It looks like I will have read 24 books in the year, most of which were not short, which is a lot by my standards. I crushed my 2018 Reading List and read several more books besides. Given that a baby boy joined my wife, my daughter and I, that I am ploughing on with some post-grad study, I wonder how I ever found the time!
In terms of pure enjoyment, I think there was a clear favourite this year – The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea were two I also enjoyed a great deal this year.
There is also a clear choice for the least favourite of the year – The Arabian Nights; just too repetitive, boring and long, outside of the famous stories. There were a few others that were not as difficult but that I also could not enjoy – Candide by Voltaire and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Because of exam season, I am a bit behind in writing my reviews of those two.
Among non-fiction my favourite of the year was Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s biography of Mao, which I also have yet to review. It is comprehensive, trust-worthy, well-written and devastating. Otherwise it was a somewhat disappointing year for non-fiction. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s The Caged Virgin is a little disjointed. Simon Schama’s epic on the French Revolution, Citizens, was a long, slow, difficult read. Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained is an excellent book but a difficult read owing to the subject matter.
I had what I thought was an ambitious goal for this blog in terms of views for the year. I say ‘goal’ but since I have little control over how many people come here, I suppose ‘hope’ is a better term. That hope was for around a 20% increase in the number of views for the year. As it turns out, I crossed that mark in early October, so the year has been much better than I had hoped. This has come despite the fact that the posts which carried most of the burden for generating views have now faded in popularity.
From the time I first began blogging, the posts that brought in the most views were reviews of books that I suspected were on school reading lists. The popularity of them is now quickly drying up but fortunately plenty of other posts have risen in popularity by more than enough to make up the difference. The specific posts that have become stars led me to wonder if another trend is now at work.
Among the reviews I have posted that turned out to be duds – that don’t generate many views at all – are a number of well-known/well-loved books by well-known/well-loved authors. My review of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, for example, is a dud. This is explainable – if it is so well-known and well-loved then a post by little-ol’-me is hardly going to appear high in searches or be clicked ahead of many alternatives.
I have not reviewed many books at the other end of the spectrum – lesser-known books by lesser-known authors. Plenty of bloggers review new books available at places like NetGalley. I imagine they can be very hit-and-miss. Of the few lesser-known books I have reviewed, one did end up a star, but that was because, after I read and reviewed it, it went on win The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize for 2016.
If I instead look at the reviews that have become stars, I noticed that many of them are somewhere in the middle, or are the lesser-known books of well-known/well-loved authors. The best evidence for this may come from instances where I have reviewed multiple books by the same author. I have read Rohinton Mistry’s three novels, all short-listed for the Booker Prize. I believe, and I think others would agree, that A Fine Balance is his best. Yet my review of it is somewhat of a dud, while my review of his first novel, Such a Long Journey, is a runaway star!
Similarly, I have been working through a bunch of Thomas Hardy novels, but the most popular post is not my review of his most popular novel – Far From the Madding Crowd, but instead The Mayor of Casterbridge became one of the most popular posts here. I have not reviewed much Murakami, but one of his less-talked-about novels, South of the Border, West of the Sun, is also a hit here.
So, it seems this is a way to draw people to your blog. Read and review the lesser-read books of well-loved novelists and you will draw a crowd of those who have read the well-known ones and are wondering if they would enjoy something else by them. But almost as soon as I noticed this pattern it started to disappear! Far From the Madding Crowd, for example, has enjoyed a sudden surge and caught up with The Mayor of Casterbridge. A year from now I might be telling you about some other short-lived demographic trend.
Not that this info is of any use to me. I am determined the keep the arrow of causality pointed the right way with my reading. That is, I want to keep reading what I want to read and then write reviews for my blog, instead of deciding what to read based on what I think might benefit my blog. That being said, I have tried a few things this year to give this blog a boost.
My wife, having spent much of the year pregnant and nursing, has been burning through a large number of books on her Kindle. Mostly crime and thriller novels, being the sort that can be easily picked up and put down when you can only read in short bursts. One that she read and enjoyed was The Nowhere Child by Christian White. She enjoyed it so much she considered writing her own review of it. When she spotted copies signed by the author for sale, we thought it might be an idea to post a short review and offer the prize of a free signed book to anyone who liked or commented on the review.
The competition was posted and… only one person liked or commented on it! And that person did not reply to my emails! So that was a total bust! The book is still sitting beside me as I write this!
A second effort I made to boost this blog may also have been a bust. I have not given this blog much of a social media presence and to be fair I am not very social media savvy. I created a Twitter account for this blog this year after having an idea. I wanted to take some of my favourite quotes from books I have reviewed, make gifs out of them, and post them on Facebook and Twitter. Sort of like making ads for my blog without paying for advertising was the idea. I made a lot of gifs, began posting one a day on Facebook and Twitter and… they have largely been ignored!
It looks like it was a lot of effort for nothing, but I have made so many of them that I can continue posting them for a while before I might give it away. That being said, since I began posting them I can see a small but noticeable lift in the amount of views on this blog. I can see no direct link – not many people are coming here from those Facebook posts or tweets, but maybe there is an indirect link? Maybe by posting these gifs I am putting more of this blog out there and appearing more prominently on search results? Who knows.
The third effort I made was not so much about generating views, but simply an exercise I thought might be fun and that was to decide my 2019 Reading List by poll, a process that wrapped up last week. Again, I can’t see any direct relationship between this campaign and getting views on this blog, but I’ve enjoyed a large boost to the number of views and visitors for the duration of the campaign. We’ll see if it endures now that the polling is complete.
If I thought 2018 was tough, 2019 promises to be tougher. At least my wife was home for most of 2018. Next year she will be back at work and I will be the stay-home parent to two-under-four. Somehow, I will have to keep studying through that. Somehow, I will have to try and read all the books on my 2019 Reading List. Somehow I will try and write reviews for them all, plus the ones I am already behind on.
I have no grand schemes for this blog in the coming year, but there may be one change. My wife has always talked about writing her own reviews but nothing ever came of it. She might be serious this time and so you may start seeing reviews by her on this blog. Her tastes are similar to mine in that she also likes the classics and prize-winning contemporary literature. She, though, has practically no TBR pile and will read whatever takes her fancy at the time. For example, she is currently embarking on some recent Booker Prize Winners, books that I don’t think I will get around to for a long time. As indicated above, she also reads a lot more popular fiction than I do, especially crime and thrillers. As a school teacher she also keeps up with whatever the kids are reading which can be very hit-and-miss. For every Illuminae Files there is a Twilight Saga.
Hopefully you will enjoy hearing more than one voice here and maybe my wife’s differing tastes and more contemporary reading will expand our appeal!