Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Maintaining Your Identity is Important.

I don't live under a rock; therefore, I am aware of all the chaos that happened last week in the blogging community. And while I certainly do have strong opinions on what happened and the reaction, this post isn't directly about that. Instead, I wanted to jump in on two conversations that took place on other blogs. The first post I want to direct you to is a post written by Adam on Friday. It is a fabulous piece about the importance of maintaining a sense of professionalism while online. He also talks about bloggers' responsibility to our audience. My attempts to summarize it will fail, so it is best if you just go and read his post yourself.

The second post I want to mention is by a new-to-me blog-Book Reviews and English News. Apparently there was other drama surrounding another post by this blogger on Saturday, but I wasn't aware of it until I read this post. This second post, while a little more aggressively written, also brings up some interesting points about the cliquey nature of book blogging. And while I don't agree with all of the points made in that post, I do think that a few of them are spot on and are important to discuss.

Which brings me here, to this post and my current train of thought about why I'm here in the first place and being associated with the book blogging community. As I am sure most of my regular readers know, I never started blogging with the intentions of being a book blogger. Back in the summer of 2009, I didn't even know that there was a book blogging community. I only starting writing here as a way to track my progress through my project, and it wasn't until nearly 3 or 4 months into my project that someone other than a family member commented on a post. I knew nothing about ARCs, giveaways, or even Goodreads until I started to branch out to those who stumbled onto my blog and to those blogs I managed to find by searching.

I have always considered myself an outsider to the greater book blogging community because my intents and purposes have always been different than the majority of other book blogs. I don't really write reviews. I don't accept many books for review (I consider getting requests to be the biggest honor, and I only accept books that I am truly intrigued by. I will always do that). I don't believe I will ever be a "big" blogger with thousands of followers, or a blogger that the masses will turn to for sage advice about the ins and outs of blogging. I am still learning as I go, and I consider getting an image to post correctly a triumph.

I write about my feelings on books-the process I go through as I read something challenging. I try and make personal connections with everything I read. I talk about my struggles with certain authors, the reasons why I love or hate certain titles. I discuss the worlds I am discovering as I read through my project list. And most of all, I discuss me. My life, my reactions, my growth as I take on books that millions of people have read before me.

I see blogging, and my space here, as an extension of myself. And I would be lying if I said that this space didn't mean a lot to me. It does. And the few times I have been criticized have really stung. Again, I see this place, A Literary Odyssey, as personal place. I have always been, and will always be, completely honest here.

But I cannot pretend that others don't see me. I host group reads and readalongs, which has now transitioned into reading events and programs. My Shakespeare Reading Month in January gave me the opportunity to really connect with so many bloggers, and share my passion for the classics. I am hopeful that my Victorian Event will do the same.

So while I had always intended this as a place for me, it has also turned into a very public place. I think we all acknowledge that by putting our thoughts on the internet, we will eventually be found and discovered, whether we like it or not. And I can acknowledge that being "found" has helped me keep this going for close to three years. I am no longer an anonymous twenty-something sitting behind a computer and discussing the books I am reading. I am very much a part of a bigger place, whether I want to be or not.

And with that comes a great deal of responsibility. I am public-I am out there and open to being critiqued and criticized. That was never my intention, but I cannot fight against it. I must accept it, and I have.

However, throughout everything, and all that drama last week, I have again realized how important it is for me to maintain my identity. I do things on my own and in my own way. I don't think I need to adhere to any "rules" that are accepted by the greater community. I will continue to post in my own way, and as many times as I want to per book, as well as read what I want, when I want. I refuse to fall into the chaos that makes up a chunk of the blogging world. I refuse to be used as a pawn of publishing houses, or clamor for books that I can purchase on my own in a few months. I have nothing against anyone who receives mass amounts of ARCs or who works closely with publishers-it just isn't for me and my purpose here.

But I will acknowledge that I do have some amount of responsibility-being out here in the public, doing what I do. I have accepted the responsibilities of being an advocate for literacy, promoting books that I think are worthy of mention, and highlighting the books and writers I am most passionate about. More than anything, I acknowledge that I do have an impact on some individuals as they begin reading classics. I have never said I am an expert, but I will always offer guidance and my own thoughts when asked for. I also know that I have some duty to always representing myself and my opinions in a somewhat professional manner. I will never get too personal, too emotional, or too snarky. Because whether I like it or not, there are others who read my blog. They see things in their own light and will form their own opinions.

