The Gaffney Project
When the news broke on Twitter that e-books of Patricia Gaffney’s renowned, controversial, and long out-of-print Wyckerley Trilogy were finally going to be released, I wondered if they were going to be available to me. My US friends could see pricing, release dates (mid-June 2013), and a pre-order button on Amazon, but I couldn’t. That’s finally changed (yay!), but in the meantime, a Twitter friend generously offered to lend me her paper copies, along with her favorite Gaffney, Wild At Heart, and Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s Again. I am excited to read all of these much-talked-about books, now residing on a shelf in my closet; love them or hate them, they seem important to a romance reader’s “education.”
When I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to be embarking on a Gaffney Reading Project, a number of people said it would be great to have a group discussion of them, but could we wait until they were e-available so more readers could join? Yes! Watch this space in late summer or early fall if you’re interested.
This whole thing was a great example of what I love about my bookish social-media life. I love thinking and talking and arguing about books, getting book suggestions from other readers, sharing enthusiasm for good books, and the welcoming and generous Romance community. I’ve found a way of talking about books online–both fannish and intellectual, loving and critical–that doesn’t exist anywhere else in my life, and which has brought me so much pleasure. *wipes away maudlin tear*
But I’ve been thinking this week about a downside to bookish social media, too.
The Echo Chamber
I almost didn’t write about this. Some of you will probably read it and think “this post is about me.” And you’re probably right, but it’s also about me, and I want to make clear at the outset that I’m not criticizing anyone or describing something I think is wrong. I’m just pondering how and why it affects my reading experiences.
Lately, this has happened to me a few times: an author tweets about a book she’s working on; a couple of her critique partners/beta readers tweet about reading her manuscript and OMG we’re all going to love it when it comes out . . . sometime next year; some bloggers I follow tweet about how they just read the ARC and we will all see why it’s so great when they post their reviews . . . in six months when the book comes out; around the release date, the author tweets that the book is out, the bloggers tweet their five-star-reviews, readers tweet how much they’re loving it, the author re-tweets some of this praise. And over the months that this process has taken, I’ve gone from “wow, what a great premise, can’t wait to read it” to something closer to “Oh, FFS, not this book again.”
None of these people has done anything wrong. I don’t follow authors who over-promote themselves or their friends, and I expect some promo from them. I expect (and want!) other readers to enthuse over books they love, as I do myself. All this is part of how I discover good books. And since I mostly follow authors whose books I like, and who are friendly with other authors I like, and readers whose tastes overlap with mine, it’s no surprise that there are moments when it seems like I’m in an echo chamber where everyone is talking about the same book.
If there’s any blame here, it’s mine; if I had my Twitter habit under better control I’d see 10% of this chatter instead of 90%. Luckily, the solution is simple: I look away as much as possible, wait awhile to read the book, and often love it too. I wouldn’t have mentioned this phenomenon at all, except I wondered why a lot of people talking about how they love a book I want to read would make me want to read it less.
I’m not going to lie, there are probably some weird high-school hangover feelings at work here, as so often in life (everyone’s talking about that party I didn’t get invited to; well fine, I didn’t want to go anyway). And quite possibly some snobbish elitism (if everyone likes it, can it really be any good?). Let’s not dwell on my less-admirable traits.
There are other things going on, too. One of the joys of reading is discovery. Keats knew what he was talking about with that “realms of gold” stuff. Opening a new book, I feel something like the anticipation I felt as a child opening the back door onto a yard full of untouched snow: I get to go out into that wonderland and make my own paths! Too much talk beforehand is like when your sister beat you out the door and your dad already shoveled the walk. Some of the fun is gone if I know too much about what to expect.
There’s also something private about the pleasure of reading for me, much as I like to talk after the fact. My happiest reading memories from childhood are of curling up somewhere alone with a book, in my own secret kingdom. The voices of other readers in my head keep me from losing myself in a book and from experiencing my own private enjoyment. I don’t want to be thinking, “Oh, this is the scene that so-and-so liked.” Nor do I want to be constantly taking my readerly temperature: do I like this as much as everyone else? Do I agree with X or Y about that issue they debated?
I’ve no doubt tweeted things that caused these same feelings in other readers. But I’m not sure, having reflected on this, I’d do anything differently–what, exactly? And I certainly don’t think others should. The pleasures of social-media book chat far outweigh the drawbacks. So carry on talking, everyone, and if I get that dirty snow feeling, I’ll just look away until there are a couple of fresh inches and I can make my own snow-angels all over that book.