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?
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.
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.