Reading for myself, by myself

Amazon reviews, Goodreads, etc. I have dabbled in both, and I wound up hating them. I have never read a review on either of those sites that I found helpful in understanding a book the way I routinely find reviews on LARB, LRB and NYRB useful. Am I a snob? Merely not hitting the right reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads? Who knows.

I used Goodreads for a bit as a means of sharing what I was reading with other people. And to start conversations with others about that reading.

I never stuck with either Goodreads or Amazon, simply because I just do not care about writing reviews for big audiences, with thumb’s up, thumb’s down opinions on my opinions. There is so much pressure to be smart, everywhere, and yet not so smart that one might seem to be putting oneself above other readers. It’s exhausting rather than fun.

I of course review scholarly books for journals. Those are always anguished; it takes me weeks and weeks, and planners do not value book reviews the way I think they should. That said, most do not seem to value books the way I think they should. I have been told more than once that I should do fewer book reviews for journals, usually by people who want me to use my human capital for their ends. So.

The world is most noncompliant towards my wishes.

About a month or so ago I bought a small book review journal and tucked it into my notebook. I thought it was cheesy, but it was a cute, $5 thing, and… I love it. Unreasonably and passionately.

I love writing little reflections and questions just for me. My reflections are way more honest than anything I post anywhere. Without the perforative aspect of explaining my views to other people, my journaling about the book creates a more intimate bond between me and the book. Perhaps the worst thing about public reviewing is simply that I have to have reasons for not liking a book if I didn’t. In my little journal, I have entries that I just do not fill in if I abandon a book. If I didn’t like something about it, I will probably remember what I didn’t like and not go back; if I just drifted away from the book, well, perhaps right then wasn’t the right time for it and I will return, with no shame, someday when I am ready for it and the book is ready for me.

I feel like I have to be a public reader in some ways, to embody the life of the mind, as a professor on social media. But I have to admit, I have enjoyed my secret relationships with books never really discussed with anybody else. I am also jazzed at how journaling has enhanced the public, performative aspects to my reading-thinking in such venues as this blog and the Bedrosian Book Club Podcast.