Black Sheep Blog(ger)

I’ve been giving some thought to being set apart.

All my life I’ve been…different. Some people call it odd, some strange, some interesting. Some wrinkle their nose and step back when I express myself (what I like or find funny, what I think, what I wish for) or when I open a book and riffle the pages and take in a deep, appreciative breath about an inch away from the paper. They are for some reason noticeably embarrassed for or by me. They question why I insist on being odd/exasperating/argumentative/ambitious, etc. I’m actually often insulted—yes, it’s true—by people who don’t seem to realize what repetitive comments that feed back my “weirdness” do to a sensitive person. When I was growing up, my parents called me the black sheep.

But I’m learning, as I grow older, to embrace the weird. Whatever. I like smelling the pages of beautiful volumes. I get excited dreaming. I enjoy challenging the norm and asking why. I revel in my enthusiasm about certain things. If the things I like and get excited by and enjoy and revel in are for whatever reason strange or embarrassing to you, perhaps you ought to ask yourself why you care enough to be even mildly perturbed when I’m clearly not bothered. So I’m a bit odd. Even though Jessica Grant gave me funny looks when we met last year, Oddly Flowers (after whom I’m currently nicknamed) certainly didn’t suffer from being different when she was introduced to the world in all her quirky glory.

I also work in the black sheep species of bookstore: the indie, unique (but enduring) in many ways. I live in a black sheep of a town in Ontario. Believe me, while it shares traits with other armpits, it sticks out statistically in less than desirable ways. And yet I’m not all different: I wear jeans and sweaters, I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and I read many of the books people are talking about, among those that no one has heard of, and, like a bazillion others, I do something as cliché now as write a book blog.

Yep, book blogs these days are a dime a dozen, as you no doubt know. There are so many it’s simultaneously exciting (there are zillions of us with a passion for books and sharing them!) and overwhelming. I’m subscribed to too many (meaning I can’t keep up) and am too conscientious to unsubscribe to those I’ve discovered no longer keep me reading. Which has got me thinking about this blog in particular.

I’ve noticed, in my exploration of book blogs, how many are very much alike. I’m not going to critique them here; I am every bit open to bloggers blogging precisely what they like and how they like and with the designs they like; I firmly believe there’s a place for everyone. But I know now what I prefer, and what I don’t want to do. The question is, what do I want to do?

art by debi hubbs

So as I might think as a bookseller “How can I make this indie different, what can I offer that invites people to visit and revisit and stay, knowing that I can’t compete with the big boys?” I ask the same as a book blogger: “How can I make my blog different from the others so that people are not underwhelmed or thinking, ah, more of the same, when they find mine? What can I offer that’s, well, characteristic of the black sheep? (Perhaps not coincidentally, the black sheep, for me, is the most attractive, or at least the ones with black faces and floppy ears.)

I’ve infused some difference into this blog already simply by being me: I don’t rate books, I don’t do challenges, I don’t tend to participate in blogger hop questions and the like, or do giveaways much or review a lot of YA. This isn’t because I have anything against them; it’s because they aren’t my thing (well, I do like children’s lit and YA but not to the extent that they make up the majority of my reading). I have read popular books—and enjoyed them—but I am veering from that to read what is less current as well as less trendy because I want to but also because who wants to read review after review of the same book? There are others out there who don’t do those things I mentioned above, either, and they have their own trademarks, like featuring video reviews or treatments of more literary fare or opinion posts.

So, obviously I’m not talking about fitting in: I’m talking about sticking out enough that people are drawn here. I’m talking about enhancing, embracing the blackness, if you will. Right now the only thing I can think of that would be attractive and different enough so that people will enjoy being here rather than find more of the same in a sea of book bloggers is to write extraordinarily well, and write only when I’m in the mood and not rushed. Write true to myself and not what I think people want, and don’t even bother to try to keep up with what’s out there.

Unlike many book bloggers, I’m not a stay-at-home mom or a person who works from home. Not that there’s anything remotely wrong with being a stay-at-home parent or working from home, and not that I’m assuming their lives are easy; it simply means I don’t have as much freedom to be on the computer; they do seem to get more reading and blogging in. Instead, I work in customer service, and as a freelance copyeditor am also often under deadline. I can’t keep up with Twitter and Facebook and the rest of the publishing/blogger/author world and also read much, and I can’t blog as often.

