Courtney and I spend so many of our conversations discussing one of our mutual favorite pastimes: reading. As we were talking about the pressures we sometimes feel as book bloggers to be constantly reading new material and posting our thoughts to our blog, I was reminded of this one class discussion I had earlier in the semester. The week's topic was on the idea of information overload and how people should handle this phenomenon.
Of all the readings that we had, I instantly made a comparison between Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Books" and the concerns and difficulties that I encounter as a book blogger. Emerson's speech and subsequent essay may have been intended to give college students advice about how to handle their workloads, but academia is not the only place to suffer from an information overload. The literary marketplace is literally inundated with books: the product of a book overload, if you will. Although the information overload that Emerson and other readings of mine alluded to is not quite the same as a book overload (mainly because reading books for pleasure does not have as long a history as reading informational books does), nowadays I'd argue that the problem is just as prevalent among "pleasure" books. All we need to do is look at publisher's seasonal catalogs, or posts detailing the month's new releases. There's no possible way that we can read all the books being published (especially on top of those already published we have yet to read).
How, then, do we pick and choose what books to read?
In his essay, Emerson gives three suggestions for how to process so many reading materials:
1. Never read any book that is not a year old2. Never read any but famed (famous) books3. Never read any but what you like
Well...the majority of book bloggers break the first rule all the time. But I understand where he's coming from. If we're reading books that haven't reached a large enough audience just yet, then how do we really know whether the book is good enough for our time? But by waiting around to see whether the book is good, we'll lose the chance to participate in the initial hype and the chance to be among the first of its readers. And then there are books that seem to become inexplicably popular yet aren't necessarily very good. Not such an easy dilemma. The second rule goes along with the first. But there's a decidedly murky area in determining what makes a book famous. Just that others are reading it? Does enjoyment play a role? Does it have to become a New York Times bestseller or on Oprah's book club to become famous? Emerson continues to explain that he believes the quality of a book matters, but, once again, there's no easy answer for determining that. His final point is by far the most confusing. We are to read what we like? Is that in disregard with his other two rules, or in conjunction with them? In other words, find books older than a year with positive reviews that you think you'll enjoy. It's not nearly so cut-and-dry an argument in Emerson's essay, as he goes on to try to explain his suggestions in further detail. But, then, neither is the process of determining which books to privilege with your reading time.
One way that I have been managing the book overload issue is by avoiding opportunities to receive galleys and ARCs. My logic is that I'd rather wait and read some reviews from bloggers before deciding whether the book is worth my time — if I decide that it is, I then can borrow it from the library, buy for my Kindle, or (if I'm particularly certain that I'll like it) buy a physical copy of it from my local bookstore. I'm also very skeptical in regards to hype. With working full-time and attending grad school, I just don't have the time to read books that I'd consider to be sub-par. I'm sure that I'll change my mind at some point, but as long as I have some certain standards and can give a rational explanation of why I want to read certain books, perhaps that will be enough.
I am curious to hear what others think about this issue. What's a book blogger (or any reader, for that matter) to do?