Well, here I am. Writing the last piece that I will be submitting to my book blog, at least for my SASAH experiential learning credit. I have to admit that I am both relieved and sad to be done, since this is something that I have worked on for a year, reading ten books and critiquing them alongside completing all of the work for my other classes and studying abroad in England. At times, the blog has been a pain, while I struggle to meet self-imposed deadlines for probably the first time in my life, and other times it has been a relief, a great excuse to read something that I chose for myself instead of something that a professor or lecturer has chosen for me. And even though something that was only supposed to take one semester ended up taking the full year, I am actually glad that it did. It took some extra will power to complete once I moved to the United Kingdom, but I am proud of myself for doing it and making my blog what I really wanted it to be, back when I was just in the first stages of brainstorming.
For the first time, I was writing not only for my professor, but for–potentially–a much larger audience. At first, this fact made me so nervous. My thoughts and opinions would be on the internet for anyone to see and criticize. I shared each of my posts on my Facebook page, where family, friends, and acquaintances could possibly read them, and using WordPress, I tagged each post, making it easier for complete strangers to find them. After a while, I became less self-conscious about this and instead got excited whenever I posted a new critique, hoping someone would read it, enjoy it, and want to comment on whether they agreed or disagreed with my arguments. I did get some interaction and I definitely got a lot of support, which I am very grateful for. I have also become a lot more confident and am no longer nervous about my opinions being seen by anyone who happens to open up one of my reviews.
I am not yet sure if I will continue posting critiques in my free time or not, now that I am submitting my portfolio of ten reviews and four reflections to be graded. If I do, I know that I will be changing my format to make it simpler and less ‘academic’. Through critiquing novels from different genres and age groups I have realized that narrowing my focus to only a few aspects for each novel is more beneficial than trying to discuss every aspect of every book in every review I write. If I were to continue writing these reviews, I would only write about the parts I feel passionate about. I would eliminate (or at least cut down on) summarizing the story, because the target audience has probably already read the book, I would spend less time discussing things like genre and authorial writing style, and I probably wouldn’t use secondary sources aside from the novel I am discussing. This way, my reviews would get straight to the point of what I want to say, instead of being weighed down by me feeling like I need to address every little thing.
In this experience, I pushed myself to read and critique books inside and outside of my comfort zone. While I love young adult, it was refreshing and rewarding to delve into other age categories like middle-grade and adult. I also tried out unfamiliar genres, such as screenplay, memoir, and free verse poetry. Even within my preferred genre of fantasy, I learned that there are many different facets of the genre: epic high fantasy, paranormal fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, etc. Now I can see how while some people can hate epic high fantasy because they have to suspend their disbelief, it is possible that those same people can love urban fantasy, because they can imagine it happening in the real world. Liking or disliking a genre is something that many people don’t question once they’ve made their decision on whether they like it or not, but I feel like now I can be more knowledgeable in giving people recommendations, catered to what that specific person likes to read about. Maybe I’ll even convince some people to consider genres that they had previously dismissed.
Something that I quickly realized was that because of my decision to include spoilers in my reviews, the amount of people able to read them would be smaller than if they were spoiler-free. I briefly considered trying not to include spoilers, but because of the way I enjoy discussing and critiquing novels, I decided to keep them. I did not feel like I could provide an honest, in-depth review without discussing how the novel ends, or the plot twist that I didn’t predict, or the character development that I thought was amazing. This is why I included my score out of ten in the “Quick Facts” section that I wrote at the beginning of every review, because then anyone who was curious could see in a quick and easy way what my overall opinion of the book was, without the worry of being spoiled. I have decided that I am okay with a smaller viewership, because that means I can explain my thoughts and opinions in the best way I can.
I am so glad that I had the opportunity to do something like this during my undergraduate degree. Being in English Literature at this level has not given me the opportunity to think about recently-published books in a critical way–until now. It took a course entirely focused on experiential learning and independent study to give me the chance to explore the way someone working in today’s publishing industry might look at a novel. For most of these books, I found something that I would change or improve, if I could. Hopefully, I can take this new skill, as well as the others that I have been working on throughout this experience, and continue to develop it, especially as I move into the professional realm of publishing and editing.
Thanks for reading!