Monday, March 14, 2011

Personal Life and Sharing: How Much? How Little?

I have a debate with myself all the time about how much to share or not share about my personal life on the blog. Most days, my blog is strictly business: I review books, participate in memes and write the occasional opinion post. Then on Sunday it's time for Sunday Salon, a weekly meme that's supposed to be primarily about what I'm reading that week but always turns into a little bit of an update about my personal life too. Now, I do keep a separate, private blog on a closed service like a heavily edited diary; my online friends there are all people I know well and things get pretty personal there, although there too there are things I don't talk about. But I'm always wondering how much to share here on Boston Bibliophile.

It even comes up when I write reviews. Sometimes there's a little story connected to how or where I came across a book. Maybe I found it on vacation, or serendipitously, or maybe it was tucked into a swagbag or was offered as a prize. Now, I'm not talking about whether or not to disclose when a book came free for review; that's something I always do, because the law says I must. I mean, like, for example, if a book has a sentimental value or a particular memory attached, and sometimes I'd like to talk about that in a review but I'm not sure it's appropriate. It may not have anything to do with how I felt about the story, or the writing, or anything else. It's just a little aside that enriches the reading experience for me, but would it mean anything to you?

And in Sunday Salon, or in other memes or opinion pieces like these, I'm always debating what to tell you and what not to. For a long time I never discussed the subject of my own religion, for example, and personal religious persuasion is a huge topic of discussion on book blogs. There are whole memes devoted to "faith in fiction" and questions of personal religious belief, and bloggers who write extensively about this subject. I'm not exactly sure where that's relevant to book blogging but some people obviously think it is. What do you think? Does your religion affect how you read a book? My own religious background and beliefs take a back seat most of the time, except on rare occasions when I'm reading about my own religion and have an opinion this way or that about how it's being portrayed. Do you need to know what my religious persuasion is? Does it bother you that I'm a little cagey about telling you, and that it may not be what you think it is?

What about other personal topics, like marriage and children and family and work life? What do you need to know about someone to feel comfortable with their book reviews or their blog? Is there such a thing as too much personal disclosure? How about too little? What's your personal policy when it comes to sharing personal stories or information?

34 comments:

Amy said...

I think one's blog should be about what they want it to be about. For example, as one who writes about faith, :) it's a subject of interest to me beyond my personal faith but I understand it doesn't work like that for everyone. If you don't think about it naturally, I don't think you should have to feel like you should bring it up. My book blog is not really meant to be professional, it's a place where I talk about books from my perspective and since my views on and interest in religion inform my perspective--well that's where it comes from.

I always enjoy a personal touch from time to time...children marriage, travels, etc. If you WANT to write about these things, I think you should, but if you don't, I don't think you should feel pressured to. :)

Vasilly said...

I don't mind not knowing what your religion is because no one knows what my religion is or whether or not I belong to one. I don't think it's relevant to your blogging unless you're reviewing books on religion exclusively or something of that sort.

I don't necessary need to know a lot about a blogger unless something personal affects your opinion on a book. Maybe you're reading a book about a topic you know well and the reaction of a character seems false. I would love to know that because I may not have had that same experience but because you know firsthand about a situation, you can offer readers insight. Does that make sense?

My policy is that I only share personal information with bloggers closest to me. So not everyone knows the names of my children or exactly what city I live in.

S. Mehrens said...

I'm with Amy, one's blog should be about what they want it to be about. That said, I'm also with you. I tend to be more private about my personal life. I have views and my religion can affect what books I read, but not always. It does - as part of my world-view - affect how I view books and sometimes I'm uncertain how much to reveal. It's almost as if I start down a path and it's Pandora's box and I don't know where to stop and suddenly I find I'm totally on a rabbit trail.

I'm still working this out, but for now I write about what I want to write about as little or as much as I feel comfortable sharing with the whole wide world web.

Kristen M. said...

I'm also comfortable with the wide range of sharing among blogs. I don't feel more connected to a blogger just because they are comfortable sharing more than others. Your personality still comes through with the books you choose to review and the way you review them.

I only share more superficial personal details because that's what I'm comfortable with!

Connolly-Ahern (Col Reads) said...

Since I study culture and communications (at my day job), I do not think anyone writes neutrally -- I believe a lot of what everyone does is framed by the culture and subcultures that they identify with -- or have even chosen to move away from. So culture is of great interest to me.