That is what I have reaffirmed for myself this past week. That I am an individual and I need to maintain that identity for myself. It is easy to fall into the crowd. It would be easy for me to change who I am to gain more readers or reach a larger audience, but how could I do that and still look at myself every day? I can't. So I will maintain my integrity and sense of self with my head held high.

I hope that those of you who are struggling to figure out a sense of purpose, given the circumstances of the last week, will mull that same sentiment over in your heads and act on it.

22 comments:

  1. I have to admit, I'm glad I'm no longer a big book blogger. I was never huge, but I was too big for my comfort, and I like being this tiny blogger that most of the book blogging world doesn't care about anymore. I never did fit into any one identity. I go through phases with my reading. Sometimes I want ot read all classics for a year. Sometimes I want to read all children's lit. Lately, it seems I've read nothing but fantasy for the last four months, and I'm okay with that. I won't ever fit in with people who identify with a specific kind of book, and I talk about too many other things to fit in with book bloggers in general. Which is sad, in a way, because I put up posts about things I care about, and no one else cares at all. :/ That makes me sad, and I think about revamping, but then stuff like this drama happens, and I realize exactly why I'm glad to be away from all of that in the first place.

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  2. I have to admit I only have a very vague idea of what you are talking about concerning the big kerfluffle in the book blogging world (I think it has to do with plagerism). I only follow regularly about 10 blogs that have to do with books and I am not a blogger myself and have no interest in becoming one. I just like reading books and reading about books. Book bloggers are my personal book club because I have never been able to join one that made any sense to me being a very eclectic and prolific reader. Having said all that, I like your blog a lot. I like your interaction with your students. I like your approach to commenting on the books you read, which may not be my taste always, but I always find your writing honest and interesting even about books I will never read (for instance, Clarissa). I like the way you bring your personal integrity into your blog like you did with this post. Keep up the good work, Allie. You are doing fine.

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  3. I'm perfectly happy doing stuff on my blog the way that I want to do it. It's been hard to find a niche for myself in the book blogging world because I read very eclectically but I am totally fine with that. I'd rather have integrity than try to fit in to anywhere in particular!

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  4. Love it! Your blog is unique in the book blogging world, for many of the reasons you mention - and I think it's popular for those very reasons, too. People come here simply to get thoughts/suggestions about great, classic literature. Period.

    I also agree with Amanda - I have periods of identity-shifts as well and, as someone with a large following, I always wonder how that will impact my readers. This month, for instance, I decided would be my "Masterpiece May." Not something I announced - but just an idea I had, for myself, because I want to spend the month reading classics and literary fiction, as oppossed to some of the other genre fiction I've spent most of this year on. So, will that turn off some readers? Maybe.. and when I go back and review the next Rick Riordan book this Fall, will that turn off a different set of people? Maybe. Ultimately, I just have to do what I do, but be as helpful and honest as I can while doing it.

    "I consider getting an image to post correctly a triumph." <-- And this! I will say, though, you'd probably have an easier time of it on WordPress. :P

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  5. I've been thinking over the idea of my responsibility to the community too. And I have to say, though I try to find one, I simply can't. I don't feel a responsibility to the community at all. I feel one to myself, to God, to my familty, to my greater purpose (growth, learning, truth), but I simply can't connect with any purpose to community.

    In my mind, remaining true to the purposes I do feel beyond myself is the best example I can offer the community?

    I keep thinking about Adam's post, and the posts by the other blogger that you mention above, and I *want* very much, to feel the community obligation you mention. I know that my blog could potentially inspire people to read certain books, and might have impact upon publishers (in its small way, as part of a larger community.) But I just can't seem to place community on equal level with myself. I put myself first in my writing, my book selections -- everything connected with my blog. I place myself and my own journey much, much higher than any potential influence my blog might have. I don't accept that I have become a part of the community and that, with that, comes resposibility. Any responsibility I feel is governed by my individuality, God, "right", truth, and myself.

    I guess it's like being an American? Yes, I acknowledge that I am one, but first and far above that, I am Jillian.

    I don't know if I'm having trouble plugging into a greater purpose, or if this is a good attitude to have as a blogger? I know that if I choose to promote literacy (for example), it won't be because I am a blogger and have a duty that I accept -- but because passion has pulled me to promote literacy, and whatever tool I have (in this case, my blog), will now be used toward the greater purpose.

    I feel, like you, that the blog is an extension of myself.

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    1. But then, if passion pulls me to promote literacy, perhaps that "passion" actually is the community feeling you're talking about? It wouldn't feel like my responsibility, though -- just my passion...

