An Experiment in Blogging
Basically this blog is about the (mostly) backlist books I read, how I find them, and what I like about them. Here’s how I came to start writing about these books.
Growing up I primarily read books from publishers’ backlists. I didn’t know that this was what I was doing — I read what I liked and found on library shelves. It turns out that these books were backlist books, books first published years before that continued to sell well, and so continued to be in print. As time went on I realized that most of the authors I liked a lot were dead. This took care of the idea of fan letters for me — there was no one to write to. It also became apparent that it was hard to find people to talk with about backlist books. Published book reviews were all about the latest books. The people I knew didn’t read the books I liked. I kept on finding books to read, but wished for some connection with others about my reading.
I’m mostly over this sad and lonely past. Obviously I’m a relic who grew up without the internet as a place where book lovers meet and discuss what they read. Now I can access the wealth of discussions of books online. All the same, in usenet groups (I told you I’m a relic), in book blogs, in LibraryThing, in Goodreads, I’m not sure backlist books get the attention they deserve. People always seem to rush after the latest, which is assumed to be the greatest. Might we be missing something in this rush to the new?
The title of this introduction to The Backlist, “An Experiment in Blogging,” is a shout-out to a short book by C.S. Lewis called An Experiment in Criticism, first published by Cambridge University Press in 1961. This book is a really interesting reflection on reading by a professional reader. Lewis wonders whether instead of judging a person’s literary taste by what they read, one should judge books by the way people read them. Good literature would be defined “as that which permits, invites, or even compels good reading; and bad, as that which does the same for bad reading” (page 104). Lewis suggests that if a book is read and re-read by even one person, it cannot be written off as bad literature. This experiment in blogging will begin with books that I think invite re-reading because I’ve re-read them, and so they cannot be written off as bad literature by Lewis’s criteria.