book reviews

A Short Note on Long Blog Posts

Like some of you, I’ve been struggling with my blogging style. I know my reviews are long, of course, and that as a result, people may only skim them. I’m painfully aware, in retrospect, that the posts sometimes digress or lack a tightness I much desire in others’ writing. As a copy editor and writer, this shames and disturbs me, and as I compose 350-word reviews for the Quill, I realize with chagrin how much my “real”-reviewing skills need honing. The last words I want anyone to use when describing my writing, no matter what I’m writing, are “over-dense” and “larded.” (See Jennifer Egan’s review of Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. Ouch.)

This blog, though, is not the New York Times. The thing about personal blogs is they allow us unlimited, nonadjudicated  space in which to also relate our experiences, reading or otherwise. This is, after all, why reading is so subjective, why judges pick books we may not agree on, why one reviewer raves about Telegraph Avenue and another considers it seriously flawed: because we bring to a book who we are.

As we noted in an impromptu (excellent, too-short) blogger meet-up session at yesterday’s BookCampTO, while we’ve been labelled amateur and irrelevant, non-professional blogger reviews are becoming increasingly popular and valuable, particularly among authors—so long as we write with substance and truth, I add—precisely because of our conversational, revelatory material (by revelatory, I mean of us as readers). Our reviews, whether positive or negative, aren’t cold treatises that, while they have their place, perhaps cause us to envision the reading experience as preparation for an exam. (Nor are they as lazy [hopefully!] as some newspaper reviews). We can be analytical, too,  but in general, we bloggers are more like booksellers than critics when we engage with books. It’s important, this distinction between book blogger reviews and newspaper ones. Seeing it helps us find and become comfortable with our voice.

Being personal doesn’t necessarily mean long reviews, of course. Mine are long for other reasons first. But they’re even longer because instead of deleting what I’d like to share with you in the interest of revealing the person behind the blog, things that may not have direct bearing on the book being reviewed but may tell you why I responded to a book the way I did, I’ve decided, finally, that it’s okay not to trim the fat as much as I would have to on another platform. Layered with my exploration of a book’s intentions and merits and shortcomings, there’s going to be a little lard. I might relate a personal experience at the beginning or during a review. I might mention my day or how I feel. I’ll engage with the book, that’s certain, but I also want to engage with you. If that means being the “fat” girl, so be it.


    1. Steph Author

      PS. So I can’t believe you grew up in Alliston. I grew up in Tottenham, spent a lot of time in Alliston, yes, even at the potato festival, and went to Banting for my OAC year. Then you ended up at Queen’s and I in Hamilton, then I moved to Belleville (45 mins from Queen’s), and you to Hamilton. So what gives? How come I too didn’t initiate a significant contribution to CanLit, win a Journey Prize, and marry an author??

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. I review books for Shelf Awareness and have a 250-word limit — not to mention the fact that publication reviews generally do not use “I”, and focus purely on the book’s content, not my personal reaction to it. My blog is me venue to talk about whatever I choose to about a book – how it made me feel, why I read it, why I’m upset about it, why I wish I hadn’t read it, or had read it sooner – and sometimes that means long, free-form writing. Sometimes it means 150 words.

    Personally, I love your reviews and the long form they take – I get a much different impression from your reactions to books than from a 200-word review, even if the 200 word review is easier to grasp at a glance.

    Speaking of which, I’m interested to know what side of the Telegraph Avenue debate you fall on…

  2. Steph Author


    Thanks for the encouraging words! I’ve liked your reviews for the same reason, that you talk about your personal reaction to the book. And yes, a short review is so difficult. I feel as though I’m just glossing over everything, and if you have to include a bit of summary of the book, that right there takes up most of your space! For one Quill review I had to redo it because I tried to fit in too much and it just turned out vague and listy. :)

    I haven’t yet read Telegraph Avenue actually, so I have no idea whether or not I like it or hate it. In fact, I have Chabon and look forward to reading him but have never read him before. I have Kavalier and Clay and Gentlemen of the Road, and The Mysteries of Pittsburg. And haven’t read any of them! Yet. Talking about it does put me in the mood….

  3. JK

    Steph, I’m sorry to have missed you at Book Camp this year! I had a deadline that could not be ignored, sadly. I would have much rather been at BC.

    Blog reviews are a relatively new form and still evolving, but they are a form in their own right, not some stunted little sister of “real” book reviewing. And I think the best blog reviews don’t ignore the personal dimension and, as you suggest, embrace it. They’re almost more honest that a critic’s review that way, because they acknowledge the personal factors that make a blogger like (or dislike) a book. Blog reviews allow us to learn more about the readers as well as more about the books, which can sometimes be more illuminating and certainly more fun!

    And long? So what? There’s just more of you to love!

    1. Steph Author

      Jen!! I missed you, too. I’m going to try and make it down again for WOTS. Maybe a bunch of all can all meet for lunch in the park?

      And what an awesome, encouraging comment, thank you. I think you’re right about blog reviews allowing us to learn more about the readers as well as more about the books (and the authors, I add), and it occurs to me just how helpful that is not only for consumers but also, and first, publishers. It may help with marketing decisions, right?

      Your last line makes me blush. Thank you so much. :)

  4. Steph, it was so nice to meet you at BookCamp. As you know, the length of my reviews is something that I’ve been trying to come to grips with. My most recent review was over 1k words, and I had to literally stop myself from writing anything else.

    How on earth do you manage to encapsulate a book into 350 words for Q&Q?

  5. I have trouble keeping my posts short too, Steph! Since I’m writing a, erm, “company” blog, I also feel pressure to keep things snappy. Keep fighting the good fight. Your blog is one of the good ones!


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