Thoughts on Online Book Discussion

I keep writing and deleting this post. No one needs my thoughts on this matter; no one asked for them. Others have explored this topic much more elegantly and insightfully (see here, and here, and here, and here). This is little and it is late. But I can’t leave this unsaid.

Talking about books is the most important part of my intellectual life. When I was a freshmen in college, I was an English major, but considering changing to classical archeology (true story). Then I stumbled into the first half of the American literature survey. It was as if I had landed on a planet with more gravity. Everything shifted and settled around me; everything changed.

In that class, I found people talking about books in the way I did in my head except they did it out loud. And they did it better than I did: more insightfully, with connections to texts I’d never heard of, respecting theories I didn’t understand. So I kept taking English classes. I studied British literature and Irish literature and literature in translation. I analyzed contemporary popular culture and critical theory and linguistics. I wrote about Austen and Shakespeare and Marx. I fell in love with New Historicism. But thanks to that first college literature course, early American book culture stayed central in my heart.

For a while after college I did redacted things in Washington, but I missed books. I missed talking about books. So I went to graduate school to get back the feeling I got from the literature classroom. And now I do it all day.

When I started reading romance almost four years ago, the reason I kept doing it wasn’t how romance did deeply imaginative things related to gender norms and sexuality (though also that), it was the book culture I found online. Here were people talking about books in way I did at the university except without all the things that can come with academics–some of which had become loathsome to me. The online romance discussion seemed more radical, more subversive, and more democratic than what was happening in my university classroom.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I felt like I could start writing because of the online romance community. The academic world routinely makes me feel stupid and disempowered, but romancelandia does the opposite. The book culture around romance gave me permission to use my voice in a way I’m not certain I would have otherwise.

I don’t think this is about Kathleen Hale anymore. Not really. It’s about the fact that the book culture online has stopped feeling fun. Since I’m now writing and have a vested (albeit tiny) commercial interest in that culture and since I don’t review (related to my author role), I’ve mostly seen this from the sidelines. But the hype machine and its relation to book blogging seems qualitatively different today than it did 3.5 years ago when I started reading book blogs.

I have no solutions here, but it breaks my heart. Because every time I read a good book, I feel less alone. I feel more connected. I feel human and giddy and alive. And online book culture at its best networks those private reactions and feelings. Amplifies them. And it can be awesome.

I don’t know how to preserve it. And to the extent that my author activities may have taken away from anyone’s fun or just contributed to the blurring of public (in the Habermasian sense) and commercial spaces, I am sorry. Because if there’s no joy in talking about books, I don’t know what else we’re doing or why else we’d be doing it.

Gone Fishin’

… or gone from the Internet, at least for a little while.

I’m teaching several classes that start this week and trying to finish writing my dissertation and the second book in my contemporary series for Carina, in addition to maintaining some semblance of a personal life and sanity. Thus my leisurely summer schedule (and the blogging that accompanied it) has come to an end.

I’m still working on a massive post — which will probably turn into a short series — about how we do read and how we should read. Expect that thesis to run by the end of September. I will also continue to post fine romance recommendations, though perhaps not every Friday. In other words, I’ll still be here, just less frequently.

In the meantime, check out the highlights of my blog here, please consider reading/reviewing my novel if you haven’t, and enjoy a song that I’ve been grooving on lately.


Happy 100th Post!

In the course of fifteen months, I’ve posted 100 times (!!!), chronicling my journey from being an aspiring novelist, to publishing a historical romance with a small e-press, to selling a contemporary series to a big e-press. It’s been stupefying. To celebrate, here are my top ten posts in no particular order:

  • Politics and the Romance Novel: by a factor of several hundred page views, this is the most widely-read post I’ve written. It may in fact be the most widely read thing I’ve ever written. In it, I argue genre romance is political and we should stop pretending it’s not.
  • Margaret Mitchell’s Long Shadow: I consider what it means to write Civil War romance in a post-Gone with the Wind world (with a heavy dose of Lost Cause ideology).
  • Against Alpha Heroes: I opine against the narrow confines of masculinity for romance novel heroes.
  • Why Should You Read Brave in Heart?: eight reasons why you should read my debut novel. If you haven’t read Brave in Heart, what’s stopping you? (And if you have, can I say without being completely obnoxious that writers love it when you review their books. Hint hint.)
  • A Fine Romance Friday: Once: my favorite fine romance Friday post, in which I make a case for the Irish indie (and bittersweet romance) Once.
  • How Historical?: I ponder what readers mean when they talk about verisimilitude in historical romance.
  • Land Where Our Fathers Died: pictures and reflections on my visit to the Chancellorsville battlefield (a setting for Brave in Heart).
  • The Waltz That’s Viennes-y: I love Viennese light opera and relate The Merry Widow to romance novel tropes.
  • Kern de Sache: thoughts on what we read when we read romance.
  • Hard Work: thoughts on why we read romance.

What would you like to see in the next 100 posts?

Why Write? Part 1

If you write — a blog, a diary, poetry, creative non-fiction, creative fiction — why do you do it?

I started writing the project I recently finished because I had dissertation-induced writer’s block. The writing project I was supposed to be working on was paralyzing me and I needed to get back to work, back into a writing rhythm.

I continued writing fiction because it allowed me to express something fundamental about my perception of the human experience. And if people read my work someday, it would allow me to make connections to other people. Writing is transcendent.

So my first answer to the “why” question — and there will probably be others — is that it’s about something larger than myself. Hence the name of the blog.