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How Reviewing Books Helped Me Overcome Reader's Block
For years, I considered myself an avid reader. I read a book a week, sometimes more. I visited the library often. I went to book stores and bought many books that sounded interesting to me.
Then, one day, I took a long look at my document I'd been using to track the books I read. I noticed one startling thing: most of the books I read were books I'd read before. I wasn't an avid reader. I was an avid re-reader.
Most of those books that I'd bought over the years languishing on my bookshelves, untouched, unread. I'd borrow loads of books from the library but a good half of them stayed in my bag until they were due back, left alone in favour of reading once again a different beloved book.
This was a startling revelation. I'm not going to pretend I wasn't deeply disappointed in myself.
So how did all that change?
I started reviewing books.
I made a book review blog, which changed names and styles a bit over the years, until it became known as Bibliotropic. I reviewed books there for over 7 years.
And it helped me stop re-reading and start reading.
Here's the thing: if you start reviewing things, you can only do that for so long by relying on what you've already done. You're eventually going to run out of pre-made content and you're going to need something new. I could start by reviewing the books I've been reading and rereading for years, but nobody's going to keep coming back to read my reviews if all I talk about is the same stuff I've already talked about. I wanted to interact with other book readers and reviewers. I wanted to be relevant.
That means putting the effort into reading new things so that I could review them.
Suddenly all those books that had gone unread in years past were being read. I needed to read them, so that I would have new things to talk about on my blog.
And do you know what? I was having a great time!
Though re-reading old familiar books certain gave me a feeling of comfort, knowing what I was getting into and knowing that I wouldn't be disappointed by the story, having an excuse -- a reason! -- to pick up new books was somewhat exhilarating. Logically, I hadn't needed a reason to do this before. What I read was entirely in my control. Nothing was holding me back but me.
But needing to read new things so that I could review them? It meant I had to, no matter what, pick up new books after putting down old ones.
It was a circular thing. I'd read a new book, reviewing it, and then people would see it, like it, and keep coming back to see what else I'd write. So I had to keep reading new things. And so on and so forth. Before long, I noticed my To Read pile was shrinking, rather than just continuing to grow no matter how much I read.
Of course, my reading list didn't keep dwindling for long. Soon enough I attracted the attention of publishers and authors, who offered me review copies of their books. For those who don't know, this is basically when someone gives you a thing for free with the understanding that you will review it, or at least seriously consider it for review. It's them taking a chance on you taking a chance on them. They hope that you will like what you read, speak positively and publicly about it, and that in turn will boost sales by convincing others that the book is worth reading. It's a fantastic thing, and I felt privileged beyond words to get review copies, but like many book reviewers, soon I was faced with having books come to me faster than I could possibly read them, and that To read list began to grow once more.
And yet, for all that can be a bit stressful, my original goal was accomplished. I had stopped merely re-reading the same old comforting things I had always read. In my search for regular content, I picked up new books, tried out new authors, and found so many amazing books that I probably would have entirely overlooked before, because I couldn't be sure they were what I was looking for. Now, that didn't matter. What mattered more was trying, was seeking out new things that might be amazing or might not be, but I'd never know unless I tried.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to get over a slump, no matter how long that slump has been going on, is to start talking about it. Blogs, or even places like HubPages, are great venues for that. Start talking, and people will listen. They'll interact with you. They'll give you a reason to try again, to reach a little further, to give something new a chance.
Though I no longer review books on Bibliotropic, I do not regret the 7 years I spent doing so, no matter how stressful it came to be at times. I've said before that part of the reason I started the blog in the first place was because I read books, had opinions about them, so why not share them online. And that's still true. But what gets left out of that snappy one-liner is that I also started because I recognized just how much of a rut I was in when it came to reading, and I wanted a way to break free from the rut, and maybe, just maybe, blogging would be the answer I sought.
And it was. It changed what I read. It changed how I read. I learned valuable lessons about writing and reading and creativity and interaction and a dozen more things that I couldn't possibly put into words, but the impact was still made, and I'm a better person for it.
At least, I think I am. If nothing else, I'm certainly a better-read person for it. And maybe that's all that matters.