The Rise of Censorship in 2021

News outlets have been reporting an increase in book challenges and book bans, especially in school libraries across the United States. Books that deal with racism, LGBTQ+ characters or themes, and social justice issues are especially under fire. While reading The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen, however, I have come to realize that, while these reports are alarming, they are not anything new. Every generation seems to have its political upheavals, and book bannings inevitably seem to follow. What also does not change is that groups on both side of a question will find reasons to deny others access to books–always, of course, in the name of protecting readers (especially the young or otherwise (presumably) easily impressionable). The realization that book bannings apparently are as old as books themselves should not make us take these challenges less seriously, however. Rather, it is an opportunity to reflect on what censorship is, how it manifests, how its proponents justify it, and how it ultimately harms everyone.

Reading The Library: A Fragile History proved surprisingly relevant as I reached the pages where the authors recount the effects of the Reformation on libraries in Europe. As Catholic and Protestant governments and religious leaders grappled for supremacy on the continent, libraries were typically the casualties. Catholic monasteries were ransacked for their books, but Protestant literature also faced being forcibly removed or destroyed. One library, in a eerily timely description, advised their readers that they were not allowed to cross out or deface passages in books they disagreed with! All of this sounds horrifying to readers today, probably, or at least overly dramatic. But the reality is that the culture wars continue, just with different values at stake. Readers continue to call for the suppression of books they disagree with.

The funny thing about censorship, however, is that its proponents rarely seem to identify as censors. In their eyes, they are merely people trying to protect others from harm. They can always justify their aims. Their demands, they think, are ones every rational person must agree with. If anyone is a censor, trying to keep books from readers, it must be their opponents! Censorship, however, as defined by the American Library Association (ALA) is as simple as “the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons–individuals, groups, or government officials–find objectionable or dangerous.” That’s it. There is no caveat that provides for the suppression of books that are “actually dangerous, though” or for making certain titles inaccessible because, “These reasons are valid this time.” Censorship can never be justified–not if people wish to continue to be free to read materials and make up their own minds, without self-appointed judges approving it first.

In their “Freedom to Read Statement,” the ALA calls the freedom to read “essential to democracy.” The right to the freedom to read rests on the belief that individuals are able make up their own minds about works, and do not need to be protected from books. The ALA explains:

“Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be ‘protected’ against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.”

Making books inaccessible to others in name of protecting them from harm may seem like a laudable goal. However, it is important to remember that setting a precedent for suppressing books–even if someone believes they have a good reason–means that, in future, censorship could become more widespread. In future, people with opposing perspectives could point to the precedent set as a reason for materials they dislike to be removed. Fighting censorship, no matter what side it comes from, even if a person does personally find the material objectionable, keeps the flow of information open for all. Because the freedom to read means that a handful of people cannot dictate what everyone else is allowed to read, to know, and to think.

Allowing people to access any book they wish, any viewpoint they wish, may seem terrifying. But isn’t that the point? People with access to information and ideas are people who can change the world, instead of unquestioningly accepting the one they have been given. No one has to agree with every book that is written or published. But allowing books with different viewpoints to be accessible ensures that we ourselves cannot be censored.

Who Is the Library For?

Who Is the Library For

I have been reading The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen and, while I am only a few pages in, already the book has raised some interesting questions. The background for the history of the library traces early ideas of the library as something only accessible to the wealthy and the elite, through the increased democratization of literacy (and thus libraries) as books became cheaper. New types of readers concerned those used to guarding books as their own, however, and soon the question arose: Whom does the library serve?

Though many might assume today that libraries (at least in the U.S.) are for everyone, and that this is a well-known fact, the reality is a little different. People know in theory that the library is open to everyone–that a person does not need to justify why they are in the library, and that anyone (at least anyone in the service area) can get a library card. In reality, however, there are plenty of people who remain uncomfortable with libraries as the great equalizers, and who might prefer, openly or secretly, that the public library be a little choosier about whom they allow in. In particular, there are three groups that many library users tend to express reservations about, when they see members of those groups in the library.

