just bad books has really decreased. I almost take it as a personal affront when a book I am reading is so horrible it is a waste of time...

    Thanks again for the post, I think it echoes how a lot of book bloggers feel :-)

  16. In all honesty, maybe I haven't hit that anxiety yet. I've been blogging nearly five months, and it's never felt stressful. But then, blogging is my escape from everything else - a bit of quiet time for me.

    That said, I've only ever received two ARCs so I don't have a crazy amount of books on my shelf.

    One thing I force myself to do though, is never to have more than 10 unread books at any time. If I have 10, I'll read them all and won't buy any more til I'm done. I have to do this cause of money issues, but it definitely helps me feel less overwhelmed!

    Remember that this is your blog, and your space. You're under no obligation to do anything you don't want to do, or don't have the time to do.

  17. I agree. Well that's the short answer. Blogging has drastically changed my book buying and reading habits, and it has also changed my day-to-day life by giving me a hobby which can reasonably take up hours a day. My big shift was from classics to contemporaries; I used to read dead people and now I have books before they are even published. Very, very strange. Every now and then I miss the ease of spontaneous, personal reading, but then I just stop and read what I want. I'm not niche and I don't worry about staying on top of the industry, so I have a bit less stress than you do.

  18. My blog is very small and yet it's surprising how much time I have been spending on it since I started and sometimes I wonder If it's healthy and reasonable.

    My advise: you have a great thing here, if you feel like reading something different and reviewing it I am sure we will all be happy to follow your reviews regardless of the "tag".

  19. I know EXACTLY how you feel. When times come up that I just can't handle all the books to choose from, I simply take a break. I still post on my blogs, just not reviews.

    I'm going through that right now. I have so much going on that reading has been practically cut off. I don't have time to sit down and read for 4 hours or I just can't get into certain books. I haven't posted a review on my blog in over two weeks. I have posted interviews and my memes and I have still communicated with my followers. And I think its okay to take a break, because our followers are just like we are, and they probably go through the same exact things.

    I think if we keep chugging through unhappily, it could possibly ruin our love for reading, so I see taking a break as a healthy alternative to quitting a blog I so dearly love.

    Thanks for this awesome post.

  20. My comments in list form:

    1) Yay, Canada! ;)

    2) I am often overwhelmed by what to read because I buy so many books at a time. But that's always been the case for me because as my salary went up so did the number of books I COULD buy at one time. Heh.

    3) I used to work at a bookstore for 8 years and I was always all over the new releases when they came out. Then I went into administrative work and lost that connection until I started discovering book blogs.

    4) Having blogged for a long time now (yes, I am a granny blogger!) I don't regret starting a book blog at all, only because I extracted the books from my personal blog to keep them all in an easy to access space. I didn't even KNOW about other book blogs at the time other than my friend's who gave me the idea.

    5) As I do not get the loads of review copies everyone else seems to get I don't have the anxiety over what to read next in the pleasure vs review area. This past month I have received quite a few (for me) review books and I have been spacing them out between things I feel like reading based on my mood and the what's releasing next.

    6) I don't know how many of you book bloggers who get swamped with review copies can do it. The one time I was contacted by a major pub to review I wrote back "It would be wonderful, but there is no way I could keep up with what I am seeing others get." And so we came to an agreement that if I saw something interesting I could ask for it and see if there is a copy available.

    That helps me sleep better at night.

    My TBR pile is about 90 books and about 90% of those I bought over the last 2 years. I'm a mood reader, I can't help it. I might want something RIGHT away but then get home and pick up the book next to it on the shelf. ;)

    I think if you're overwhelmed (you as in the general sense) you might need to contact the pubs and say "please stop right now! I can't handle this with my real life". Or just focus on reading things that you WANT to read and give the pressure books a backseat for a little while.

    If anything, think about how you started this blog for fun and to keep track of books you read because you read a lot - review copies excluded. *hugs*

  21. My reading habits have definitely changed. I've been exposed to amazing books that I never would have approached before which is why I don't regret starting abook blog. But I always feel quilty for doing things other than reading and with an ever increasing TBR pile of review books, reading has become a bit of a chore.

    Though I want to give up some days, I really do love it too much and I couldn't bear to be out of the loop again either. Or loose touch with all of the fabulous people I've met through blogging.

  22. I've been thinking about this for SO long but I hesitated on actually writing a post for it because I didn't want to make anyone upset. But I'm glad you brought this up because it's something that every blogger goes through at some point. Blogging HAS changed my reading habits tremendously. I've started reading books from genres that I never would've touched two years ago. I don't go to the library much nowadays because I get enough in the mail and don't want to overdo it (I get anxious when I see a tiny stack of books now!). Book blogging is very demanding but I try not to get swept but by the hype that comes whenever a new book is announced and I focus on what I want to read, even if it's not what's in at the moment. I don't want to stress out over something fun-I just want to be the bookworm I always was and will be :)

  23. I have been blogging for almost 6 years, and it is something that I love to do. It gives me a break from reality, and things are pretty tough for me right now. Work is overwhelming, I am dealing with a parent's illness, and I feel like I am under so much stress. Blogging (and my horses) gives me a desperately needed outlet to blow off some steam.

    Now with that said, I do feel very discouraged with certain aspects of my blog. The manga industry is in tatters, with several of my favorite publishers closing shop. I decided at the beginning of the year to add coverage of YA fiction, and I am enjoying the exposure to new titles and authors. At times, however, it feels like I am starting my blog all over again. Trying to make new connections with both publishers and YA bloggers can be frustrating, but then I sit back and look at how many awesome books I have read this year and I keep plugging away.

    Yes, there are times when the review piles are totally overwhelming. Yes, there are times when I would rather take a nap than read a book. But at the end of the day, if I didn't have my blog, I would go nuts. I think that as long as you have balance in your life, everything works out in the end.

