May 2020 marks the tenth anniversary of The Book Stop. This kind of caught me by surprise, even though a year ago I was thinking what I might do to mark the big ten. What can I say, life is a little strange right now. So much thanks to WordPress for the helpful reminder!
Since I kicked off the blog on May 18, 2010, I’ve apparently written 963 posts. In lieu of balloons and cake (though Mr. CG did offer to bake a cake for the occasion), I gave some thought to how the blog has changed and what I’ve learned, and in general, what the blog has meant to me. I’ll probably be repeating thoughts I’ve shared a few times before.
First of all, THANK YOU. This blog has been my sanity over the last ten years, and while there have been times when it felt pointless or frustrating, or it felt like no one was listening, it’s always been a place I’m happy to come back to. I’m so appreciative of the people who read and follow the blog, and especially those who comment. You’ve made me feel part of a community, and that has meant a lot to me. I’m also happy to have met some of my fellow bloggers in person, and I invite you all to reach out to me if you’re ever in the DC area (though sadly, my favorite meetup site, Kramerbooks, may be moving).
One of the most valuable things I take away from blogging is that I never feel weird or obsessive in the book blogging community. In the real world, there are people who admire how much I read, but hearing “how do you read so much?” or “I could never read as much as you do!” always feels a bit like criticism (kind of like, “I love your curly hair, do you ever straighten it?”). Sure, there are other things I could be doing with my time. But in the book blogging world, there are bloggers who read vastly more than I do, and bloggers who read less, but somehow it always feels like we’re on the same team.
How has the blog changed over the years? In the beginning, I thought I was going to write a lot more about e-readers, book technology, and publishing news. I still think about those things, but writing about actual books just seems more interesting. When this blog started, I was absolutely infatuated with my Kindle, and I still feel that e-readers have revolutionized reading for me. Carrying around an entire library in something that nearly fits in my pocket, that I can read both in bed and on the beach, is still pretty amazing. Now that e-readers are just part of our reading lives, many readers still prefer paper books, and I respect that choice. It’s just not something we need to discuss.
In the beginning, my reading was a lot less diverse and included a lot more series books like urban fantasy. Book blogging has helped me to expand my reading in all directions, from nonfiction to award winners to reading books written by authors around the world. But I did read more classics in 2010 than I do now.
In 2010, these were my best reads of the year — whew! I thought this list might be embarrassing but this was actually a fantastic reading year.
Top Ten Reads of 2010
- The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Middlemarch by George Eliot
- AVisit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Here are a few things I’ve learned in ten years (!) of blogging.
- Review books when you want to. Every blogger has a different approach to this issue– some roll all their reviews into a monthly or weekly post, others review every book they read. I’ve gotten away from that idea, and my own goal has been about four book reviews a month, or one a week. Lately I haven’t even done that. I try to review books only where I feel I have a lot to say, or where the book made a strong impression. ARCs are the exception; I always try to write a full review because I feel I’ve made a commitment to do so. I do write negative reviews sometimes, usually for ARCs, and I try to be balanced. But I don’t try to review every book, or even most of them.
- Participate in blog events and challenges but be choosy. Blog events are critical to getting your blog seen and building readership, and supporting other bloggers means they are more likely to support you. But ultimately, the personal identity of your blog is what’s most important, not how many blog hops or challenges you complete. When I look for a blog I want to follow, I personally look for substantive content over memes – although that’s my own preference. There’s nothing you have to do as a blogger, so choose what means the most to you, and do what you enjoy.
- Take some time off when you need to. I’ve seen many great bloggers walk away from their blogs in times of stress, illness, or life changes. My life has thankfully been pretty steady, except when I was a grad student and working full time. Whether you take a few months off, or just take a two-week vacation, I think the best way to keep the blog going is to walk away sometimes. I find if I don’t post for a few weeks, my mind starts filling up with new ideas about what to write about. You can always write extra posts and auto-post them when you know you’ll be away or busy. But one thing I’ve learned is that the blog community is very forgiving when you need to take some time for yourself.
There are also quite a few things I’m still working on! One of the things I love about blogging is that I’m constantly learning.
- Graphics and design — I’ve learned a little bit about making some of my own graphics, but I’d still love to know more about the design of the blog. I’m interested in working with someone who can do a full redesign, but I haven’t made that happen. Instead I just play around with WordPress themes and widgets. Definitely still in learning mode if anyone has suggestions!
- Titles — titles matter a lot, because they are what will make a reader click on your post or keep reading. And yet for some reason I always struggle with them.
- Writing about the things that matter – every blogger has to decide how personal to get, and how far to stray from their main topic (books) when other things seem more important. I really love when bloggers share personal stories, whether they are struggles or triumphs. But I’m constantly weighing how much to share and how that might impact the family members, especially Mr. CG, who read this blog. And then I also think about what people want to hear about. One issue many bloggers struggle with is writing about political views, considering how divisive things have gotten. I think ultimately, the most important thing about blogging is to be genuine and honest, whatever you choose to write about. But that doesn’t exactly make things crystal clear.
- Changing things up — I think blogging requires some consistency, but also requires you to change things up regularly. I find it’s really easy to fall into patterns, without breaking out and trying something new. My blog hasn’t changed much in recent years. I do similar challenges each year, write similar types of reviews, talk about similar things. As I think about this anniversary, it’s time to think about new ways to challenge myself. I’ve never hosted a challenge or a themed event, because I’m not sure I have the readership to make that work (and I’m afraid of no one showing up). But I’d love to co-host one! What do you do to mix things up on your blog?
Once again, a heartfelt thank you to those who have stayed with me and those who have encouraged me. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions about blogging, and I look forward to taking this blog into the next decade.
Stay safe and healthy, everyone.