As I suggested earlier, that’s caused some stress that I mean to eliminate by simply relaxing about keeping up with offers and contests and news and reviewing books. I cherish my relationships with publicists, publishers, authors, and readers. More than anything else, those relationships make me feel especially wonderful as a book blogger. So I hope my resolve to get to things when I feel is best doesn’t disappoint people: I do want to continue writing reviews, but they will simply not constitute the majority of posts here. You may already have noticed that. I’m going for quality, not quantity, because that’s lasting as well as promising. I also want varying content here.

I did have that wonderful idea of food-in-fiction posts, for which I would document attempting a recipe from a book, like the orange castle in Come, Thou Tortoise, or the Victoria Sponge that I’m sure features delectably in some English classic, or something fantastically disgusting from Roald Dahl’s collections of revolting recipes. I’d like to make time for that on the weekends, and I think I’ll be able to do that soon. I think that’ll be a fun feature here.

In general, I guess I want you to know where I’m at, which is to say trying to improve, and what I would like for this blog. You are always welcome to give your thoughts on what you think of Bella’s Bookshelves, on what you like or dislike, on what you’d love to see, on what you think would make this place your favourite.

different is beautiful

As for me, the way I am in life with friends—few and excellent rather than many and barely acquainted—I need to be that way with blogs. I am too easily spread thin, like butter scraped over too much bread, as Bilbo would say. So I’m in a culling stage of being lately, because I must be in order to become better, and that alone might make me stand out, perhaps even in a not-so-favourable light. I’m looking for just a few blogs that are different, special, that I can devote quality time to (and keep up with) rather than give a skim. I want to balance, as much as balance can be achieved, my work with proper eating and fitness and downtime and social excursions.

When I pick what to buy, eat, where to go, what to do, I am always looking for different, special, rather than what everyone else is eating, doing, visiting. When I find what I really like, then, I can stick to it rather than be fickle, as I’m often prone to be when following the flock.

I’m telling myself that black is beautiful. I want to fill my life with thoughtfully made, unique, and beautiful things. And if a book blog can be a thing of beauty, I want this one to be just that.

33 comments

  1. Steph,

    The moment you plant your feet firmly on the ground and say, By God, this is my spot and I’m doing exactly what I want to do here and nothing else…your true fans will find you like bees to honey.

    Don’t ask what the world wants, shout your thing to the rooftops. You are uniquely amazing, beautiful, talented, creative and damn, woman- SMART.

    Sometimes I think the yearning you so desperately feel all the time is your spirit begging you to trust yourself. The day you see how incredible your OWN opinion is…you are going to take off and fly. I’m going to be here to watch.

    Yes, BE that Sheep, and don’t look back!

    1. Hey Wendy! Nice to see you here.

      Inviting feedback in terms of what people would like to see here: I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. That kind of feedback breeds ideas, and I won’t do anything asked for if it’s not what I want to do. I am just conscious of the fact that sometimes I’m somewhere and think, I wish they would do this, I wish this were different. I’d like to hear what, if anything, people think in that sense.

      Thank you very much for your warm compliments! I appreciate them. You’re so kind and giving.

      “Sometimes I think the yearning you so desperately feel all the time is your spirit begging you to trust yourself.” I think this is incredibly insightful, and true. Thank you for planting that in my head! I’ve been working on trusting my intuition lately, and what you’ve said there works together with that and letting go of whatever fears are holding me back from that trust.

      Maybe the issue is being a sheep in the first place, albeit black. Maybe the wolf is better.

  2. Great post. And great sheep. It seems to be a New Year theme among some– the need to cull and keep only what is most meaningful and I say Amen to that. And I’d like to say, that it’s probably your “black sheep” parts that your friends like best about you and why they’re your friends and why they remain to be your friends and I say Amen to that too!

    1. Meh, it’s not just a new year thing for me; I purge all year. It always makes me feel good to clean stuff out, though I don’t accumulate stuff much, besides books, so I don’t have much to cull anymore. Still, when I do it, it’s like an addiction, and I have to be careful what frame of mind I’m in because sometimes afterwards I’ll think, what the hell? Why did I get rid of that? Doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. C’s parents are forever taking stuff to the thrift shop where his mom works…

      That’s a good point about friends liking my black sheep parts best. The ones who don’t get it or make fun of it are perhaps not friends in the truest sense? I’m not sure, to be honest.