Children

Ironically, though children may arguably be some of the most avid and regular library users, plenty of adults seem to wish they were not. Complaints about noise–crying babies, screaming toddlers, laughing children–are not uncommon, nor are requests that children stay in the children’s room “where they belong.” Even though public libraries are supposed to be for everyone, children are still not seen by many as desirable patrons, even though they are experiencing formative years when introducing them to reading and teach them literacy skills is vitally important.

Teens

Many library users seem to dislike children, but the dislike some adults have for teens is even stronger. Again, many library users can be heard complaining about the presence of teens in the building, the level of noise they are making, and the fact that they are out and about in areas where adults can see them. Library users who believe the library should be silent and who apparently miss the old days of shushing can be especially harsh. Incredibly, I have even witnessed random adults (not library staff) taking it upon themselves to go yell at teens whom they thought were talking too loudly. There does seem to be a double standard here. It is hard to imagine the average person taking it upon themselves to regulate the behavior of an adult in the library.

People Experiencing Homelessness

People experiencing homelessness are often not accorded dignity by others. I have heard people say that they do not go the library, so they do not have to see anyone who is homeless. I have heard multiple people suggest that the homeless should not be allowed in the library at all. I have seen online reviews raging at the existence of people who are homeless in the library building. And I have witnessed adults asking that homeless people be kicked out, even though they were not breaking any rules. Even though many people are proud to have public libraries serving the community, there are people who would love to become gatekeepers, keeping out those they deem unworthy of benefiting from the library.

That the public library is open to all has become a sort of truism. But sometimes actions do not match words. It is easy to believe in theory that everyone should be welcome and everyone should be treated equally. In reality, however, a segment of library users still want to apply different standards to people who are different from them. And, regrettably, sometimes library staff seem to feel the same, disproportionately kicking out members of certain groups, or applying rules to some groups and not others. So the question remains: Who is the library for? And, if the library is really for everyone, what are doing to make sure that remains true–in reality, not just in theory?

10 Discussion Posts That Tackled Hot Topics

10 Discussion Posts That Tackled Hot Topics

Over the years, we have tackled some hotly-debated topics, ranging from how publishers treat ARCs to whether monetizing a book blog seems worth it. Read on to find some of our takes on contested issues.

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Should Individuals Stop Referring to Their Book Exchanges as “Libraries?”

We respond to a Twitter controversy in which people decried the use of the word “library” to refer to community book exchanges, because they feared it would create a loss of support for the public library.

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What Is the Impact of Little Free Libraries?

Little Free Libraries (a registered trademark) claims to support literacy and water book deserts. But when we looked for research, the only information we could find suggested that these claims are dubious.

Should Publishers Number ARCs?

We weigh in on the suggestion that publishers should do more to track ARCs to keep readers from selling them.

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Should Bookish Influencers Edit Book Covers Into Photos if There Are No Physical ARCs?

Publishers seem to be giving out fewer physical ARCs, but expect great photos. Some bookish influencers have started editing their photos to make their ebooks appears like physical books, in order to get more views. But should they?

Should Public Libraries Stop Supporting Amazon?

We talk a lot about limiting purchases–especially books–from Amazon here. But plenty of public libraries have ties to Amazon. If libraries are meant to support their communities and promote equal access for all, should they stop supporting a business that keeps making the news for exploiting workers and harming authors?

Are Websites Meant to Educate Parents About Book Contents Truly Dangerous?

Twitter uses fear that websites noting book contents will result in censorship. Would a site that merely notes the content of a book be a tool that would cause more harm than good? Or is it possible that such a site could be useful, even welcomed by parents, educators, and readers?

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Are YA Books Maturing Too Fast?

As more adults read YA, the content is seemingly becoming more mature. But where are the YA books for younger teens? And should we go back to calling YA books “teen books?”

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Can We Have College-Aged Characters in YA Books?

Even though the content of YA books seems to be maturing, many readers are not comfortable with college-aged protagonists.