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    2. I completely understand where you're coming from, Jillian. And, I agree with you that one of the best things we can do for the community is just to be ourselves because that will inevitably lead to genuine thoughts and varying degrees of opinion/personality/style, etc. I love diversity!

      I think, however, that many people who are individuals will, like you, be turned off by or become defensive over the idea of a "responsibility" to the community. When I say responsibility, though, I do not mean that we need to cater to anyone else's opinions, nor do we need to feel pressured to sway a review, publish our thoughts in a certain style, or meet anyone else's timeline, etc. I tried to cover that in my original post, but I think that element of the message go lost. What I mean by responsibility is just this: know that our blogs are being read. From there, we take us wherever our consciences will lead. For you, it might be one direction and for me another. But I think we do have a responsibility to keep in mind that we are publicly displaying our thoughts in opinion, and with that should come a certain degree of professionalism.

      Anyone can say "my blog is for me," but the reality is, if your blog is published online, open to the public, available for subscription, open to comments, etc., then it is not just for you. It has become a public forum and you are welcoming/seeking feedback, thoughts, dialogue, suggestions, questions, engagement, etc. A blog that is "just for me" is one that is private or written in a physical journal, locked in a drawer. There, by all means, write anything and everything, in absolutely any way, without regard to accuracy or impression, because the writing there is not intended to be read by anyone.

      Ultimately, I think you are right when you say you need to satisfy and please yourself, first. Most, if not all, of our blogs started as very small, personal journal-type places. If we had been paid/sponsored blogs, our quest for personal fulfillment might need to be sacrificed, but that shouldn’t be the case in general. Ultimately, there is a way, in my opinion, to stay true to one’s self and to satisfy one’s personal goals while also serving (not catering to) the larger community.

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    3. I completely understand where you're coming from, Jillian. And, I agree with you that one of the best things we can do for the community is just to be ourselves because that will inevitably lead to genuine thoughts and varying degrees of opinion/personality/style, etc. I love diversity!

      I think, however, that many people who are individuals will, like you, be turned off by or become defensive over the idea of a "responsibility" to the community. When I say responsibility, though, I do not mean that we need to cater to anyone else's opinions, nor do we need to feel pressured to sway a review, publish our thoughts in a certain style, or meet anyone else's timeline, etc. I tried to cover that in my original post, but I think that element of the message go lost. What I mean by responsibility is just this: know that our blogs are being read. From there, we take us wherever our consciences will lead. For you, it might be one direction and for me another. But I think we do have a responsibility to keep in mind that we are publicly displaying our thoughts in opinion, and with that should come a certain degree of professionalism.

      Anyone can say "my blog is for me," but the reality is, if your blog is published online, open to the public, available for subscription, open to comments, etc., then it is not just for you. It has become a public forum and you are welcoming/seeking feedback, thoughts, dialogue, suggestions, questions, engagement, etc. A blog that is "just for me" is one that is private or written in a physical journal, locked in a drawer. There, by all means, write anything and everything, in absolutely any way, without regard to accuracy or impression, because the writing there is not intended to be read by anyone.

      Ultimately, I think you are right when you say you need to satisfy and please yourself, first. Most, if not all, of our blogs started as very small, personal journal-type places. If we had been paid/sponsored blogs, our quest for personal fulfillment might need to be sacrificed, but that shouldn’t be the case in general. Ultimately, there is a way, in my opinion, to stay true to one’s self and to satisfy one’s personal goals while also serving (not catering to) the larger community.

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    4. Hi Adam –

      Thanks for the note! I appreciate your perspective – but I have to say, your comment here has erased any doubts I was having this week about my “role” as a blogger.

      Words like “serving” make me recoil. My blog is not an open forum; it is my living room. It is where I prop open the door for passers-by and quietly read from my journal for those who are interested in a listen. Every post I write is my intellectual and emotional property – and belongs to myself fully.

      I love it when visitors see the “reading literature” sign on my door, tap on the doorframe and have a seat to listen, ask questions, share their thoughts, make suggestions. But I abhor surgical arguments , debate and critique, and if there is one place where I can and will discuss books without having to deal with all the parts of literary discussion that irritate me, it is my blog.

      By your logic, simply by opening the door to my virtual living room, I have subjected myself to every antagonistic, aggressive, unwelcome guest that crosses my threshold. I have submitted to “just go with it” because I decided to open a blog. I have mentally signed some unspoken and sweeping contract that suggests that any words that are public belong to the masses. No. I decidedly refute that suggestion. I dislike the idea that being a blogger comes with sweeping responsibilities (to which I don’t recall ever consenting.) You seem to be suggesting there is some “standard” or contract to which all bloggers have committed their name – simply by hitting “publish.” I am not for this standard; I am for freedom.

