Discussion post: How Reviewing Changed the Way I Read?

As you may have seen (or not), I was MIA from the bookish internet in the last few months. The reasons are various but I would say that the main trigger was the war in Ukraine. I took time off from the internet to think about what I really cared about and what I wanted to do with my free time. I started worrying less about work, I made sure to see my friends more often and I made a bunch more.

I guess my brain was in weird limbo of “we live in a world where a country can invade another one without strong repercussions. If it happened in Ukraine, why not France? I might as well enjoy life as much as I can before everything turns into complete shit”. To be honest, I’m still in the same weird limbo but not as strongly as before. I guess we can get use to everything and WWIII is still not happening.

All this to say that, in the last few months, I really struggled to do anything in my free time that looked remotely like work. And to be honest, as much as I like doing it, blogging is work. It takes a lot of time, organization, and dedication. And at the time, I had very little want for any of it outside of my regular job which is already taking out a lot of my brain power.

It doesn’t mean that I stopped reading, I just picked up whatever I wanted to read without thinking about TBRs, ARCs or reviews. I’ve read from a ton of different genres, I re-read favorites and I read at my own pace. If I only wanted to read a few pages, I did, if I wanted to read a book in a single sitting, I did. And it was incredibly freeing.

I have always known that blogging was influencing my reading quite a bit. As a kid, I had no clues about new releases or hyped books. I just picked up whatever sounded good to me at the library or re-read for the millionth time my favorite Harry Potter books. If I wasn’t enjoying something, I used to easily pick something else instead. I loved spending time with my favorite characters which meant that re-reading represented at least half of my reading.

Re-reading now is something that I do on very rare occasions where I allow myself “to waste” time that I could use to read new releases or books that have been on my shelf for years. It seems like I must justify it to myself: “I’m re-reading this book to prepare myself for the next one” or “it’s for a buddy-read so it’s okay”. The pressure of reading new stories is always there at the back of my mind.

The same phenomenon occurs for backlist titles. There is a pressure when you’re a reviewer to read new and hyped titles. To inform your readers of new and upcoming titles, to give your two cents on the story before it’s published. I often read reviews before buying books so I completely understand the value of ARC reviews, they are popular for a reason. However, as a blogger, keeping up can be quite stressful and I know it is for me.

Yes, receiving ARCs is a privilege and I know that 16 year-old-me would be amazed by the fact that publishers and authors send me books sometimes. However, I now understand that as much as I love the idea of ARCs, reading and reviewing them is often quite stressful. Looking back at the last few years of my blogging journey, the years I loved blogging the most were the years I read organically and picked up books on a whim. When I tried to be ” a good blogger” and focused more on ARCS and new releases was when I enjoyed my time here the leasr. I didn’t see it at the time but it’s now obvious.

I created a Goodreads account in 2014 and started blogging back in August 2015 and, well, the stats don’t lie when it comes to the evolution of my reading both in terms of quantity and publication years of the title I read:

For the number of books read, I’m pretty sure that blogging is not the sole culprit. In 2014 and 2015, I was in highschool and I had a lot of free time in my hands. In 2016, I started my studies in engineering and it was way harder to find reading time. However, if we look at the books by publication year, 2018 and 2019 are the years I focused on reading new releases and it’s the years I read and enjoyed reading the least. I find this interesting to think about.

Also, I find that by creating a blog solely focused on speculative fiction, I unknowingly limited myself to reading only SFF books. While I love SFF, limiting myself to only reading from those genres is not the sweet spot for me. I love literary fiction, romance and I’m starting to love reading thrillers as well. I don’t plan on reviewing those books because I am not particularly well-versed in those genres (at least, not yet) but I’m really not “only” a speculative reader (there is nothing wrong if you read only SFF books of course, every reader is different).

However, as much as blogging influenced me in a few negative ways (the stress of keeping up with new releases, feeling like my reviews are mediocre at best, limiting myself in terms of genres), it also impacted my reading in very positive ways. I discovered a good numbers of books and authors I would never have heard of without blogging, I met a lot of other enthusiastic readers with awesome recommendations, I buddy read awesome books in groups or with other readers like the amazing Mayri and, I also learned how to read more critically.