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Do We Need a New Adult Section?

This blogger is not convinced that a NA label is needed, when readers could just seek out books with “recent college graduates” though online lists, or through curated displays.

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I’m Okay with Not Being Paid to Book Blog

Many book bloggers want to make money from their blog–but this one does not. Related: What Would It Take for Me to Want to Monetize My Blog? and Should Book Bloggers Make Money from Other Bloggers?

Ways to Find Free and Low-Cost Books

Looking for ways to read without emptying your wallet? Below are some suggestions for where you can find free books (sometimes to borrow, but sometimes to keep) and low-cost books.

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Places That Offer Free Physical Books

The Library

Many people seem disappointed by the materials offered by their libraries. However, not everyone knows about all the services available to connect people with the titles they want. Below are some ways to borrow books even if you do not see them on the shelf at your local branch.

Interlibrary Loan: If you don’t like the collection your library has, ask about how to request a book through ILL (interlibrary loan). Most libraries in the U.S. offer this service where they can have books from all over the country mailed to your local library for checkout.

State Libraries: Many states have one library where every resident of the state can apply for an online card and get access to digital materials (or physical, if you live close enough). You don’t have to feel like you’re stuck only with what your local library offers. (Also see “Interlibrary Loan” above.)

Purchase Requests: If you do not see the title you want available at your library, submit a purchase request and see if they will buy a copy for you. Libraries do have collection policies (which usually say something about buying up-to-date and credible materials) so they may not buy everything suggested–but most try to.

Homebound and Outreach Services: Can’t leave home? Contact your local public library to see if they have an outreach vehicle that will deliver materials directly to you. Some libraries may even mail materials to patrons.

College Students: Many college students may think that they only have access to their academic libraries. While these are certainly worth checking out (many have small spaces dedicated to popular books), college students are typically eligible to apply for a public library card if they show an ID and a piece of mail with their current (dorm/apartment) address.

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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

This program mails free books to kids under five each month. The program has to be run/funded by a local organization, however, and the child must be a resident of that local area in order to qualify. Visit the official site and type in your zip code to see if the program is offered where you live.

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Local Literacy Organizations

Many areas have local organizations that give out free books, especially to kids. This may mean schools mail books to students over the summer, or that a local organization has a festival or building where they have free books out for people to take. Ask around to see if your friends or family know of any organizations that give out books.

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Little Free Libraries and Book Exchanges

These little book exchanges can be located anywhere from a public building to someone’s front lawn. You can check the official Little Free Library site for a list of registered LFLs or ask around to see if people know of any other book exchanges in your area.

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Goodreads Giveaways

Publishers and authors are always offering books free through Goodreads giveaways. Of course, this means you are not guaranteed a copy, but you can enter to win and hope for the best!

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Publisher Giveaways

If you sign up for publisher mailing lists, you can check emails for any free book (or bookish merchandise) giveaways being offered. Of course, you are not guaranteed to win–but you might!

Places That Offer Free Digital Books

The Public Library

Many people are surprised to learn that libraries offer not only physical books to borrow, but also ebooks. Most will provide options for download to Kindle or Nook–or an option to read in browser.

Online Resources: Check your library’s website for their digital collections. Popular services that libraries use include Overdrive/Libby and Hoopla. The difference? Overdrive/Libby provides e-books your library (or consortium) specifically buys and they have strict checkout limits (per the publishers) so you may have to put a title on hold. Hoopla is a service where libraries can buy access to different levels of titles curated by Hoopla. The library pays per checkout so there are no wait lists, but your library may limit how many items you can borrow each month. Both should offer options to download the book to a device or read in browser.

Library E-Cards: Can’t leave home? See if you can sign up for a library card online and then access digital materials from the comfort of your own couch.

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Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is perhaps the best known site for free and legal digital books. The books available are in the public domain, so are typically older.

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Riveted

Find popular and bestselling YA books available to read free online from Simon & Schuster’s RivetedLit website.

