The OF Blog: A brief late-night observation

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A brief late-night observation

I slept until almost 2:30 PM my time, so me being awake at nearly 3 AM CDT isn't that shocking. Not in the mood for reading a novel right now, I decided to catch up on some of my blog reading (since I've barely visited any blogs the past few weeks), when I noticed something, something that perhaps I had thought about briefly before, but never really had bothered to write much, if anything, about until now. What I found myself noticing when reading through the reviews, interviews, and other assorted stuff on several of the blogs was a distinct lack of a "liveliness" to it.

I'm not the most informal of people when writing. I have had elements of a formal education in how to communicate my thoughts via the written form, but I'm also not super-formal when it comes to writing. But I do try to put something of myself into what I do write; having a distant, journalistic approach to blogging isn't my thing. I use first-person. I worry in places, ponder in others. Occasionally, joke and every once in a while I'll cut loose with a rant or a snarky reaction to something. I'll talk about my past experiences with depression and work-related stress (while never mentioning my places of employment by name, as I do believe in some personal/professional boundaries), all in the name of showing some facets of my personality.

While no one has to do any of the above or more, sometimes I'm reading through a blog and it's as though the person operating it has largely chosen to remove him/herself from the material being presented. It seems as though for many of the blogs that I've read, that the blogger has taken a fairly passive role to the material s/he is presenting. Yes, some will use the first-person on occasion, but it often feels tacked on, as if s/he were writing a plot summary and then decided to use a paragraph or two at the end to interject his/her opinions on the matter. Such things feel bolted-on to me, as if two separate things (description of book, reaction to book) are forcibly combined, rather than an integration of the two taking place. While useful for many as an indicator of how the reviewer reacted to a piece, as a review essay, it is rather wanting to me. Something that I too have to take care to avoid, come and think of it, although I do try to smooth out the differences between the description/opinion by mixing and mingling them a bit more.

Furthermore, when several of the blogs stray away from writing reviews, they feel more like report pieces than anything that would include that person's reactions and assessments of what has been reported. Don't just share that X is coming out, why not spend time explaining why X has had some importance in your life? Some bloggers have made attempts to do this, but sometimes it's hard to tell.

This is not a negative assessment of others as people. If anything, it is a piece that sadly notes that too often I want to know more about the people behind the pieces, but what is revealed often seems bland and uninteresting, as if the people writing are too reluctant to reveal much about themselves. Then again, it could be that I'm looking to go further too much in too many places, but hey, what else would you expect from me, based on my own posts and commentaries over the years?


bloggeratf said...

Interesting. I guess I come from the opposite end of the spectrum. For me there is no objective way to write a review -- it all boils down to personal opinion. With that in mind I try and let my voice and opinions come through as much as possible in my posts. If there is anything I tack on, its a "Your View" section where I try and insert what other people have said, what their opinions might be, and ask for some feedback.

At the end, your readers will like you or they won't, and hiding behind a passive voice and removing your personal touch from your posts just makes it all that much harder for them to find out who you really are.

The whole reason review blogs (this is all entirely my opinion btw) have popped up is to offer an alternative to the commercial promotional prefab reviews. The only way to do that is to be personal and to connect with your reader.

Joe said...

Oh no, Larry. The people who decline to inject themselves in the review are failures as people and are quite possibly baby-killers.


Because I enjoy your snark, I do wish that you wrote up a detailed post noting the deficiencies of each.

And then question the moral character of each blogger.

Because that's funny.

Anonymous said...

That wasn't brief, Larry. :)

Larry Nolen said...


It took me about 5 minutes to write; that's brief for me, right? :P


True. I don't even mind that much those who dislike what I review, how I review it, or (especially) me myself. Although the hardest part for me is to show my real humor (deadpan, ironic, Gen X-style humor can be hard to display in full in this media, but I try, oh I try!), I would hope few think of me as a bland personality, since that's not what I am in real life.


I'd give something for more internet-style baby killing around these parts! Anything to liven things up, no? ;)

Don't count on a detailed post hightlighting the deficiencies in each, as wouldn't that entail them having something that they've shared that would be of enough interest for me to satirize here? :P

So would you settle for a five-part mimed performance of a reading of Proust?

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Many sites are straight commentary on books. I recently started a blog and think that my reviews are like that as well. However, I experience no guilt at all where I am informal and that takes place, usually early in my posts. I like the personal flavor since words, in and of themselves, are only a vehicle.

MattD said...

There's lively and there's lively. What I wish I saw more of was the spark of liveliness that comes from engaging with a book, beyond the pat platitudes and generic perceived failings many reviewers employ to exhaustion. This (either engaging or failing to do so) contains its own element of personal content, as does every aspect of a review; the "I" is implied if it isn't made explicit. More detailed personal content, like anecdotes, asides, and even disclaimers, can be interesting if they are based in attributes or experiences that I can imagine myself or others sharing, and if they relate to the book and illuminate it. But as often as not, personal content becomes an excuse not to engage, a way of avoiding looking deeper into a book and instead providing a facsimile of entertainment that often isn't as interesting to the reader as it seems to the writer. That sort of personal content is part and parcel for many blogs, but it's not what I tune in for.

Adam Whitehead said...

Fascinating. I was just thinking about this.

Looking back through my old reviews I note that I seem a lot more enthusiastic/scathing about works than now, where I adopt a more measured pace without ever really consciously meaning to. I even found myself using the term 'the reader' a few times when I really meant 'me'. This is probably a function of getting older and perhaps being more balanced in my approach to things, or perhaps that I'm just not finding too much to review that is either fantastically exciting or cringingly bad recently. Something to bear in mind, anyway.

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