Why am I blogging?
It’s 2012 and I want to kick it up a notch. My life is very good. I have a house, a cat, a great job at a school that is really making a difference and pulling down the dropout rate, and a husband who loves and supports me and who has great ideas about starting blogs. In my third year of teaching, I feel like I’m finally in control of my work life, and at long last have some free time that I want to spend productively. I feel like for the past three or four years, I’ve been on a treadmill that was going a bit too fast for me, in constant danger of falling on my face. Now, I finally feel like I have my feet under me, and I can actually handle what I’m being asked to do in my professional and personal lives. I’m not worried about falling anymore. I’ve got a steady jog going on the treadmill, so now I want to take it to the next level. I want to skip and dance. The biggest danger in my life right now is waste and stagnation. Do I waste all my free time consuming culture and literature, or do I create some and join in the conversation?
I like telling people about books I like, but sadly, not many people want to hear it. I’m hoping that this blog reaches an audience and I can have conversations with like-minded people about literature, its power and problems, and its role in our lives. I know that takes a while, but I want to put in the work and see what happens. If nothing else, I’ll learn how to blog, and I’ll document my reading.
In each review, I want to give readers an idea of what the book’s writing style is like, what kind of reader will like the book, what I admired most or disliked most. I’ll compare it to other books and put it in the context of a larger literary scene or conversation. I will not spend too much time summarizing and will not give spoilers.
Cumulatively, over the course of many snippets of book reviews, I want to work toward articulating an aesthetic, putting into words what I like and don’t like and why. Back when I was in Michael Griffith’s fiction workshop at UC, we read Michael Chabon’s Best American Short Stories and talked about his selection criteria, and which ones we would choose as the best or leave out. So many of these decisions come down to personal taste, but what does that even mean? If we can’t justify and argue for our personal taste, then what is the point of preferring one thing over another? There is, after all, something moral in our aesthetic choices. When you prefer Twilight to Harry Potter, or “Jersey Shore” to “The Wire,” that says something about your character. It says something about your eye, about what you can see and what you can’t see. It says something about your sympathies, the characters, places, and situations that call out to your heart, and the ones that don’t. As a matter of course, it also says something about your prior experiences and education and current capabilities, some of which you might not have any control over, sure, but those are things that with work and good teachers, you can gain, if you want access to literature and literary conversations.
We feel completely justified judging other people based on what they read or watch or listen to. If this moral judgment did not occur, there would be no reason for people to call anything a “guilty pleasure.” You would also never see people reading books they don’t enjoy, unassigned, because they feel like they “should” read them, but perplexed at their own lack of response. Much of this judgment is off base and even cruel, such as the idea that adults who read books designated YA are looking for a quick, easy read or can’t handle real, complex, gritty adult topics, or that women who read anything that falls under the wide category of “love stories” are looking for a cheap erotic thrill or a replacement for romance they don’t have in real life. The point is we make these judgments all the time, based on our barely-understood sense of aesthetics and our ideas or stereotypes about certain types of books or stories and the types of people who like thiem. Wouldn’t it be nice if these judgments were more nuanced and accurate?
So in articulating my aesthetic and explaining why I like or don’t like certain books, I hope to accumulate a semi-coherent set of value judgments about literature that will be more interesting and exact than the stereotypes that we often rely on when choosing and assessing (and marketing! Oh, God, marketing!) books.
Where did my title, mereader, come from? I was playing around with putting words together and liked the look and sound of this title. It’s a couple different things put together. Obviously, it’s “me + reader,” or “me, reader.” I like how it’s personal and it makes the subject clear. It could also be “mere reader,” with the re’s overlapping. I like that explanation best because it’s humble. That’s all I am, a mere reader!
I’m not 100% in love with and committed to this title. I’m open to changing it if a better one presents itself, but the sooner the better. I’m also open to it growing on me.