Like any other reader out there who is on social media, I have done my fair share of moaning about how social media has kept me from reading. Now that I’ve spent countless hours updating my Goodreads page to include every book I have since 1994 I can tell you that my moaning may be misplaced. Here are a few of my observations:
Prior to social media the quality of my reading was hit or miss
As I plugged in all of my book data one thing became clear, back in the days before I found my social media family of like minded readers, my book choices missed their mark more than they hit. Some years, 2005 comes to mind, just seemed to be nothing but a seemingly endless stream of 2- and 3-star books. It was kind of depressing to see how much time I wasted on boring, lackluster, totally forgettable books. The only light during this period was the publication of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust. She was key to me finding books I actually liked. In particular she turned me on to Ward Just and Barbara Pym, just to name two.
A book group helped
For a while after 2005 I was in a monthly book club where people just brought in books they had been reading and talked about them and then we swapped. Over time we got to know whose interests were similar and I got recommendations that were better than just pulling books off the library shelf at random and hoping for the best. My ratings were much perkier during the book club period.
2009 was a watershed year
Sometime in the summer of 2009 I discovered book blogs. It seems a little weird that I had been blogging (sometimes about books) for three years before I discovered actual book blogs. It’s possible I had found a few prior to that, but it was around then that I found Savidge Reads and Stuck in a Book. I don’t remember which one I found first, but those two Simons and their blogrolls turned me on to a whole world I didn’t know existed. It was at this point where I really started to find books I liked. Not surprisingly it was also about this time that I stopped taking recommendations from people IRL because I didn’t know their tastes as well as I knew the tastes of the bloggers I followed. This was also the year that I discovered many firsts: My first sensation novel (The Woman in White), my first Persephone (Cheerful Weather for the Wedding), my first Europa (Queen of the Tambourine), my first Bloomsbury Edition (Henrietta’s War), and my first NYRB Classic (Manservant and Maidservant). The Wilkie Collins was the only one that was an unqualified success at the time, but the others were enticing enough that they set me on a much better path to a world of books that were “up my alley” as it were.
social media does not seem to be a culprit
If you look at the chart below, the only thing that seems to be clear is that I tend to have a good year followed by a not-so-good year. I started blogging in 2006 which was a banner year for books. I started focusing mainly on books in 2009 which was another banner year. I started on Twitter in 2013 which was my bannerist year of all time. I’m not sure when I started on Facebook so I can’t really make any judgments about that.
What does it all mean?
The biggest takeaway from all this is that social media has definitely provided me with reading recommendations from trusted sources that would have been unavailable to me in real life. No question about it. I also think the competitive nature of social media has helped me up my game in terms of quantity. It’s true that sometimes I do spend too much time staring at a screen, but overall it hasn’t really negatively impacted the amount of reading I do. A net gain for sure.
And let’s get real, people
Just think how much grayer my life would be (and I am not talking about Persephones) if I didn’t have you all to interact with. If we all lived in a little reading village where we could get together for cocoa and book talk that would be great. But we don’t, so virtual reality works out pretty damn well. At least it has for me.
This is so true. I started blogging at the suggestion of a psychologist when I was in a quite depressed state after retirement and my father’s death and was at loose ends. She said I needed a job and we created one based on things I really love. Books and travel. The Penguin collecting then began in earnest, I met wonderful bloggers (such as yourself) and the Simon’s and others and I haven’t looked back. Having had a stable mind now for years I attribute much of it to shared interest in the world of books and continue to value the bloggers out there who I can ‘chat’ to through virtuality. Good post.
I love this!! I know that I read WAY more now than I did before social media, though I (sadly) didn’t keep track of what books I read, so I have no data or charts to back me up.
I also blogged for at least a year before figuring out that “book blogs” existed – and mine was always about books! I set mine up as a “challenge” to read 100 out of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I found a few other people doing the same thing first, and then I found out about regular book blogs. When you found out, did you regret the wasted years of not book blogging, as I did? :)
Ooh, I want to live in a reading village!
Great post, Thomas. I’m sure that, on balance, social media has been good for my reading life, even though it takes up time that could be spent reading. I have only been on Facebook for a couple of years, but in that time I’ve become good friends with many likeminded readers, which has been a delight. I’ve also received some excellent book recommendations from Goodreads and book blogs. Thanks to you, I discovered the pleasure of reading Barbara Pym, Anita Brookner and Penelope Lively. So, for me, the benefits of social media with respect to reading far outweigh the negatives.
I agree with you so much. The quality of my reading has improved so much – through book blogs (such as yours. I’ve just finished a May Sarton book thanks to you) and book groups.
You’ve really got me to re-think my attitude towards the time I spend on my devices. I certainly have been introduced to many great books through podcasts and Booktube and book blogs. Thanks for this great piece.
Yes yes yes ! Bloggers have changed my (reading) life too. And I’m glad to learn that Then We Came To The End is a favourite of yours, because I put it on my wishlist recently without knowing anything about it (can’t remember why, really). And I love your idea of a reading village (a reading castle would be nice too, Simon would love that !).
Great post. I love reading about people’s reading history!
Like Laura, I read waaay more now than I did before the advent of the internet and social media. prior to 2005 or so, in good year I read I would estimate I read 20 books, tops but on average probably more like 5-10. Now I routinely read 80-100 books a year. Less time spent out and about (parties, clubs, etc. stuff I don’t really do any more) helps too, for sure. I think the biggest thing is I watch less television (ie none) now.
The first book blog I found was Citizen Reader and through her I think I discovered you and then through you Simon Thomas.
I think I found out about Simon Savidge through his comments on The Guardian website. All roads lead to Simon S.
So very true. I hardly know anyone in real life who makes recommendations such a close match to my actual interests and tastes, as the fellow bloggers I have found. I used to actually browse library shelves and pick books totally at random, but back then I didn’t blog or journal my reads, so I don’t know how many were ‘misses’. Now I can’t imagine such directionless browsing, as a am swamped by lists and piles of books I long to read!
Lovely post :) And I’m so glad the book blogging world rescued you from mediocre books!
I agree about the mediocre books, I’m much more discerning now — and my TBR pile is much bigger! I keep buying books based on bloggers’ recommendations and I mostly love them, but I fear I will never read them all. Also, sometimes I wonder if I spend more time reading about books than actually reading books. I suppose I can’t have one without the other!
Love this, and completely agree. I, too, found book bloggers in 2009, and share a similar path – the two Simons were a couple of the first that I found, along with Cornflower and Claire at Captive Reader. I don’t know why British bloggers were easier for me to find, but they were at the time. Not long after I found you and Andi and Amanda and the Dewey Readathon.
These days most of my book news comes more from Instagram and bookish podcasts than blog reading. As life got busier and my phone was continually with me (the laptop not so much) it was just an easier way to keep in touch. I miss my days of more leisurely reading book blogs, but glad that IG and my earbuds are there to keep me in the loop.
Another book blogger recently wondered how people found out about books before the Internet. I used book subscriptions like Book of the Month, Literary Guild, Doubleday. You joined, got 6 or so books for $1 and committed to buy more. You got a little magazine of book descriptions to chose from every month. (then you quit when you fulfilled your obligation, and joined again later to get 6 books for $1!)