Avid Readers, Occasional Bloggers

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The Passengers by John Marrs

As should be pretty clear by now, I am the height of inconsistency when it comes to reading and writing book reviews. Whether it is my fickle nature, a lack of inspiration or the business of life, I have just not been able to consistently post reviews here this year (well, the last couple of years).

The Passengers is a good example. Signed up for a blog tour, got a copy of the book from NetGalley, read it, and promptly failed to post a review when it came out on August 27 like I had said I would. So sorry for the delay.

What intrigued me about the book was both its plot and its technological and philosophical elements:

You’re riding in your self-driving car when suddenly the doors lock, the route changes and you have lost all control. Then, a mysterious voice tells you, “You are going to die.”

Just as self-driving cars become the trusted, safer norm, eight people find themselves in this terrifying situation, including a faded TV star, a pregnant young woman, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife, and a suicidal man.

From cameras hidden in their cars, their panic is broadcast to millions of people around the world. But the public will show their true colors when they are asked, “Which of these people should we save?…And who should we kill first?”

As I mentioned on Goodreads, this is another book that feels stuck between 3 and 4 stars. Enjoyed it? Yes. REALLY liked it? Eh, not exactly.

And as others have noted, this book has Hollywood action flick written all over it. It is a unique combination of philosophical/moral conundrums and action. Lots of twists and turns and a plot that keeps you guessing.

It slows down. however, when it turns to the internal emotional lives of the characters. Might have been a stronger, tighter book if there were less attempts at amateur psychology. And at times the characters are a little too stock (Corrupt politician, female character who seems weak but turns out to be strong, etc.).

Still, a pretty entertaining summer read despite the uncomfortable feeling that these issues (moral, political, technological) all lie in our future.

Blogging, Instant Gratification and Perserverance

As I have noted previously, one of the reasons I have struggled to post regularly is the feeling that no one is reading or very few.  Perhaps it is egotistical to want to have a large audience if you are going to write but I am just being honest.

On the political side I have written for online magazines and blogs that have significant traffic so perhaps that also colors my approach.  Even this humble site once had a much greater audience and higher engagement.  Alas, I have let it slip away.

So then the questions becomes whether that is worth attempting to reclaim.  If larger audiences is the goal I could always work harder and submit pieces for publication.  But to be honest that is a more work and more stress.

The fun of blogging is having control of what you write and when; and in some sense creating an identity that is your own.  I can write what I want here and don’t have to worry about editors decisions on publication or schedule.  Writing for publication is a job with the stress that comes with it.

Now maybe it is a job you love and so do it for fun.  And on the flip side blogging can begin to feel like a job if the pressure builds to the point where you feel like you have to post, have to tackle a particular subject, have to do certain things to please an audience or keep your traffic, etc. So the motivations and rewards are complex.

But one of the valuable lessons of trying to restart this blog, or the regular posting to the blog, is the discipline it requires.  If it were easy I would already be doing it.  Instant gratification and constant distraction is one of the reasons I am participating in a digital declutter project this month.  And using this break to focus on something more substantive like regular writing is also part of it (with the perhaps ironic caveat that the writing is digital).

Part of me sort of expects instant success.  I post a blog or two, review a book, and then wait for the traffic to flow in.  That is not how it works.  I do not have the recognition or connections to quickly reconnect with a large group of people simply by posting a few times.  It will take a blend of quality and quantity to start to draw readers in and maybe even build a regular audience outside the good souls who read and comment here already.

And that is part of the challenge I set for myself.  To see if I can build up the habits, focus and discipline necessary to find success blogging again.  Can I effectively and engagingly express my perspective and opinion on books, sports, culture, etc. in such a way that people will want to read it and will return to read more.

Perseverance plays an important role in successful blogging.  There will be days you don’t feel like writing or don’t feel like you have anything to say.  But writing is a discipline and requires pushing through and writing anyway.  Excellence requires commitment.  Now maybe many bloggers are not really aiming for excellence but my point is that if you want to draw more than just a few friends or acquaintances you will need to work even when you lack motivation.

And that is what I am working on across a number of fronts.  So however you found your way here, I hope you will come along on the journey and maybe even leave a comment or two.

Old School Blogging and Social Media Decluttering

As you might have guessed from my post on the nature of being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I have decided to blog about more than books.  The idea is to get the creative juices flowing and get back in the habit of posting by writing about my life and perspective. This is what blogging used to be about in many ways before niche blogs and social media changed the landscape.  Although, I suppose there are probably still a lot of personal blogs out there you just don’t run into them unless you see a link in your feeds or are friends with the blogger.

Speaking of social media, I am in the midst of a 30-day social media declutter exercise inspired by Cal Newport. I am trying to stay off Twitter and Facebook for the month of January.  I have been quite good at avoiding Facebook but have struggled to stay away from Twitter.  I have avoided political Twitter but have dipped into sports twitter.  Not as much as I used to (everyday) but frequently.  I am going to try and avoid even my sports list on Twitter for the remaining 15 days. Should be easier now that football is over for my teams <<sigh>>.

