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A year of book and film blogging

One year ago, I embarked upon the project of recording in my LJ all the books I read and films I watched during the course of the year 2007. I'd written about things I'd read or seen fairly frequently before then, but had never done it systematically. I decided to start because I'd tried to look back over the books I'd read in 2006 when answering the end-of-year meme for that year, and was rather perturbed to find I could barely remember any. I didn't want the same thing to happen again, so the new year seemed like a good time to emulate many of my fellow bloggers in recording them all here.

One year later, I'm thoroughly glad that I did it. On the immediate level of simply being able to remember what I'd read and seen at the end of the year, it definitely paid off. When I look back over a year's books or films unaided, I can usually only remember a fairly limited selection of the ones I've experienced - generally, those which I enjoyed most, or which I've read / seen most recently. That's all very well, and there's certainly a case for letting the poorer ones fade from my memory. But even over the course of 12 months, good books and films can be forgotten too, when they don't deserve to be. Now, looking back through entries marked with the tags books read 2007 or films watched 2007, I have a much clearer sense of the past year's reading and viewing, and have been able to give a much fairer and more measured assessment of which ones I'd enjoyed most as a result. Without the reviews, I suspect I'd have chosen Deathly Hallows as my favourite book of the year, and I don't even know what as my favourite film - quite possibly The Golden Compass simply because I'd seen it recently. With the reviews, though, I'm reminded of the cleverly-crafted fun of Apuleius' Metamorphoses and the sheer mastery of Roma, Città Aperta, and find that they win out over the other two after all. Apart from anything else, knowing this is a more useful guide for myself when it comes to future reading and viewing choices than my oh-so-unreliable raw memory.

Beyond book / film of the year choices, though, blogging everything I've read and watched has also given me a better view of the reality of my reading and viewing habits. One thing I was clearly already very aware of is how sloooowwly I read. At the beginning of my book blog I declared, "I'd be frankly astonished if there are more than twenty entries in this series by the end of the year". And I was right - in fact, there are 15. This is somewhat depressing, especially with people like nwhyte on my friendslist (if you don't know him, he read 235 books in 2007, and reviewed every single one of them, too). But useful to know for certain, nonetheless. I can now do things like aim to read more this year, or at the very least make damn sure I am prioritising the right books when I do read, so that I'm not wasting my precious limited reading time on dross.

Films, I was less sure about, so made no particular predictions regarding numbers. As it turns out, I watched 23, which I think is more than I'd have guessed if I'd been asked. That's probably partly because at certain points in the year I was making a particular effort to see films, though. In May, I watched no less than seven films, four of which I borrowed from the University specifically to practise for my Italian listening exam. For most of the rest of year, two films a month was more typical, although in the second half of the year it was often only one per month, and I watched no films at all during September. Helpfully, one question which this does answer for me is something I've been wondering about for a while - would it be worth me joining a postal DVD rental scheme such as LOVEFiLM.com? Apparently, the answer is yes, since you can get two films a month for £3.99, and it looks like I would actually enjoy watching exactly that number if they were easily available to me - possibly even more.

In terms of content, the books I read can be broken neatly into four categories: non-fiction (2), fantasy (4), Classic literature (5) and what glitzfrau so gloriously refers to as 'middlebrow' fiction (4) - that is, books such as Andrew Taylor's The American Boy, Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, Niccolò Ammaniti's I'm Not Scared and Robert Harris' Pompeii. It's also pretty clear from my reviews that this type of reading material isn't actually very much to my taste. That is why, in fact, when I joined a book group at work in September, I then decided to leave it after the first meeting, despite having enjoyed both that meeting and our first book. Looking over the suggestions made by the group for future reading, I could see a long parade of middlebrow fiction stretching out in front of me - and I just didn't want to devote the proportion of my reading time it would require to get through it. Similarly, in the coming year, I shall be aiming to avoid it, and to concentrate instead on the other three categories - non-fiction (but only when it's about something I'm really interested in), fantasy (but not the sort that made me avoid reading Sabriel for two years) and Classic literature. That said, two of the four middlebrow books I read last year did make themselves worthwhile by having Classical relevance - that is, The Penelopiad and Pompeii - and I will continue to make exceptions on those grounds in future.