That said, I don't pretend it's my business. I know that sometimes being an Irish Catholic in a place where there are relatively few of those, being a parent, even having gone to a Liberal Arts college, sometimes impact my book reviews, so I share the information freely, because that's who I am -- and truthfully anyone could find that out anyway, if they really wanted to know -- I have enough professional citations if you check the Internet to get a lot of that information anyway!

Laura said...

Great question. I am sure personal sharing can go overboard but I also think it adds to the social nature of blogging. For example, I liked hearing about your new cats because I like cats myself. It's nice to know a little bit about you.

I don't hesitate to mention that I have teenage daughters, and I will mention where I live in an "approximate" sense, but I never mention my employer and I try not to give away details that could compromise personal or family safety. I don't talk about religion but that's not a conscious choice, I just find it's not relevant to my reviews.

I also think sometimes a book affects a reader in a particular way precisely because of who they are (i.e.; Room and We Need to Talk about Kevin are two books with profound impact on parents). In those cases it helps to bring that personal perspective to a review.

fatbooks.org said...

Such a great post. These are some questions I wonder about a little too. One of the things I like about book blogs is getting a sense of the writer's personality. Of course, that can happen without long stories about our private lives, though I think it's natural for some personal stories to slip into reviews. There are some books I don't feel like I can write about unless I include a little background - how I ran across an author or at what period in my life can, after all, have an impact on what i think of a work - but I don't tend to go for blogs (or twitter accounts, whatever) where there's an oversharing of personal information.

-- ellen

bermudaonion said...

Sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line, but I find that I really enjoy blogs that disclose some information (but not too much, please)! It makes me feel a personal connection with the blogger - sometimes it helps me decide if a particular book is for me or not.

logankstewart said...

This comment has taken too long to flush out into words.

In order for me to put much weight on a person's review I want to know stuff about them. For instance, if my mom tells me she really liked a book, I can almost certainly predict why she liked it. The same is mostly true with my wife. On the other hand, if I read an anonymous review from a blogger and I don't know much about them, I don't put as much stock into what they say. (Just look at the randomness of Amazon reviews.) It's our life experiences, our creeds, our religions, our personality, even, that determines whether or not we liked a book. There is no way to be 100% objective, because we don't read unconnected to our books. Part of the joy of reading is getting involved in the story and lost in its pages. We relate to a character or an action, and these relations affect our outlook. And why do we relate to a character? Because of something from our real life, be it subtle or enormous.

In short, I may start reading a person's blog based on their review of a book, but I enjoy learning a little piece about their lives from time to time, and it helps me put more weight on future reviews. Just because I know someone's religion or something personal about them doesn't mean I'm going to think they're biased on a topic. If anything it would make me think "Ok, they believe this way and this is maybe why they didn't like this or did" or something like that. Plus, I just like getting different perspectives of different books from different readers all with different personalities and life circumstances.

Great post, Marie!

Zibilee said...

I love to read blogs where the blogger is semi-open about their life, and the things that happen in it, but for some reason, it's really hard for me to do it myself. I don't necessarily want the whole world to know I have the flu, or am having trouble reading, or whatever the case may be. I try to be a lot more personal and flexible in the comments that I leave on other's posts, that way, everyone knows I am not just a book automaton working away in silence, without a personal life. I also try not to post too much about religion, unless it is in response to a book I am reading. This is because I think religion is a hot button topic, and it angers some, and drives away others. I don't mid reading blogs that do talk religion, I am just not comfortable sharing that with anyone. I think there are very few blogs that just stick to books, and although I would love to branch out into the personal more often, I am not sure it will ever happen, and that's ok too.

Kerry said...

I'm with Kathy, that I like a little personal revelation as it makes me feel more connected to a blogger. What you do for a living, what part of the country you live in, etc - these things inform who you are and what you see in each book you read.

That said, some blogs descend too far into personal lives and become more like diaries instead of book blogs, so there is such a thing as too much. But I think that line is a matter of personal preference more than anything else.

Kathleen said...

My personal philosophy is that I share things about my life when they help my reader understand why I thought a certain way about a book. I think it helps give perspective to my review. Also, the whole idea of a blog is that it is "personal" so it is hard to take everything personal out of it. I try to strike a balance and I hope I am successful in doing so.

