It’s been almost seven years since I started Tony’s Reading List, and the blog (not to mention the blogger) is starting to feel its age. This year has probably been the most intense one to date, with the strain starting to show in many places, which is why I’m beginning to consider some changes to what I do. The first one is being announced today, namely that I won’t be running my usual January in Japan event this time around, at least not in the way it’s been organised thus far. Let me (try to) explain why…
Over the past few years, as has become increasingly clear, the site has developed into a blog which focuses almost exclusively on literature in translation. It has become a major review site, with more than 100 reviews of translated fiction each year, which, as it turns out, is a hell of a lot of work (you may not have realised that this isn’t actually my job…). I’ve been fortunate enough to receive an increasing number of books from publishers over the past couple of years in particular, and this makes up a large part of my reading and reviewing.
However, as gratifying as that all is, it has had the effect of limiting me in my reading and reviewing a little, at times leaving me struggling to get around to older books, library copies and my own purchases. When you add to that my slightly completist mentality and nature (and a tendency to go overboard), you can see how much time it takes to keep everything running smoothly. I’m a regular participant in blog events such as German Literature Month, Women in Translation Month and the Shadow IFFP Panel; if you add January in Japan (and then take into account the fact that I feel compelled to spend the whole month on these events), that’s a fair chunk of the year gone already.
This year has also seen a new development as I’ve been lucky enough to have reviews and other pieces appear elsewhere. My work has been published at Words Without Borders, Necessary Fiction, Shiny New Books and the European Literature Network (with more to come). Most of them have been unpaid so far, but I am starting to get more offers, which, while gratifying, entails even more hard work.
What I’ve also noticed, in the midst of all this frantic writing (and by the end of October, I had already posted more than 140 times this year, ignoring my pieces for other publications), is that while the quantity is certainly there, the quality isn’t always what it might be. One of the challenges I’ve set myself with my foray into commissioned reviews is to give myself more time to work on pieces and not just pump them out. I do work hard on everything I take on, but there are times when I feel that some of the lower-profile books get slightly more cursory treatment than I’d like. I haven’t quite reached the stage of phoning it in (for one thing, there’s nobody to phone it in to…), but I have been tempted a couple of times 😉
So, what does this mean? Simply that I’ve been taking far too much on, and that it’s time to take stock and focus on the essentials. From next year, I’m planning to accept (and ask for) fewer books, enabling me to read more of what I’m truly interested in (not just the latest book to appear in English). This should also help with maintaining the quality of the reviews I do end up writing. I also have to step back a little and decide what I want the blog to be, working out a healthy balance between reviews, external pieces and (of course) the rest of my life. Quite apart from making time for my family (yep, I have one of those too…), there are areas connected with my work I’d like to pursue which I find hard to fit into my schedule because of my literary interests.
As I started the site in 2009 with the new year, a time when most online activity goes unnoticed, my bloggerversary usually passes quietly, so please consider this self-indulgent ramble as my annual moment of reflection on my blogging life, a ‘State of the Blog Address’, if you will. After the best part of seven years of what has become easily the longest-running project or idea of my adult life, it’s time to decide what direction I want to continue in. If I plan to go on with the blog (and I definitely do), it’s time to refocus, and simplify; otherwise, there’s a risk of simply throwing in the towel if it all becomes too hard.
So (and this is where we came in), I won’t be hosting January in Japan this year, although I will be reading some Japanese books and encouraging others to do so too. There may well be a few other changes to the blog, and my blogging, in the near future too. Whatever happens, though, rest assured that I’ll do my best to stay in touch – and keep reading and reviewing 😉