  24. I agree with you 100%. I totally have book ADD, and it does give me anxiety. I really need to learn to give myself greater leeway, and allow myself to read whatever I damn well feel like reading! Not what I'm "supposed" to be reading.

  25. I hear you. I've been out of a town a few times this summer and at first I was worried about my blog, would my scheduled posts go up on time, would I miss naything really important? etc. But gradually I relazed. I like knowing that posts are still going up and I'm usually not out of town for so long that I miss urgen emails. I do sometimes get tired of whitewashing and all that. There are so many deep posts to read and it's a lot and can be overwhleming (especially because I feel obliged to comment on a lot of posts).

    Since I only read books about POC in color I don't get sent too many books so I'm not overwhelmed by that. yet. I've discovered some great new titles through blogging and met new people and for that I'm grateful. I've also learned about how the publishing industry works (a little bit anyway) and that's cool.

    Hsve fun in Canada!

  26. Great post. I think CONSTANTLY about stepping out of my blog basically because I do goodreads, twitter, and librarything. I think I would be happier with just twitter and goodreads.

    I haven't been blogging long but when I started, I thought I wanted to get ARCs because it seemed like what the "cool kids" were doing. But, then it drove me away from my mission. The whole reason I started blogging was because I hadn't read any of the books that were up for the Printz award and I'm a middle school librarian. So, now, slowly I'm getting back to that base. It means I'm blogging about different books but those that are meaningful to me and my job.

    Someone mentioned earlier about reading adult books for fun and I find I do that too. I love TLC Blog Tours because they offer many of the adult books I've been meaning to read and now I can do it and feel connected since most of my friends dont read YA!

    Book blogging has changed my life in so many positive ways. I've learned that I need to remember what I want from it, not what some imagined ideal is...

  27. Another Canadian here, hope you like your visit!

    This is a great, very thought provoking piece. I definitely have changed my reading style a bit and i get overwhelmed but I have NO desire to stop book blogging and I don't regret starting my book blog ever.

    Book blogging that is made for others and not just for your own memory, is a lot of work and not for everyone, for sure.

  28. I do know what you mean about the change in reading habits that happens as you become part of the YA blogosphere. In some ways it's good for me: before I started blogging, I was really only interested in sci-fi and paranormal books, and I love that I've now discovered so many amazing books set in the real world. In that sense, I was missing out before. But sometimes now I find myself feeling unable to read a sci-fi book I would have previously read on publication day because I have so many other books I feel duty bound to read. I also find I'm spending much less time thinking about my own writing. Neither of those things please me, but I think for me the key is in being aware of what is changing, and making pro-active changes myself rather than just being swept up in it all.

    I have to say, I feel little pressure to be 'up' on what's happening in the publishing world. I enjoy the snippets that come my way, but I don't think I need to know what *all* the publishing houses have planned for the future. That's too much like work.

    I think once you've relaxed for a few days, any anxiety about it will ease up a little.

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  31. Thank you so much for this post! It makes me feel so much less alone. I love blogging. I love being exposed to new titles and new authors and having relationships with people in the wonderful blogging community.
    I really really do. But on the other end blogging has definitely changed some of my reading habits.

    I think the main change is that I have trouble going to the library now because when before I would come home with 10-15 new books to read, now I have to really watch what I check out if anything because I know I have review copies that must be read soon and it makes me miss my hours I spent just browsing the shelves.

    Also, I find myself in more reading slumps than I ever had before I started blogging. I think it's because I feel so overwhelmed with my TBR pile sometimes. But as one author told me when I was in the middle of a reading/reviewing slump, as much as you can love reviewing, sometimes reading without a pen in your hand is the greatest joy. After that I began to feel a little less guilty when I took a few days to read for myself. In the end, a small break always help me to rediscover my love for reading and remind me of why I started blogging in the first place.

    So that's why even if I take a small break, I always come back to my blog. I know that I could never leave it. At least not for a while. Sharing my thoughts with others who have my same passion for all things YA and reading, make all the guilt and stress and and slumps worth it :)


  32. I feel like I read less older books, and definitely a lot less from my owned pile. Obviously, older books have value, but I seem to forget this in the face of shiney new books! My reading has definitely increased though, as well as my retention of what I have read, since now I sit afterward and think about what I have read.

  33. AWESOME post. YAY CANADA. I live over there.

    I think I am much more aware of the publishing industry now, and I don't have time to browse the bookstore, I just pick books I already know about from my favourite blogs.

  34. You're right on spot with everything you say. I do feel anxious to read the never-ending review pile, I feel guilty if I step away and read a non-review book, and I feel like I'm never going to read the books I buy and own. It's frustrating, yet never enough to make me stop blogging. I've tried to stop receiving review books and it somehow works until I feel like I break down and accept one, because it looks too good, and the cycle starts again. And either way books never stop coming.
    But every time I blog, I feel I get better at the art of writing and as a book-critic that makes up for all the 'bad' stuff.
    PS: I would read ANYTHING you write so I'm sure you'll get published soon enough! :P

  35. Stopping by from Kittling Books, who linked to this post.

    I bet everyone who has blogged for any length of time can relate. If not yet, they will. I read a great article in the newspaper about "our" (bloggers) disease. It's called FOMO - Fear of Missing Out. It's so true. I don't remember who wrote the article, but it had me pegged!

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I hope everyone takes a moment to put things into perspective and unplugs every once in a while.

  36. I agree with so much of what you've said here. I find it really hard sometimes to figure out what to read next, or when to stop reading something that I don't particularly like, or what to say in a review. So much more stress than when I was just reading for fun! It's also made reading more of a priority in my life, though. I read way more than I used to, and in a much broader scope.


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