Blodeuedd said...

I do like when bloggers talk a bit about themselves too. Sometimes I feel like such an enigma, but then I do not want to talk about myself. I used to have a personal blog and did it there, but not on my bookblog. perhaps cos there is nothing to tell, being unemployed is not something that gives thrilling tales about my day ;)

But i say go for it

King Rat said...

I don't think it's possible for someone writing about books to be objective. I think it's helpful to know what some of the personal biases are for someone who is writing subjectively about books. My own writings are about my experience with a work, so a reader is going to get a lot of personal information as time goes on. But I'm not interested in a person's personal life as the focus, and I assume that my readers feel the same (I could obviously be wrong), so therefore I do keep the focus on the interaction with the book and have a separate personal blog which is easy enough to find.

But that's my own approach to my writing. I think writers should writer exactly what they want to. Given your reputation, i don't think you'd lose a lot of readers if you included the occasional relevant personal information. So trust your gut and do whatever feels right to you. I know I'll still be reading.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I am with Amy. As for me, I stick to books. I often have friends and family bug me about this...."Why don't you ever tell what's going on in your life?" and I don't know why I don't, but I just don't.

Florinda said...

I describe my blog as being "primarily but not exclusively" about books, which gives me a lot of leeway content-wise :-). There's some personal angle in most of my posts, including the book reviews and discussions. I understand that's less appealing to some readers, but it's hard for me to keep it out - and since this a more subjective variety of blogging, I really don't feel I need to (although I do try to shy away from the squickier details; I don't really want to make anyone uncomfortable, including myself!). I like knowing a bit about the person behind the blogs I read, and I approach blogging as if my readers do too.

It's a great question, and one of the things I love about blogging is that there doesn't seem to be one right way to answer it.

Jeanne said...

There's no such thing as too much personal information for my taste. The more, the better. I tend to think that the personal point of view is one of the main things that distinguishes blogs from other forms of literary criticism.

Teresa said...

I tend to stick to personal information that related to the books I'm reading or that is in some way book-oriented. Over time, I think people have ended up learning a fair bit about me. My religion, my weight, my marital status have all affected my reaction to books I've read, and I think it's fair to talk about that. I like that blog reviewers can own our potential biases and talk about them in our reviews.
And I do enjoy reading anecdotes about how people came across a book, so I'll include those in my own posts from time to time. But I tend to not use my blog as a personal diary. If others want to do that, that's great, and I do enjoy some of the personal posts on blogs I read regularly, but I think each blogger should do what feels comfortable.

diaryofaneccentric said...

I think it just depends on how comfortable the blogger is with disclosure. I don't mind not knowing anything about a blogger, but I do enjoy getting to know a little more about them beyond their love for books.

Darlene said...

I think your blog should be run just how you feel comfortable running it. That is the most important. For me, I get a general sense of you even from what you do write - you love books and animals. Good in my books!

As for religion, you have to do what's comfortable for you. I have mentioned my religious preferences on my blog but not to any extent because it's not what I do but I have no problem with others doing it and it doesn't affect my opinion of them either way.

For me I like to learn a bit of personal info about people. If you're reading a book and you have a little personal story that helped you relate to the book, it's nice to hear. Same goes for your personal life - a little but not a lot. I'm not one of those people who will say where I work or specifically where I live unless it's with those bloggers who I personally write to.

Marie, ultimately it's up to you what you're comfortable with. I know that the people who come to your blog respect who you are and enjoy your reviews and some of the other things you mention. Ok, time to go. Much too long winded already. lol.

contemplatrix said...

i feel like i will be echoing so many of these great comments.

when i started out, i thought i would be more conscientious about editing out personal info. it's funny but you pick up on the one subject i tend to still mind the most, my faith, but then it is rarely relevant, and usually my imparting personal info in a book review tries to be relevant. As I've made more friends in the blogosphere I've begun the random posts about goings-on. I feel like periodically they are okay, and while I think my personality can be evinced from my "reviews," I feel like maybe a connection would be a nice thing...especially since I've never met, in person, most all my comment-makers. It seems to invite more information about them and that influences certain aspects of my review (what I might impart that would be helpful/interesting)

I hope never to tip the scales into diary-keeping on my book blog because that was never my intent. I really have tried to maintain a focus; so that even personal info posts might be in relation to reading or writing or film/music.