Places to Find Discounted Books for Sale

The Library

Libraries often sell weeded or donated books for very low prices. Check your library’s website to find out if they have an annual/semi-annual sale, or walk into a local branch to see if they have books out for sale all the time. Also keep in mind that sometimes academic libraries have book sales, too.

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Used Bookstores

Used bookstores, of course, sell books for less than cover price.

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Thrift Stores

People often associate thrift stores with clothes, but some sell books, too.

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Yard Sales

Stop by a local yard sale to see if there are any books being sold.

Should Book Bloggers Feature Discussion Questions That Focus on Specific Books?

Should Book Bloggers Feature Discussion Posts on Specific Titles

Discussion posts have become a staple of book blogs, with readers reporting that they often prefer to read discussions and bloggers reporting that discussions do indeed generate higher traffic than reviews. While book discussions started out as simple questions, with bloggers often just asking questions such as, “How many books do you currently have on your nightstand?” the length and quality of these posts have evolved over the years. Now, bloggers might discuss anything from whether series or standalones are preferable to consumerism on Bookstagram. What many bloggers still seem not to post, however, are discussions that focus on a single title or a single aspect of a book.

When I raise the idea that book bloggers might post in-depth discussions about specific titles, instead of talking about books in general, some bloggers seem hesitant. Part of this is a fear of sounding too “academic” and scaring potential readers away. Much blogging advice, after all, advises bloggers that readers on the internet have short attention spans, and thus anything text-heavy should be avoided. Extrapolation of this idea suggests that anything that sounds intellectually heavy should also be avoided–readers presumably do not want to read anything that might remind them of a high school English paper.

Blogging about the questions raised books need not be dry and tedious, however. Interesting ideas can be raised without clouding them in academic jargon or writing a post that becomes the length of a doctoral thesis. A balance can be struck with intellectual ideas and an engaging writing style. In short, bloggers need not dread that writing about books in-depth might make them sound overly scholarly and thus scare people away. Truly, a discussion post about a single feature in a book could be merely five or six paragraphs–the idea is, after all, to generate discussion, not to post the final word on the book. A post can simply raise a question or idea, and then let the rest of the conversation, with all its complexities, contradictions, and side trails, unfold in the comment section.

Here at Pages Unbound, we do periodically post discussions that focus on specific books, and, far from scaring people away, they often generate great comments! Our post on not liking The Giving Tree, for instance, generated a lot of like-minded comments, as well as a follow-up post that was equally popular, and then a post on why another popular children’s book, The Rainbow Fish, is also one we do not enjoy. Likewise, posts on how to interpret the ending of Lois Lowry’s The Giver and whether J. R. R. Tolkien’s Boromir is a likeable character have also proved popular. Some text-specific posts have generated fewer comments, but regularly receive views from search engine hits–for example, our post “Why I Don’t Like the Ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken is still pretty popular, as is our post on why people should read The Lord of the Rings appendices.

Despite their mixed reputation, discussion posts focused on specific titles have many benefits for bloggers. Firstly, they allow bloggers to expand upon their thoughts on a book. Because most reviews are fairly short, they need to be focused and thus may only mention a few main points of interest, rather than everything the reviewer might wish they could talk about. Secondly, they open up the door for more discussion about favorite books–an especially wonderful benefit since many bloggers start blogs specifically because they want to talk about their favorite books with other fans. And, lastly, they allow bloggers to generate more content without having to read a bunch of books. One title could, in theory, be the inspiration for an unlimited amount of future posts!

But what kinds of discussion posts might generate the most discussion? At Pages Unbound, we have posted a mix of discussions on everything from classic works to childhood favorites to the latest YA bestsellers. These sorts of posts seem to work best for getting a conversation going. After all, people need to have read a book or at least heard of it in order to discuss it. So anything that people might conceivably have been exposed to or have strong feelings about (think, for instance, books regularly assigned to students or the latest release that everyone seems to be reading) is a reasonable choice. Taking up questions that have constantly intrigued readers (such as whether C. S. Lewis did Susan Pevensie wrong) could all get a conversation started. Not all discussions will take off, of course, but it could still be fun writing them!

