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Dear Kelsey,

Fair warning: this is not a post I was expecting to write. When we switched days this week, I said I was so excited because I would be attending a talk by Kristina Holmes, a somewhat-local literary agent, on Thursday evening, and I was sure I would have tons to say. And I do, in fact, have many things I could say. But I don’t believe I’m going to do so just yet.

First, a brief detour: Mark Reads is one of the only blogs I wrote about in my thesis that I still actively follow. I’ve mentioned him only briefly, which is actually a shame because I adore his blog as much as, say, Tor.com. There are two things I love most about his reviews: first, that he reads and reviews books chapter by chapter, rather than writing one summary after finishing the whole thing. This gives his blog a great deal of urgency and intensity—I cannot IMAGINE the discipline it would take to stop reading some of these books after EVERY CHAPTER and write a post. I also love that he seems to approach everything with excitement and an expectation of enjoyment. Even when he’s disappointed, it keeps the extremely detailed recaps and analysis interesting (His tagline is “you are not prepared”). To engage with his community while trying to preserve a spoiler-free reading experience borders on psychotic, but somehow it works. He’s one of my biggest blogging inspirations, actually, though I do almost nothing to emulate him. More on this in a bit.

But before I am run away with my feelings, let me get to the point: Mark Reads is all about first impressions. He’s done rereads for awhile now, but even these fall into the style of OMG I NEVER NOTICED THAT BEFORE-kinds of observations. It’s the kind of reading experience we all have in private (or at least I have in private) but that active reading, thoughtful class discussion, and a healthy respect for well-formed opinions kind of stigmatizes. My reading experiences are always messy and full of half-formed opinions and a thousand predictions (I can still say I predicted the ending if I predicted every single possible ending) but before I write or say anything, I try to take some time to reflect.

Was it really that good? I’ll ask myself. Am I overreacting? So I’ll wait until the passion dies down, read some reviews (I always try to find some positive and negative to see what I agree with), and assemble these different sources into my own thing—be it blog review, recommendation, or idle conversation. And while I like to think this makes me a more thoughtful reviewer, it’s about as far away from a first impression as one can get.

I’m so often afraid of being wrong, or saying something in excitement that I haven’t thought through and wouldn’t have an answer to if I was challenged that I constantly shy away from one of the biggest reasons I was interested blogging in the first place.

I might regret saying this, but I get so bored with traditional review blog-style reviews. Oh, the dialogue is great, but the characterization is subpar. The BFF is delightful, but the romance is blah. Buy/Borrow/Disregard. I really don’t care how many stars a book has, I want to know how it makes you feel. Did you cry? Did you want to cry? What did you think would happen? Were you surprised? Did you want to stop reading? Was it worth continuing? I don’t know if I want these answers as a potential consumer so much as someone who is simply so interested in the reading experience and what happens when we sit down with a book that I genuinely don’t care about a summary.

And yet, time and again, I’ll freewrite in tearful, post-book agony, and then sit on it for a few days until I can edit out a great deal of my passionate emoting (…yeah, the RAW EMOTION I still feel obligated to put in caps is severely edited. Go figure). Maybe this leads to more insightful or reader-friendly reviews (or maybe not), but it’s never what I intend to do, and I’m still not sure why I do it.

In the initial throes of Kony 2012, my friend Matt made a passionate and heartfelt video response in support of the movement and what it stood for. In the aftermath, after he had time to research and reflect, he took down the original video and talked about how his opinion had changed, and some of the concerns he had with the movement (link here). Despite being somewhat internet savvy, Matt’s initial video was actually the first one I saw that night, and he inspired me to look up the movement and begin to educate myself about Uganda and the LRA. However, with his second video—and even though I had already formed a similar opinion—I started to reflect a little deeper. In a culture where “flip-flopping” is practically a death-blow to any elected official, it seems rarer and rarer for people to be able to make an argument and then concede that they may have been wrong.

And that’s what I like so much about Mark Reads, as well. I think it takes an astonishing amount of courage to make predictions, to change your mind, to be surprised and wrong on the internet. I don’t think I have that kind of boldness yet. So, very long way around, I’m not going share my thoughts on the talk just yet. 

But I am working on this. So look forward to many first impression posts in your future 🙂