I used to pick up books and not think too much about them while reading. I liked the story or I didn’t without really thinking about why. Blogging forced me to take a step back and reflect on why some stories worked while other didn’t. Even if I stopped blogging, I don’t think I would ever not read books as a reviewer and, for me, it’s a good thing. Yes, I want to engage with the story and the characters but thinking about the themes and discussions touched on in a book will always be important to me. Sure, it means that the sweet days where I gave almost all the books I read four or five stars are behind me but, what are a few stars when I now have a way of evaluating books that works for me?

Anyway, all this to say that taking some time off made me realize how much blogging changed the way I was reading. Some things I would like to change back so, I’m going to make a few changes. The first one is to stop requesting and accepting ARCs for the time-being. It will be less stressful and leave me with time to read books I’m excited about in the moment. The second one is to take a step back from long reviews for now. I haven’t find my reviewing groove in months (if not years at this point) and more often than not, I don’t feel like my reviews manage to reflect how I truly feel about a story. I would like to try writing shorter reviews for a while as well as recent reads posts that are less intimidating for me. The last change I would like to implement is to mood read more instead of forcing myself to stick to reading plans that I don’t want to follow anymore!

I’m curious to hear about you, fellow book bloggers, in what way blogging changed the way you read? Did you use to be huge on re-reading as well? I would love to know!

5 thoughts on “Discussion post: How Reviewing Changed the Way I Read?

  1. I used to have some rules to keep my blog varied: try to read from different decades each time, not read books by the same authors as long as they are on the “recent posts” list, try to put in enough fantasy as well, try to read at least a few new titles of that year, etc. I noticed that I’m much happier to not really care about these rules anymore, and also read a bit more non-genre literature in Dutch. I also found most recently published speculative fiction isn’t for me anymore, so…

    Either way, these days, I just read what I’m in the mood for – or almost. Maybe I would read a bit more Flemish/Dutch literature without the blog – I don’t want to alienate my audience.

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  2. What an intriguing and thought-provoking post! It’s true, blogging did change my way to approach books, particularly where re-reading is concerned because, like you, now it feels like time “stolen” from the other, new books that are lined up in my TBR waiting to be read. If this aspect can be viewed as negative, the positive one comes from the awareness that writing reviews makes us look at books in a deeper, more thoughtful way – and I guess this helps us retain a stronger memory of what we read. Or at least that’s my hope…
    As far as ARCs are concerned, I try to pick one or two, no more, from the monthly offerings, so that I can give a chance to the other books that I’m either interested in or that have been languishing on my TBR: what I have come to realize, in these past few months when I sometimes have felt the “weight” of blogging as a form of work, is that I have to focus on the simple joy of blogging, on the quality of it rather than the quantity and that this choice might represent a good balance between what we perceive as “blogging duty” and the simple delight of losing ourselves in a book…

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  3. I feel your pain, blogging often feels like a job. But when I discover an amazing book I never would have read because a publisher suggested it, I think it’s all worth it. I never reread these days but I have a few books I’d love to revisit, maybe someday!

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  4. I don’t think blogging has hugely changed how I read, but sometimes it feels like it takes a conscious effort for that to happen. I want blogging to be I read books like I always read books and then talk about them. Anything else doesn’t make sense to me unless I’m genuinely looking for some way to make this my career. It’s made me a bit more adventurous about what books I try which is a good thing, but I’m still a huge re-reader and the rest of it. But there’s definitely times I look at my ARC pile and think “whoops, this has gone too far…” and I need to take a conscious decision to change how I do things a little.

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  5. You’ve pretty much nailed my feelings about how blogging has changed my reading too. I made a deliberate choice to allow myself to read only SFF before I started blogging after a few years where I ‘made’ myself read more widely and didn’t enjoy as much (but there was a LOT going on in my life during those years that contributed to that) – but I’ve recently hit a point where SFF is feeling samey and I want to broaden out my diet again. That definitely creates conflict with what feels like an obligation to read the ARCs etc, so I’m trying to find ways to navigate that. I’m limiting my ARC requests and I am grateful that I don’t feel any pressure to read the big recent releases I don’t request – enough other bloggers do that! – so I think the trick for me will be to focus on smaller presses. We’ll see – I’ve been saying I’ll focus on backlist / my TBR for enough years to know I easily get distracted 😉 But if I can make a significant dent in my backlist ARCs, I’ll feel much freer to follow my nose when picking my next read…

    …and I also agree that reviewing (and reading others’ reviews) has made me a far more critical reader, and I’m absolutely okay with that.

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