Our panel’s structure was based on a framework developed by Jen, who posed the following questions about why one might blog about out of print or backlisted books.
- What’s in it for me?
- What’s in it for my blog?
- What’s in it for my readers?
- What’s in it for the greater good?
Sometimes, I think I want mine to be a cutting edge blog--one of the beautiful blogs whose template is never wrinkled, who talk about the latest new releases, and who always seem to know what is New and Hot. But I have decided that is simply not who I am. Sure, I like getting ARCs in general, and Love getting ARCs of Megan Whalen Turner books, in particular, and it’s lots of fun to write excitedly about new books. I will never not want to review new books. In fact, I just wrote to HarperCollins requesting one today (Invisible Things, the sequel to The Explosionist, by Jenny Davidson, which I loved).
But there’s a downside to blogging about what’s current and accepting lots of review copies—it’s stressful. The beady eyes of all the review copies accumulating on every flat surface of your house, watching as you read a library book, or, heaven forbid, a book off your own shelves, make for nervous pleasure reading. And there’s no time for re-reading at all. It's considerably more relaxing to write about an old favorite that one loves--there are no deadlines for sharing old favorites, and there they all are, in my own case, on the shelves closest to my bed, just peacefully waiting.
Another reason there's less stress is that when one writes about a backlist or out of print book, the audience is simply people who love books. When posting about a new book I received for review, I'm writing for the gatekeepers. I feel that I should be thinking Critically, making clear arguments about the book's strengths and weaknesses. I enjoy doing that (otherwise I would do it), but it still takes a bit of effort. When writing about a book I just happen to love, I don't feel compelled to do that as much (which is good, because it's hard to think critically about a book you've practically memorized). If I want to write about the loveliness of the heroine's room, or her charming boots, I can gush at will. And boy, is it gratifying when some one reads a review of a childhood favorite, and shares their own love for it! Or rushes out to hunt for a copy of their own.
I've done both of those things when reading reviews of out of print books at other blogs. And one reason I like such posts is not just for the books, but because of the insight they give me into the character of the blogger. For one thing, the choice of which books to talk about is much wider--not just what is new, but what is loved--so you can learn about the blogger. When some one posts a review of a D.E. Stevenson book, for instance, I think "This person could be a friend," and I want to keep reading their blog. It's not just the choices that express a blogger's character, it's the writing as well-- when I posted my review of Valley of Song, by Elizabeth Goudge, for instance, I was writing much more as me, Charlotte, than is the case when I review a new book, with the gatekeepers in my mind. And so maybe my readers know me a bit better.
It doesn't hurt one's blog stats, either, to include older books. My look at The Green Book, by Jill Patton Walsh, is my fourth most googled post. If you want comments, write about an old favorite.
There are some blogs whose have made a clear choice to focus on backlist or out of print books, or at least to include lots of them. This gives them a lovely clear point, that greatly benefits readers. The Children's War, for instance, is a place where you'll find exclusively books about kids in WW II; lots of them are old, but that doesn't make them less wonderful, and it is a great resource. I include a lot of backlist/out of print titles in my two thematic lists--Time Travel Books and Multicultural sci fi/fantasy, and I think this makes them a much more useful place for people to come. (And, as an INFP, I am apparently focused on making the world a better place, seeking to serve humanity as best I can (pats self on back). I don't think I'd want to blog if my blog wasn't Useful to someone).
Finally, thinking now of the greater good--blogging the backlist gives historical depth to issues still very contentious today. It puts things in context. It brings to readers books that might not be on bookstore shelves, that still have the power to wake people up, shattering bubbles of naivete. And I think it's incredibly important to go back, as Debbie Reese does at Native Americans in Children's Literature, to re-examine old books with insights that expose their weaknesses, so that we don't just blindly accept the printed pages of yester year, with all their ignorance and prejudice. I'm looking forward lots to participating in Mitali's upcoming feature--community re-reads of children's classics, looking at them with fresh eyes (up first, on November 1-5, Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace).
And those are the reasons why, amongst my of new books, there are lots of reviews of old ones! So join Angie for her Retro Friday feature, if you want some structure to your backlist blogging, or simply share an old favorite...Rediscovering what lurks on your own shelves, or in the public library, can be just as rewarding as a full mailbox of new books. (But I really hope HarperCollins sends me Invisible Things).
I wish I could remember the insightful things my co-panelists said, but sadly I can't remember much. I'm pretty sure that the comments I've just made above were shaped very much by what they said too (if not lifted directly from something they said first)--so thanks to Jen and Melissa and Carol!
I do remember one specific point-that blogging the backlist can be instrumental in bringing beloved books back into print--with the Betsy-Tacy books being a shining example (although this hasn't helped Betsy Bird's Winged Girl of Knossos yet...every year she mentions it, to no avail). And I'm sure the others said many more wonderful things--I do remember nodding lots and lots in agreement...