  3. As I have told you before, I am more attracted to blogs that are a bit different, either in their choice of books or in their posts and I always like a bit of variety in a blog. I have noticed that I don’t read a lot of the reviews that come up in my reader, they tend to be submerged and I scroll down until something catches my eye. I have actually deleted the feeds to certain blogs because I found them to far from my own interests (or too boring).

    I know that it is recommended to have focused blogs, but I don’t care! I don’t want to feel constrained to write only about a certain thing; so, although books feature prominently on my blog, I also write about whatever else I feel like.

    As for challenges and hops, I must say that I like them: it is through them that I have discovered great blogs and this is why I have subscribed to a few more this year. I also find that it is a nice way to share books and ideas. However, I have only selected the ones that correspond to what I’m reading at the moment; I don’t want to be forced into reading just because I must complete a challenge.

    Suggestions for your blog? I don’t know, I think you do pretty well already :)

    1. Thanks, Em. That made me smile wide.

      You’re right on about not feeling constrained as to what to write. There are times when I feel like writing other stuff and I feel pretty comfortable doing that here. It’s okay to make things a bit more personal once in a while, like today’s post, rather than just writing reviews or posting news. I don’t think I could keep from that. In fact, when I first started this blog, there was a great deal more personal, about my aspirations for Biblio and about tea and things like that. Things have changed somewhat but they’re bound to.

      What I like about this blogging business is that while it cultivates my love of books and sharing my passion with people who have like values, just like a bookseller, it’s also helping me establish some sort of voice, or at least practise my writing. That’s another passion of mine and, who knows, it may take me somewhere big.

      1. I know what you mean about the voice. It’s a good way to keep practicing.
        I have found that since I have been blogging more regularly my conference papers are much more lively.

    1. I’ve never thought of you as odd! Have you changed since becoming a mom? LOL!

      Whenever you’re available, let me know. I work Monday to Friday 9:00-5:30 but can meet after that or on a weekend if there’s nothing planned.

  4. Being different is refreshing and shows that you are focused. I too am not a stay-at-home mom nor someone who works from home. So my devotion to my blog is limited to the time that I get, which is evenings after I return from work and weekends. Again, half my evenings are gone in actually trying to get some reading done. Weekends are the best then. Which means there is not much time for things like library hops or random posts or giveaways. So our blog (my friend is part) becomes automatically focused on just good old reviews of books.

    I cannot agree more about few and excellent friends. I have close friends I can count on my fingers. The ones who I can just pick up the phone and call any time and talk as if there never was a time gap since our last meet. I am not a Twitter person either. FB to some extent, it’s convenient for photos and such.

    So you see, you have fellow black sheep here! :) Great post, and I hope I didn’t ramble too much here :)

    1. Birdy, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with blogs that are “just gold old reviews of books”! I often go to them to see what others are reading and what they thought of them. I don’t buy a book without thoroughly investigating it first, either browsing it myself or reading reviews, which, sure, are generally personal but if they’re good they say why they liked or didn’t like a book. That helps me spend my money wisely! I can’t remember the last time I returned a book.

      Please, comment as much as you like: don’t worry about rambling or length!

      And yes, I do have fellow black sheep, which is kind of ironic, but comforting nonetheless!

  5. I love this post. You are absolutely right that there are an overwhelming number of book blogs out there, and it’s hard to figure out a) how to stand out among the crowd and b) how to decide what blogs to follow and c) how to handle the blogs you no longer read. For b) and c), I am constantly adding new blogs to my reader, where they sit in suspension. If I find myself constantly searching that blog out to see what new posts are up, I move it to a “Daily” folder. I’m probably a bit obsessive in my reader organization that way, but it helps me continue to follow blogs once I start while whittling out those that I really read carefully rather than browse occasionally.

    And for a), hooray for embracing your blacksheepness, for lack of a better word! That is precisely (to me, anyway) what DOES make a blog interesting to read. I love the idea of a food-in-books recipe (speaking of being the same person, I’ve recently decided to document my cookbook collection efforts, starting with a post this week on Joy of Cooking’s coq au vin). But really, the idea of making a recipe from within a novel, when food plays such an important role in so many stories… love it. Get cooking! :-)

    1. Kerry,

      Your comments always make me smile. There’s something about what you say and how you say it that often makes me feel I know you.