You've a great blog. I love your reviews and the little glimpses into who you may be. I come here for recommendations, ideas, and your thoughts on your reads.

thanks for this thoughtful post.. enjoyed it and the comments its generated.

~L

Valerie said...

Because I'm a mother, I don't disclose too much about my children (i.e. their names) on my blog. But, other than that,I find that I tend to guard what I disclose on my blog -- because family members read it occassionally. One time I was more personal than usual, and the next day my husband got a call from my MIL grilling him on the blog post! Ugh. Oh well.

I think we all have our own comfort levels on how much we want to share about ourselves, and you can share however much you want to about yourself.

Space Station Mir said...

I tend not to want to share priivate details on my blog, though I agree with everyone that it's up to the blogger. I do like reading and sharing experiences about how I came across books, because I feel like that enhances and personalizes a book blog in a good way. As far as religion, it's nobody's business if you don't feel comfortable sharing, but I do think that can be relevant to how you look at particular books and so would not be out of place.

Rayna Eliana said...

I am normally not writing about personal issues on my blog. But, due to recent events in Japan, I have, because some of my readers are friends who will want to know how my family in Japan is doing.

I don't let religion get in the way of blog visiting, or my reading. I read a lot of Holocaust and Jewish-related books, but also read the latest and greatest, and not-so-great, books that are published. I restrict my blog to Jewish-related books, normally, but on occasion another book that is not related to Judaism slips in.

wordlily.com said...

I'm with Kathy; it's (sometimes, often) hard to know how much to share. But as I've found that in general I appreciate a blog where I feel like I know the blogger, at least a little bit, I've tried to become more open, sharing that anecdote or piece that's really me.

L.L. said...

This is a great question! I don't think there is a right or wrong answer - I think bloggers should choose how personal they want their blog to be and there is no better or worse way to do it. However, I do think it should be a conscious decision, in general for one's own protection. I personally enjoy anecdotes about people's lives and getting to know them personally. I also enjoy making connections with how and why certain books affect me - I think this makes my reviews and my blogging voice unique to me.

Trisha said...

Like many people have said, I think that what you put on your blog is entirely up to you. Share as much or as little as you like about your personal life. Unless you are being paid by a third party, you can do what you want.

Bybee said...

I made up my mind almost from the beginning that every post I wrote would be book-related. Looking back, I'm amused at how much of "real life" has crept into the blog, but I can live with it. I know I'm not oversharing. For example, I kept my divorce 2 years ago completely private.

caite said...

if you are giving your opinions, about books or whatever, I am not sure how you keep 'yourself' from creeping into your blog to some extent.

that being said, I will admit I make a conscious effort to keep personal info to a minimum. but that is just my choice, and other bloggers make a very different choice. which is fine...but not my thing.

Alexia561 said...

Excellent discussion! Like most of the responders, I think how much you share in your posts is up to you. Does it matter to me what religion you are? No. I don't think I've ever shared my religious beliefs either, partly because I'm a private person and partly because religion and politics are such volitile subjects.

I enjoy blogging because I want to share my love of books with others. I'm more interested in your taste in books, not your religious affilition. Small glimpses into your life are nice, but I don't really care for personal blogs. TMI. :)

Amused said...

What a great topic of conversation! I struggle with this as well sometimes. For me, as long as I'm comfortable with it being out there, forever it's ok, but if it reflects on anyone else in my personal life or my job then I probably won't post it without seriously being vague. It's not their blog, it's mine.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Awesome topic :) I agree with what has pretty much already been said here, its your blog - share what you feel comfortable with.

Swapna said...

I struggle with this same issue - I keep my blog primarily professional, but inject personal stuff into my Sunday Salon posts. But at the same time, I wonder if I'm being too impersonal! It's something I struggle with a lot, but I usually try to keep things pretty general. I'm a private person and don't like discussing intensely personal things publicly.

Amy said...

Always a struggle to know what to post and what not to post, you are right. I probably tend to over rather than undershare (especially with my recent Lucky discussion), but I do try to keep it mostly to things that are relevant to how I read a book. If it affected my opinions, then it is relevant. That said some stuff still doesn't get shared.