For inspiration, here are a few text-specific posts we have written:

The posts range from more general questions–what makes a book or a franchise successful– to more in-depth analyses about characters or philosophy to opinions on fan-based issues such as romances. Discussions can be based around almost anything!

Book-specific discussion posts do not have to be boring or dry. Nor do they have to scare readers away! Many readers are waiting for the opportunity to talk about their favorite works and to think about them deeply. General bookish discussion posts are fun–but specific ones can be, too!

7 Book-Related Blog Post Ideas for When You Haven’t Read Anything Recently

Bookish Post Ideas

Need a post idea, but haven’t read anything recently? Here are some book-related post ideas for your book blog!

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Movie and TV Reviews

Book-to-film adaptations come out all the time! If you have not read a book recently, why not review a film or a TV show that is book-related? And there are plenty of twists to put on this. You can talk about changes you liked (or didn’t), or do a “Who did it better?” type of post. You could even come up with your dream cast for an upcoming adaptation, if you do not have a film ready to review.

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Game Reviews

Books can inspire more than movies. If you enjoy playing a game that is book-related–anything from a Lord of the Rings board game to a Nancy Drew video game. Or, if you do not want to do an entire game review, you can do mini reviews, lists of recommendations, or even a reflection on what playing a certain game has meant to you. You could even come up with a list of your dream games, or books that need games!

Collection Tour

Show off your bookish merch! Highlight special editions, beautiful covers, and cool illustrations. Or take pictures of some of your non-book bookish items–figurines, bookends, bookmarks, tote bags, T-shirts, whatever!

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Recommendation Posts

Recommendation posts do not have to start with books. Try recommending titles for people who enjoyed a certain movie, TV show, video game, or music album.

Quizzes

Everyone loves a good quiz! Try coming up with a personality quiz or a trivia quiz based on a favorite book.

How-to-Read Guide

Are you a fan of a long or complicated series or franchise? Explain to readers how the series works. What is a good starting point? Do they need to read the books in any certain order? Or can they jump in wherever they want? (Such a guide will work for comics, too!)

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Cover Commentary

Highlight several covers of one of your favorite books–then discuss. Do some work better than others? Are some completely off base? Which ones are your favorites and why?

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What Makes You Like a Character? (Let’s Talk Bookish)

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books & Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

Prompts: Are there any physical qualities you look for in a character? What personalities tend to draw you to characters? Are there any archetypes you prefer, are you always falling for the villain? What makes you like characters?

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This was supposed to go up Oct. 29, but I, uh, forgot to hit the “schedule” button, so here we are. 😉

Physical Qualities

I am NOT a visual person when I read. Apparently there are a lot of people who practically see the action of the book rolling by like a movie when they read? I can hardly imagine that. I barely envision what anyone or anything looks like, and the truth is that I rarely remember what a character’s physical qualities are unless they somehow become plot relevant or are mentioned several times throughout the book.

Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables? I have an excellent visual because Anne dislikes her red hair, she gets called “Carrots” by Gilbert and ends up in a feud, and Mrs. Rachel Lynde goes on about she’s homely and scrawny. The main character in the most recent YA book I read? I have no idea if she’s short or tall or has brown eyes or blonde hair or really anything about her, and I certainly don’t favor some characters over others because of their physical appearance.

Character Personality

In terms of character personality, I think there’s a lot of gray area in terms of what it means for me to “like” a character. There’s a difference between finding the character interesting, thinking the person is nice to other characters, and thinking the character has the type of personality that means I’d personally like to be friends with them.

Yet one trait I think characters need for me to truly admire them is kindness. A character can be badass and smart and creative and do things that seem morally right (like fighting to save a kingdom from ruin), but if they aren’t driven by kindness and wanting to help others, exactly how nice are they? I love characters who, no matter what their other strengths and weaknesses, find the most power in kindness.

