Book blogging has changed significantly in the eleven years we have been writing here at Pages Unbound. In our early days, book bloggers primarily focused on writing book reviews and many blogs did not even have images–not even of book covers! Then book bloggers discovered that writing discussion posts often resulted in more traffic, and some bloggers even pondered moving away from writing reviews altogether. Now, however, I have seen what appears to be a marked decrease in discussion posts from book blogs, and I can only hope that this is not the end of one of my favorite blogging trends. Still, I have some thoughts about why bloggers might want to move away from discussions.
Though I have always found the book blogging community to be friendly overall, I have also seen some of its less welcoming parts. One of the quirks of book blogging is, I think, actually that its overall friendliness sometimes can result in misunderstandings that would not happen elsewhere. That is, sometimes, there is a tendency to assume that whatever is posted will only result in agreement in the comments. So someone who likes a book might assume that the commenters will all say they liked the book, too. A commenter who says that they did not enjoy the book, even politely, might be seen as negative or argumentative, even if they were just expressing a valid and not really surprising opinion. Not everyone likes every book, after all–that’s just a fact! Still, sometimes, I think there is surprise that people have different opinions, and these different opinions are seen as rude, even if expressed respectfully.
Going along with this is the related idea that, if someone expresses a different opinion, explaining to them them why they are wrong will result in an immediate change of heart and apology. Of course, it is not realistic to expect that someone will change their entire opinion based on five minutes’ worth of reading blog posts and comments. It can take years for people to change opinions! Reading differing viewpoints is part of that process, but it is a process and it will take time. But I know that I have personally had experiences where I said I had not enjoyed a book because of aspects like X, Y, and Z, but then was told that I really should have enjoyed the book because of reasons A and B. When I answered that A and B weren’t enough for me to overlook X, Y, and Z, I was told I was wrong and hurtful, and the other person basically left in a huff. It was just a book I didn’t personally find engaging! I never said that others couldn’t like the book! But, books are intensely personal things, and sometimes book blogging can be a space where any sign of disagreement is taken as aggression, even if it other spaces it might just be part of a lively conversation.
And that brings us to one of the biggest changes in the book blogosphere I have seen over the past decade. There is a lot more controversy in general, and sometimes heated discussions arise over things that most people outside of Book Twitter probably would never think would be controversial in the first place. Much less something that should result in mass pile-ons of outrage. But the reality is that small things can become big things quickly online, and so sometimes it just seems safer to try to fade into the background and not express an opinion at all. I know that I myself sometimes wonder if I should really post a discussion, if I have the mental energy this week to deal with any misunderstandings or negative comments that might arise. Even if the discussion post is about something I might have thought relatively innocuous, like saying I usually prefer fantasy over sci-fi, I know that in the deep places of the internet, there are probably people who would be mean about it, and this might be the week they find me. Quite frankly, the idea of posting discussions can sometimes be exhausting and even a little scary.
So, are book blog discussion posts dying? I don’t really know. I don’t have any hard data. But it seems to me that fewer bloggers are writing discussion posts, and sometimes when I think about the general tenor of discourse online, that seems understandable to me. I hope we can reverse this trend to negativity, though. I hope that book bloggers’ general tendency towards kindness and respect will continue–and that it will be transformative.