      If I am professional online, it is not because I am a blogger and thus “should be professional”; it is because I have decided to comport myself in all aspects of my life with courtesy and dignity, for myself and for God, because it is my standard as a HUMAN (as opposed to a blogger).

      I make my blog public because I love the friendship and camaraderie that it invites. It is still mine. I might open my window to hear a bird sing; that doesn’t mean I’m inviting the birds of the world to swarm my living room and leave poo all over my furnishings. Indeed, should they make the attempt, I believe I am well within my rights (and common sense) to invite them to leave -- and to erase their mess from my home.

      * if your blog is published online, open to the public, available for subscription, open to comments, etc., then it is not just for you*

      Yes. It is.

      (Correct me if I’ve misinterpreted your point.)

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    5. I think I should clarify. I should have had a few sentences that said, "While my first purpose in having my blog is to write for myself, I acknowledge the fact that others see my blog as something else. And while I may not like it, I need to understand that people see me as an authority on the things I write about. And that, since this is out on the internet, I need to be aware of the fact that what I say and do here will have an impact on them, even if I don't want it to."

      Or something like that. Like you, Jillian, I don't really want the responsibility. But I definitely see it is there. There are certain things I refrain from talking about, simply because it might not come off the right way, or it will cause some kind of division. I try and stay out of everything.

      And I do thing that some of my purpose has changed since I started, whether I like it or not. I have definitely been more vocal in promoting literacy (and that is in all aspects of my life). It was always something I was passionate about-the blog has given me a chance to accept it.

      I have more to say, but I'm distracted. I'll update again...

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  6. Your post is exactly why I follow you. I'm an eclectic reader, and I enjoy all kinds of books. I follow bloggers who read a wide variety, or bloggers who are very genre specific- some genres that I don't even read simply because I enjoy the blogger's posts. That said, I do love the sense of community online, although I'm a small time blogger. I love doing readathons and readalongs. I'm going to BEA this year, and I'm genuinely excited about it, not because of the free books, but because I love meeting people who love books as much as I do. And I get to go to cocktail party for an author, something I never dreamed I'd be asked to do because while I enjoy blogging, I'm not trying to make a career out of it. I don't feel pressure to put out reviews or to attract followers, I do the memes I want to do, I review books I choose, and because of that I don't feel like blogging is a job.

    Keep doing what you're doing, because I love you blog!

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  7. I live under a rock. I have no idea what is going on. However, I don't identify as a book blogger. I felt too much pressure to do ARCS and giveaways and host things and write fancy schmacy reviews. I have a life blog and just happen to talk about books quite a bit; it helps take the pressure off. Glad I miss out on the drama! (underachiever win!)

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  8. I, too, live under a rock. Not got a clue as to what's gone on.

    As for responsibilites, identities... I get you, and I love your post. But for me to consider this - it's a bit too much. I love reading, I love writing, and I LOVE blogging, but I just want to write what *I* want to write. If I don't like something, I don't like it and either I don't blog about it, or I do. I don't know what my identity is... the woman who reads a lot, skims stuff she doesn't like, thinks about cleaning the coal fire when she should be concentrating, goes mad for Clarissa, refuses to review stuff she doesn't want to, won't partake in answering questions for readalongs etc if she's not in the mood... I don't know *who* I am in the blogging world. But I'm cool with it (and this makes me sound like a terrible blogger!)

    I've learned the hard way that people potentially ask WAY too much from bloggers. I won't ever again allow myself to fall into a trap of blogging for an audience. I blog for me and my regular commenters. With so many decent bloggers out there, I don't feel I need to do anything other than I enjoy. This is my fun, relaxing hobby.

    And right this very second Jillian's just tweeted me with the link to teh draamaz. So I shall read it now :)

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    1. I'm not saying that you can't post what you want. Not at all! I still post whatever I want, whenever I want! I never meant that anyone has to change their persona or alter their mission in blogging. Perhaps my position wasn't clear enough...

      All I am really trying to say is that I think it is important to at least acknowledge that we are out in the public. I get e-mails from people (on an almost daily basis), asking me questions about posts I've written, for recommendations, etc. I can't really pretend that this space is only for me when I am in such close contact with so many people. Because my writing has developed into something more...you know what I mean? People perceive me as being an expert (even though I'm not), look to me for opinions (even though I may not want to give them), and see my blog as public domain (even though it is MINE, MINE, MINE). Does all that make sense? All I am saying is that we might need to recognize who we are, and that even though we might not like it, we have an impact (and all that connects to The Story Siren and what she did).