Briana

Why I Like Writing My Own Book Summaries for the Blog

Why I Like Writing My Own Book Summaries for the Blog

Many book bloggers use the summary from the publisher when writing book reviews. When possible, however, I prefer to write my own. Here are four reasons why.

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I Can Make Summaries Short and to the Point

A paragraph of six to eight sentences is sufficient for me to decide whether I am interested in the premise of a book. Yet so many official summaries seem to be several paragraphs long! I don’t want to feel as if I have read the whole book after just reading the summary. As a result, I like to write my own summaries that are usually only a few sentences.

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I Can Avoid Spoilers

This point goes with the one above. Really lengthy summaries often reveal almost everything that happens in the book. Some even casually drop plot twists. But I do not want to go into a new story already knowing that Character Z was just faking their own death or that Character Y will be betrayed by their lover. A few sentences hitting the main, non-spoilery points will do just fine. When I write my own summaries, I can take more care to ensure that major plots twists are not revealed.

I Can Try for Greater Accuracy

Sometimes official summaries can be misleading or say that something happens in the book–when it does not. For instance, somewhere I have a copy of Rainbow Valley with a cover that promises, from what I remember, that the protagonists try to save a chicken from being cooked for supper. They don’t. (Spoiler Alert!) The children simply arrive to supper to find the chicken already cooked. (End spoiler!) So when I write summaries, I like to try to say what actually happens in the book, instead of fudging events to make them sound more dramatic, or trying to, say, make a book sound like a detective novel when, at its heart, it really isn’t.

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I Can Reuse the Summaries

When I write my own summaries for book reviews, I can reuse those same summaries later for other posts–for example, if I make a list of recommended titles based around a similar topic. Using the official summaries for lists is not ideal because they are so long! I doubt most people want to read a list of titles where every title listed has five paragraphs of summary. Having short summaries ready to go for new posts makes blogging much more efficient.

Do you write your own book summaries? Why or why not?

Bookish Confession: I Don’t Like Lending Books to Friends

Periodically, I blog about ways to promote a love of reading, often by creating greater access to books. However, I do not think I have ever suggested lending out books to friends as a strategy and there’s a good reason why–I personally dread lending books to friends. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I even offered to lend a book to someone because, well, I don’t want to! In my defense, however, I have my reasons.

I buy and own very few books to begin with. The books I do own, I take very good care of. One of the proudest moments of my life is actually when I donated a pile of books to the library, and I overhead the librarian tell a coworker, “What a shame that these books have never been read.” I owned those books for years and read them multiple times. But they still looked brand new! I do not even crack the spines of paperbacks. The majority of my books are pristine. So lending these books out to people who do not care for them the same way naturally causes me some stress.

Lending out books has resulted in more problem scenarios than me for not. There was the time about ten years ago when I lent a book a friend. I haven’t seen that book since. There was the time I lent a book to a friend and she lent it to at least three more people without asking me first. The book (a paperback), which had gone out new, came back practically shredded in pieces and covered in dirt. There was the time I lent a friend a book and, when I asked for it back, she screamed at me and threw it into a muddy puddle. (I guess she wasn’t done with it??) And the time I asked for a book back (because it had been nearly a year) and my friend gave it back in a huff, immediately, informing me that she only had to read the final page. But then she wouldn’t. To stick it to me. Really, it is almost as if lending out books to normally very reasonable people brings out the worst in them.

Lending out books to friends has taught me two things. Firstly, that most people do not treat books as gently as I do. And, secondly, that mixing friends and property is probably going to end in a ruined friendship one day. Because others do not treat my books with the same care as I, I usually get upset when a tattered volume comes back. I would, in theory, expect someone to pay for my damaged property, but no one has ever offered to do so because, I suppose, to them a torn and dirty book is the same as a pristine one. I have never asked for the book to be paid for, because I know that my friends would find this ridiculous. I’ve seen enough to know that mixing friends and finances is how friendships die. My solution? Stop lending out books to friends.

