A book is much more personal

Books and blogs are very different things. You write a blog every day, it’s super-topical, you communicate with your readers – and you can assume your readers have a certain level of knowledge, even that many are geeks.  A book is much more personal.  It’s more personal to write, and it’s a quieter, more personal, intimate experience to read a book.  I didn’t want the book to be dated next week.  And in the book I wanted to express something that’s under the surface in the blog – that cycling makes me happy.  In the book I wanted to say that overtly.

Eben Weiss

Now this is interesting. Lately I’ve been thinking the changing expectations of/by readers might be the key to my dissertation and I think this ties into that. No one expects a reader of a book to email the writer and announce that they’re reading the book or that they’re on page 182 or that they like it or hate it or that they’re done. I mean, sure, some readers do that. But it’s not expected. You’re not called a lurker or creepy or a stalker if you just read a book w/o notifying the writer that you’ve done so.

But if you just read a blog, you risk being called all those things. As a blog reader, the expectation seems to be that you will announce that you’re reading (in some fashion). Reading blogs (& other online writing) privately is seen as suspect. Case in point: The first mentions I saw of Twitter’s new “fast follow” feature (allows people to follow via sms w/o joining Twitter) yesterday called it creepy and stalkerish. Really? Keep in mind that people can already read Twitter pages (unless private) w/o following and/or follow via RSS. So, what’s the difference? I don’t think there is a substantive one. I think it’s just that it reminded people that they don’t like it when they can’t “see” everyone who is following them.

I think part of it is a writers vs. people-who-write thing. I think the writers tend to be cool with not knowing who all is reading their writing (because they view it as “writing,” i.e. something that they have made/created). But it tends to make the people-who-write uncomfortable because they don’t view what they write as being a creation (separate from self) but a transparent reflection of self. So, looked at that way, it makes sense that they want their readers to be their friends (or at least acquaintances). And that they don’t want “secret” readers.

On the readers’ side, I think when one has been used to considering reading a private activity, this expectation of being social at every turn is a hard adjustment to make, harder than seems to be taken into account. Especially when the most ardent readers tend not to be known for their gregarious personalities. And there’s also the weirdness of being made to feel bad for reading. Just reading. When did readers start to get labeled with terms formerly reserved for deviant (m-w def: deviating especially from an accepted norm) behavior? And does that mean that just-reading (as opposed to “participating in the conversation”) is now deviant? (ooh.)

And then there’s the whole flip side of this reader/writer thing, and that’s distance. Book writers know they have readers, of course (or they hope they do/will), but those readers are distant (not always any more, but in general). So, as Weiss says so elegantly, the book is more personal because it is more individual. Less influenced by the audience. Whereas blog readers (at least some of them, the conversators) are close. They’re in the blogger’s face, cheering or booing as the case may be. So the audience gets entwined in the narrative.