The content of the films is a bit harder to typologise, and many examples actually span more than one of the following categories, but speaking roughly: Classic cinema (9), fantasy, including horror and sci-fi (7), period drama (3), barbed social comedy (3), low budget shite that I watched out of boredom (2). Apart from the final category, I'm pretty happy with that spread, and shall aim for much the same this year. An important difference between the films and the books is that four of the films were re-watches, whereas none of the books were re-reads. This makes sense given how few books I read per year, although it isn't an inflexible policy - there are some old favourites I do enjoy returning to, and indeed I can think of a few books in my house right now which are mentally tagged with a 'read again soon' flag.

Finally, the blogging process itself. Generally speaking, I've enjoyed doing it. Although I started out with the intention to "record rather than review", in practice I've written fairly full reviews in most cases, simply because I wanted to. I've found that it helps me get more out of the original article if I'm thinking while I read or watch about what I might include in my LJ review later on. Sometimes with films, it can seem a bit of a chore, since watching the film takes so little time in the first place compared to reading a book, whereas writing a review takes about the same. I've even caught myself sometimes thinking, "Ack, do I really want to watch this, when I'll only have to write it up afterwards?" or using excuses such as the fact that I missed a few minutes of something, or that it wasn't really so much a film as a long TV drama, to let myself off bothering. I think the key here is to try to remind myself of the "record rather than review" rule. It's not supposed to be a chore, and if all I write is "Saw X - it wasn't up to much", then that's fine. On the whole, the pleasure I've got from my book and film blogging this year has definitely outweighed the pain of it, and it would be very silly to miss out on either the reviews I do enjoy writing, or films I would enjoy watching, just because I feel I've got to write reams about every single one. Short and sweet - I can do it, honest!

So, here's to another year - and one with less middlebrow fiction, a postal DVD subscription and the occasional one-sentence film review.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 3rd, 2008 09:52 pm (UTC)
hey lady

if you're gonna join lovefilm, any chance I could "refer" you and thus earn myself free things?

cheeky I know, but just on the off chance
Jan. 3rd, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I thought I'd just replied to this, but can't see it now. Anyway - yes, feel free to do whatever you need to do to 'refer' me, and I'll do my bit too. And sorry if I've told you this twice now!
Jan. 3rd, 2008 11:39 pm (UTC)

I'm pretty sure all you have to do it sign up after following this link rather than just going through the main page

thank ye
Jan. 4th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks! And one more thing before I set it up - are the envelopes that arrive with the DVDs in them more than 14 cm wide? I ask because I have a ludicrously narrow letter-box at home, and although I'd prefer them to be delivered there, if they won't be able to fit I'll set it up so that they go to work instead. Cheers!
Jan. 3rd, 2008 10:04 pm (UTC)
You have convinced me that this blogging books and films thing is a worthwhile enterprise. I may well try it. :-)
Jan. 3rd, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
I started doing this last year, but didn't manage to maintain my lists. Hm, I will try harder in 2008.
Jan. 3rd, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC)
I did a movies of 2006 series which kind of tailed off a little. Fun while it lasted though, and you've inspired me to pick it up again in 2008! First book review is up, though somewhat techy. :-)
Jan. 3rd, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC)
If you want to simply record rather than review, there's a bookshelf application on facebook for that purpose (though I have found it doesn't always have more obscure titles and am mostly sticking with just noting them in a text file for my own reference).

Jan. 3rd, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
Ah, but I still want the emphasis to lie with reviews, because I've enjoyed doing them. I just want to remind myself that merely recording is OK sometimes, too, lest I start to find the reviewing becomes too much of a chore.
Jan. 4th, 2008 08:48 am (UTC)
I kept a booklist on LJ last year and found it useful for much the same reasons that you did. I'm considering whether to start doing the same for films; not sure about that yet. I'm more emotionally invested in reading than in film.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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