I suppose not offering to lend out books could be seen as mean, but the way I see it, the books I own are my personal property. I paid for them, and books are not cheap. I do not have to lend them out to people when I suspect those people will destroy them or never return them at all. My friends all have access to the public library, so my decision not to hand out books to them is not keeping them from books. Arguably, it might benefit them more to get a library card and discover all the resources available to them through it.

Book lovers tend to treat books as sacred objects sometimes. However, they are also material objects. Objects that I, in this case, paid for. I don’t feel any personal impetus to sacrifice the books I paid for in order to get a friend to read a particular book. If they are interested, they can use the library. And if they ruin the book, they can take that financial dispute up with the library, too. This system may have resulted in my friends reading fewer of the books I have recommended to them. But I think it has also preserved our friendships.

What do you think? Do you like lending out books to friends?

5 Things I DON’T Look for When Following a Book Blog

5 Things I Don't Look for in Book Blogs

Previously, I wrote about five things that encourage me to follow a book blog. Below, here are five things that really do not matter much to me at all–despite a lot of the blogging advice currently out there.

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Design

I read book blogs for the content, so it does not matter to me if a person has a spectacular header or a mediocre one. Likewise, I do not mind if someone only uses graphics of book covers, but does not take award-winning Instagram photos of books. Plus, if I am reading a post in the WordPress Reader, I cannot see the full web design, anyway. It is important to me that a site be clear and easy to navigate–but paying for a professional template or for a designer to make custom buttons and graphics is not going to be the deciding factor in my decision to follow. The content is.

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Grammar

On a personal level, I really enjoy grammar. However, despite what the comments section on the internet may lead one to believe, grammar and adherence to standard grammar are not a markers of one’s intelligence. People say perfectly insightful things all the time while using awkward grammar or making typos. And that is what matters to me–the content of what someone is saying, not how they say it. Of course, I want to be able to understand what a person is saying in the first place, but an incorrect preposition or some unusual phrasing is no big deal. And making it one is not really kind to people. Some may never have learned rigorous grammar or some may be learning English as a second or third language. Getting stuck on grammar does not make sense when people are reaching out to communicate. I think we should reach back–not point out any perceived mistakes.

GIFs and Small Amounts of Text

A lot of bloggers will suggest that having large chunks of text is bad, and they should be broken up with GIFs or other images, lest readers become fatigued. For my part, I don’t mind reading long posts and often even enjoy it–so long as the content has a clear structure and is not rambling or repetitive. I actually really don’t like seeing GIFs at all, and I don’t read GIF-heavy content as much as I read text-heavy content. So go with whatever your writing style is! You will find readers who appreciate it; you do not need to guess what “everyone” wants, because everyone never wants the same thing.

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A Custom Domain Name

Many bloggers will suggest that bloggers should pay for a domain name to look more professional and be taken more seriously. This may matter more for other types of blogs, but book blogs are not customarily monetized right now. Removing the “WordPress” from the address bar does not matter to most readers and surely does not impact publishers’ decisions to send ARCs or authors’ decisions to do blog tours or interviews. Getting a custom domain name is a completely optional expense at this point for people blogging as a hobby, and bloggers should not feel pressured to spend money on it if does not make sense for them.

Lots of ARC Reviews

There was a time when many book bloggers felt pressured to be on top of the market and to be able to put up reviews for books no one else had access to yet. I tend to prefer reading reviews of books I have already read, so I can have a discussion about the books. Consequently, ARC reviews are not that compelling for me; I don’t care if a blogger never reviews an ARC at all.

Star Divider

Conclusion

For me, the content is the most important reason I read a blog. Are the posts original and the voice engaging? Are the discussions in-depth? Do the reviews have structure? And does the content appear regularly? Graphics, grammar, and domain names–these are all secondary features that matter less to me. At its heart, blogging is about writing, not so much graphic design or photography or many of the other features that book bloggers have come to prioritize to look professional. And blogging is meant to be somewhat accessible. Have a computer and internet access? You can blog–no fancy equipment required. So the writing still matters most to me. Interesting ideas are what inspire me to click follow.

What are some features about blogs that you do not particularly look for?