Being a reader has become a much larger part of my identity than it was pre-blogging. I always enjoyed reading. I have been dreaming of owning a home-library of books since I was 13. I used to love going to the library as a child. All, I think, suitable claims that enable me to say that “yes, I am a reader.” Nevertheless, I sometimes doubt the legitimacy of that claim.
It comes to me unexpectedly, almost randomly. There was coming across a blog one time, where the blogger stated that she has always been a reader, that she reads everything, from grand novels to the labels on ketchup bottles.^ You see, this always makes me stop to think. Do I even do that? Sure, after some reflection, I could fit that in, when I come into a room or area I do not know, the first things my eyes search for is something to read, because it makes me feel more able to grasp onto something to hold me into place. But isn’t this just me appropriating a claim I have seen before? Would I have used it myself to identify me as a reader? No, I do not think so. Not because I don’t think it is a legitimate claim, but simply because I never considered it before.
And so these questions always lead me to that bigger question: Aren’t I just grasping at straws, bluffing my whole way through this “being a reader” thing? What is it that makes me a reader, really? When did I even start considering it a significant part of my identity? Even though I am pretty sure I could say that “I have enjoyed reading since I was a little girl”, it never really was something that made my standard “hello, I am Iris” description. Partly because of the social stereotypes attached (not that I do not exude the word nerd all around me anyway, but making the statement that your most important hobby is reading when you meet a large group of new people often scares them off, so I always edit in other hobbies as well). No, it is mostly because, for a long time, it simply never crossed my mind to use it as an identity-marker. My boyfriend’s sister and mother had put me down as “the girl reading in the corner” from the very first, and yet, writing this down this is the first time I can even come up with it as a moment that might substantiate the claim that “I am Iris, and I am a reader”.
You see, between the book blogging world and the “real world”, I feel I always lack something to make me a confident reader and recommender of books.
In the real world, because I have not read your typical Dutch classic and contemporary works that everyone expects you to have read when you say you enjoy staying inside on the couch in the company of books. Furthermore, there are a lot of big contemporary international authors missing on my “books read” list. Something, I feel, I will never catch up with. Or you know, those times when you admit to someone that you blog about books, and they look at you expectantly and go: “what would you recommend?” or, “what is your all time favourite book?” and you pull an absolute, complete, blank. And believe me, that happens to me more often than I am actually able to give a satisfying answer (although I must admit, this is also because my recommendation will sometimes receive the rather predictable “ew, Young Adult?, I meant a real book” response, or a “right, you are obviously a blonde romantic girl who is a fan of Jane Austen, but I am a boy” – shrug).
In the blogging world, the reasons are partly the above, combined with something else. You see, other blogs often introduce me to overlooked authors, or new ones; discoveries, so to say, for the book blogging world and the world at large. Since I started blogging, I love reading those forgotten gems. (Hello Persephone Books, or Virago Modern Classics). Perhaps the very admission that I hadn’t heard of these two “imprints” pre-blogging will reinstate me as an illiterate. So now that I am a book blogger, I am catching up on two fronts: those well-established classic and contemporary books that I feel everyone-but-me has read, and the books that are appreciated and recommended in the online reading community, and are, of course, also new to me. And in the middle of all of this, I am never really able to give other bloggers new discoveries of my own. Or so it feels.
There is also another thing, something that comes to the fore more often when you start blogging. And that is that if you are a reader, it is assumed you have opinions on the books you read. And I do, or what would I have been blogging about these two years? But at times, I really do not know what to think. At times, a book has me at a loss for words. At times, I don’t even know where to place a book in the genre table that everyone but me seems to naturally understand. And, I would say, most of the time, I am only asking question, and never providing answers.
And so what it comes down to is, that I am thinking that the statement that “I am Iris, and I am a reader” should in fact read “I am Iris and I am an insecure reader”. I am still trying to find my place. I am still trying to come to grips with who I am as a reader. What I prefer, what I wish to avoid, who my favourite authors are. In a way, it is me admitting what I am sure any reader does at one point: being a reader is not something static to me, it is something that evolves. I feel I am at the beginning of a learning-curve, while many a blogger I have come across is far ahead of me. This is something that, at times, leaves me confused and makes me feel a little silly for even trying to be a reader, let alone a blogger. On the other hand, there are moments when it makes me feel energised and excited; It makes me want to start right now, it makes me want to read everything at once. A feeling I am sure many of you recognise.
* Pictures found through the wonderful Pinterest of Alexandra.
^ I have seen this statement repeatedly, I do not have a particular blog in mind, really, if you’d ask me, I wouldn’t know where I saw it first or last.