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  9. I came here to sign up for the Victorian Celebration challenge, and read your post with great interest. I have been blogging for 5 years come this October, and I have never been one of the popular bloggers - not by choice, or chance, or whatever, I often don't blog regularly enough and my life has been very challenging over the past few years. So sometimes I just read and don't have many words. What I wanted to say was, I don't accept ARCs at all, I don't do reviews for anyone, I read for my own pleasure. I refuse to do book rounds, because I don't like reading on a schedule. So everything the popular bloggers do, I don't. I love to read, and I love to talk about books, and I really enjoy meeting people who love books too. So that's why I blog.

    I am aware that there is an audience, and I am careful to be as open-minded as I can in my writing, because I want to be fair, and if I've read something on another blog, I love linking to it - the more we share ideas and thoughts, the better. So I feel sorry for and angry with the blogger that she couldn't admit what she did - that wasn't cool, it wasn't right.

    You wrote a lovely piece about what your blog means to you, and I wanted you to know that there are a huge variety of book blogs out there, and almost everyone I've met have been unfailingly polite, and generous, and kind. I hope you continue to love to blog!

    Off to read now about your challenge....

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  10. I was thinking about this all last week as well, and I came to the conclusion that the blogs I like the most (of which yours is one) are the ones which don't seem to have a particular agenda, where the blogger is obviously comfortable with the way they've decided to run their blog, and where they are writing about the things they love, whether this is purely books, or also involves more personal posts. For me, my blog is my space and I don't feel any pressure to do things a certain way for other people. If people like the posts I write and the way I review, then hopefully they'll keep visiting. If they don't, then there's no reason why they have to, and I don't really understand why people seem to have such stress and feel such pressure about their blogs. Ditto with ARCs, which I do receive from time to time, but it's a case of if I find something I really want to read, I'll ask. If the publisher ignores me or chooses not to send a book then that's fine, and if they do, I still get ridiculously over-excited. I would never want to take something as amazing as a free book for granted, and it will never even feature on the list of reasons why I blog.

    One of the reasons I love your blog so much is that you're always writing about books and blogging in terms of what they mean to you. I think that's great :-)

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  11. Wow! I just read through all the posts about this. I've always had the sense that the book blogging community was this giant group but never quite had an idea of the scope.

    I do wonder if the plagiarist's blog will survive all of this though. Actions like copying someone else's work hurts everybody and can cause mistrust and division.

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  12. I'm glad that you're committed to staying true to yourself as a blogger, while still acknowledging that a blog, by its very nature, is a public space. Thanks for sharing this post!

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  13. Allie, I am also relatively new to the blogging world. When I found your blog one of the things I liked the best was that you posted your thoughts in the process of reading the book. That was so unique and I liked it a lot. This was a great post. When I look at my Google Reader daily I always check to see if you have a post.

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  14. Hi Allie - really interesting post! This is the first time I've visited your blog and I'm going to take a look around in a minute but I linked in from Jillian's blog, A Room of One's Own, from a similar post she had written.

    Indeed, I definitely live under a stone having heard basically nothing about last week until today! (Although, I pride myself on being a hermit so this is more a badge of honour than anything ;P)

    The posts surrounding the events have really fascinated me though, and it's got me thinking about my own identity as a Blogger. I've been posting online for just over a year, and my identity online is still very fluid. In fact I often feel much of my personality is suppressed online, and I just project the literary end of myself. Whilst this is dandy for my blog, I'm becoming increasingly interested in 'the community'. I don't do the standard blogger things, I don't join challenges, I don't participate in memes, or blog about how I'm feeling or community matters. I blog about books, and I blog for me. It's a form of personal development, but recently I've begun to realise how important my readership (for lack of a better expression) are to me.

    I want to nurture a particular type of environment, and all this fuss has got me to thinking about exactly where I stand with the community. It's something I'll have to put my mind too, but posts like yours definitely provide great food for thought.

    As a fellow twenty-something it's great to hear your perspective. Like you, I find it strange that I'm no longer a faceless pseudo-intellectual who spouts guff at his friends, but a quasi-public entity who is known by people who I've never met.

    Anyway, a little rambley, but thanks for the post. I'm off to have a little poke around your corner of the interweb :)

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