      I use iGoogle, which just displays all my feeds. I haven’t checked whether or not there’s a way of organizing them, though I suppose I could create a separate page for those I don’t read as often.

      Looking forward to your cooking efforts! Have you read Julie and Julia? :)

      As for my food-in-fiction idea, there are so many to choose from that I can think of offhand! I should try one today…

  6. I’ve never thought of you as odd, either, Steph. But I’ve often felt like I’m different than most people and find it hard to find like-minded people. My guess is that many of us feel odd, even, though we’re not.

    1. I’ve felt that way too, here, especially since university, where it was easier to find like minds. I think it’s easier in cities as well, where more people are educated, say, and have “more” or different interests than they do in a smaller town. I don’t know, just a theory. Maybe I would find it as difficult in another place and my difference is more owing to values that seem to be disappearing among many than to place, if that makes sense.

  7. I love your visuals in this piece. It’s all food for thought. I feel a little stymied in my blogging lately. Life and work have been stressful, and my posts don’t feel as from-the-heart as they did a few months ago. Reflecting on what makes your blog uniquely yours is a good practice, and I feel I’m not always doing that. I do have a fantasy of working from home, but I need my job and my benefits! I have to admit I really envy the bloggers who have more flexibility in their lives. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    1. I envy those bloggers who have more flexibility, too. I too would ideally be working from home with enough pay and writing away all the time. It makes me sigh, the idea of it. I used to do it, and while I found it stressful sometimes (feeling cooped up or with the dog constantly begging attention or feeling guilty that I was home and things didn’t get done, even though I did have a valid job), it was really the best of times, especially creatively!

      Don’t feel badly if you’re not always reflecting on your blog. Do what feels right for you in terms of your blog, and when you feel like it. As soon as guilt starts creeping in, as its apt to with certain personalities, like mine, in comparison to others, things get ruined. If you need to take breaks because stuff is harried, do it. What I’ve learned is that those readers who enjoy you, the ones you actually want, stick around even when you don’t post for a while.

  8. I can relate. After a while, all the blogs and Facebook sounds the same. It’s almost a cult status…the opinions are the same..the comments are the same, everyone says the “right” thing. And if you dare go against the status quo, you’re scolded or debated by all the sheeple.

    So I too, feel like black sheep blogger. I don’t know what kind of category I fall in to…but I seem to be by myself and I don’t fit in with any of the other crowd.

    Not that I necessary want to. But that’s the point…I can’t “make” myself do it. (And if I did, I’d want to gouge my eyes out!) So it gets kinda lonely at times.

    Few and far between, are the genuine blogs where people talk honestly.

    But this is one of them. I like it here. So whatever you do…don’t change…stay the way you are! :-)

    1. Friar! I’ve missed you. I’ve been watching your blog and since I haven’t seen new posts I’m thinking you’re focusing on other things, which makes me happy. I don’t think your blog has to fit anywhere or be labelled as anything. As people have said here about mine, different is good, it’s why people are attracted to it. The right people, the people you want reading it and commenting. They are going to be the genuine ones. I think of your blog as a personal one, a reflection of you, which is unique, artistic, not afraid to speak the truth.

      Thank you for saying what you have. It means a lot coming from you because I already know how you feel about certain blogs and comments and such.

  9. Oh Steph, if I had written this post myself it wouldn’t be much different from what you’ve written! I feel like I’m at the same point in my life as you. Maybe it’s an age thing, as we’re not far apart. I too have always felt very different to those around me. I was never into the same things as everyone else my age in the crappy country town I grew up in, and while things improved in the city, I am still the only one I know who thinks Saturday nights are for reading.

    Only now in my 30s am I embracing all that makes me different. It’s funny that it took me this long, as I’ve always admired and had crushes on people who just didn’t care, and followed their heart no matter what others thought. I guess I was too busy trying to fit in, and didn’t have the courage to do my own thing.

    For you, it’s books. For me, it’s yoga. Yoga is helping to peel back all the layers, all the barriers I constructed so people wouldn’t see that I was different. I’m starting to feel more like when I was 8 or 9, when I just followed my interests and it hadn’t occurred to me that my life was anyone else’s business.