Look for some reflections on social media and this experience.  Maybe disconnecting from social media will also allow me to regain my focus and start posting regular book reviews as well.  I guess we shall see.

To blog or not to blog?

For those of you scoring at home, my last blog post was roughly two and a half months ago. I think I have posted something like 16 times this year (a higher number thanks to a flood of posts in June). Clearly, this blog is a hit or miss type of thing (mostly miss without Jeff). To be fair, it does say “Occasional Bloggers” in the tag line …

So the question I have been mulling for the last couple of months (but not for the first time) is whether to keep blogging or call it quits after 14 years.

I think I want to give at least one more try at making it work. Let me give you some insight into why.

The basic reason I want to give it another try at making it work is that I still love to read and find books and authors fascinating.  I have read 75 books this year so that part hasn’t dropped off.  What I want to see if I can do is combine this love of books and ideas with the discipline and commitment to good writing and regular posting.  This is what I have failed to do for some time.  But I think it remains a skill and habit I can and should redevelop.

So what happened anyways? Why the steep drop off in blogging?  Obviously, a lack of time plays a big part.  My kids are older now and have activities that suck up lots of time and energy.  My wife is working full-time and that means a more complex schedule as well.  Throw in the distractions of social media (more about that in another post) and my interest in sports and it is hard to find time to sit down and write.

The other part is the combination of focus and motivation.  In addition to finding time to write, you need to have the focus to sit down and actually post something (particular if you want quality as opposed to just quantity) but you also need motivation to overcome the inertia of not posting.

And this is where I have been lacking.  I just haven’t felt like posting or that posting was worth the hassle.  To unpack this, allow me to offer Holtsberry’s key to communication: insight, clarity and persuasion.

Insight: you need to have something to say.  Why communicate if you don’t have something interesting, insightful or useful, right?  Insight means you have something worth communicating.

Clarity: you need to be able to clearly and effectively capture the insight.  Having something to say isn’t all that useful if you can’t explain what it is and why it is worthwhile. You may thinks your thoughts are brilliant.  Clarity means you can share your insight with others.

Persuasion: you need to be able to change someone’s mind.  This is the pinnacle of communication to my mind.  If you can share your insight clearly but also in such a way as to actually change the way someone thinks.  This might be through information or it might be through storytelling but changing someone’s mind or getting them to think differently is the ultimate in successful communication.

I had a real hard time getting motivated to blog because I didn’t think I could accomplish any of these three.  I wasn’t sure I had any insight, if I did wasn’t sure I could say it with clarity, and if I posted it I wasn’t sure it would reach anyone let alone change their thinking. Whenever I thought about posting a review, I had this nagging feeling that it wasn’t really worth the effort.

And like so many things, once you get out of the habit of doing it the easier it is to just keep not doing it.  Next thing you know months have gone by and you wonder whether you should hang it up.

So why not just give it up?  Been a good run, but lots of blogs close. Move on, as the saying goes.

I guess I don’t want to go out like this.  One of the reasons I started blogging was to improve my writing skills and engage with people and ideas.  I still want to do those things and I feel like I owe it to myself to do the hard work necessary to do them well. Basically, I want to use blogging as a tool to build focus and discipline and to prove to myself that I can write with insight, clarity and persuasion. [Plus, the free books and access to authors, etc.]

Time will tell if I have what it takes. So stay tuned …

Getting Back on the Bicycle and Other Vague Metaphors That Function as Thinly Disguised Navel Gazing

So I took a nearly two and a half week break from posting and it was nearly much longer. I actually contemplated giving up book blogging more or less.  Part of it was a very busy time at work and a vacation.  But it seemed deeper.  I just didn’t have the energy or desire to post and I wasn’t sure I would ever get it back.

Last December I wrote a rather despairing post about what it meant to blog when the last remaining source of traffic (in this case search engine) goes away. Ironically, it was linked by Instapundit and thus drew massive amounts of traffic.

In that post I suggested ways in which to bring value to the site for myself and hopefully others. Not surprisingly I haven’t implemented any of them.

The cold hard fact is that I mostly don’t have the time, energy or focus for engaged blogging. I rarely read book blogs these days and am not plugged in to the publishing world (if I ever was). I don’t have the ability to post the blogging version of literary criticism (more in-depth and analytical discussion of books and authors).  What is left is basically a log of what I have read and brief reactions to the books and authors I enjoy.

As you can see from the review below. I decided to just accept this for now and move forward. I still love to read, and to be brutally honest still enjoy getting reading copies, so it make sense to share that with other even if in a limited way.

So for those who don’t use Goodreads this blog will be a record of what I read and quick thoughts in reaction to that reading.  Some reviews might go deeper but most are likely to be short and made up of stream of consciousness thoughts.

We shall see if even that proves to much to ask.  But we can cross that particular bridge when we come to it.

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