    There are so many things about your blog that stand out for me. Firstly, your writing is fabulous, which is not all that common even amongst book bloggers. I remember you once wrote that it takes a whole hour for you to write a post, and I thought I’d need to dedicate three days to writing and editing if I wanted to get anywhere near your standard! Also, your blog is very personal – your stories about your job at the indie and your life are nicely interwoven with observations about the world of books. Something that I bet all of your readers appreciate is how you create a community with your blog, as you always converse with your readers and establish relationships. Publishers and authors obviously see many great qualities in you, as so many excellent opportunities have come your way of late. If I were you, I’d just be as true to yourself as possible. Go with your intuition. As for reviews, while I do read most of yours, they are not what I come to this blog for, as my TBR list is already long enough to keep me reading until I’m about 96.

    Well, I see I have almost written a whole post here. I think I might write a post about being different on my own blog later in the week as you’ve given me a lot to think about.

    1. Your comment’s made me wholeheartedly wish that we could just go and meet for tea right now!! I hear you, I hear you. There is so much I could say on this, on what you touched on, being different from others, wanting more, valuing different things, feeling as though you’re a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It’s why I feel I’m always searching for something. Sometimes I watch Lucy circle and circle on the bed or couch and fluff pillows and move things around, trying to make things comfortable, and sometimes she succeeds and sometimes she doesn’t. She settles for a bit then gets up again and tries somewhere else. That’s me, too. Trying to find my niche, my place, as I’ve just written to a friend.

      You say that for me it’s books and for you it’s yoga. I say yes, books make me feel comfortable, like old friends. They make my house feel like my own, even though we haven’t changed a thing from the previous owners (not for lack of wanting!). They are an extension of me. At the same time, though, books are an escape for me, while yoga is propelling you forward in self-development, helping you through things you have to deal with instead of escaping them. Yet both are constructive, edifying in their own way…while yoga helps you find your true self, reading does that for me in the sense that it makes me feel like writing, and therein I think I’ll also find my true self—perhaps even my purpose!

      I didn’t write this post to invite compliments or for people to boost me up, yet that’s what has happened. I appreciate so much what everyone has said here, and what you’ve said. Thank you especially for saying what you have about my writing. It’s important to me. Er, did I say it took me an hour? It’s usually three to four hours!! It’s ridiculous. It’s why I haven’t been reviewing as much.

      Haha! I love what you said about not coming here for the reviews because your tbr list is already long enough. Me too! Sometimes reading many reviews stresses me out!

      I look forward to your post on being different! You, too, give me much to think about.

  10. I just discovered your blog today, and I will most definitely be a regular reader!

    Being different is a wonderful quality. Follow your passion, your blog is an extension of you and should be just as interesting and delightfully unique.

    Personally, I find myself reading fewer blogs every year because so many cover the same topics, or follow the herd. I am thankful you are willing to forge your own way.

    1. David,

      Thank you, and thanks for commenting!

      I like forging my own way but it’s never really all that easy, just as it isn’t being the first to cut a path or…do anything for that matter. It’s not about consciously trying to be different for difference’s sake, but rather struggling to make things interesting for me and for those who are part of this extension. My grade 8 teacher used to say, “Things aren’t boring, people are boring.” I’ve never forgotten it.

      I too read fewer blogs, but this way I get more out of the ones I do read.

  11. Steph,

    Being different and unique is something that I’ve learned is a wonderful quality. I think that you and you’re differences are what make you special. We may not have met each other in person (even though we were so close at Word on the Street), your uniqueness is what would make us instantly click because I think we’d have a ton in common.

    I also want to make note that your blog is probably one of my favorite web pages to visit and I always look forward to your posts because they are always well thought out, well written and are so personal which makes it easier to relate to whatever it is your discussing.

    Keep up the great work and never change :)

    1. Reeder: Your comment made me teary and I don’t even have PMS right now. Thank you for being so kind. I really appreciate your sincerity! I feel the same way about us clicking because I too think we have a lot in common. Also, I love your enthusiasm and energy. So much lately has made me wish I lived in TO. I’m missing out on so many people and events that I know I’d love. (But I could never move there…)

    1. I’m not. A kid nearly bit off the tip of my baby finger once at a petting zoo. That’s what you get for thinking they’re so adorable, dammit. :)

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