Friday, January 10, 2020

A sense of impending doom . . . .

Today -- Friday, 10 January 2020 -- has not been one of my better days.  Maybe that's why I'm back here, after a long and not entirely voluntary hiatus.

I wrote a long time ago that I wouldn't be doing book reviews here.  I thought about setting up a separate blog for reviews, and in fact so much time has passed that maybe I actually did that and have just forgotten about it.

The truth is, I don't write a lot of reviews of current fiction.  Most of the reviews I do write and post on BookLikes are of books I didn't like, didn't finish, didn't get past the first few pages.  There's a reason for that, and it's not a good reason.

My budget is severely limited.  More or less retired, I live on Social Security and some supplemental self-employment income from my writing and from the sale of various arts & crafts products I make.  My Social Security benefits are reduced because I elected to start them earlier than full retirement age.  The supplemental income is not reliable, and it has been made even less reliable by my inability to shake off various stressors.  Anxiety is not profitable, but it is pervasive.  I do not write as much as I should.  I do not make as much jewelry as I should.

I do not make as much money as I need.

Therefore, my reading material tends to fall into certain distinct classifications:

1. Physical books I already own, which number about 5,000.
2. Kindle books, mostly freebies and therefore many self-published
3. Non-fiction library books, whether physical copies or digital borrows.

It's that second category that ends up being "reviewed" on my BookLikes blog.  Sadly, many of those author-published books just aren't very well written.  But I did try them.  I really did.

My longer, more analytical reviews were saved for those favorite personal classics, books like Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar and Leslie Turner White's Lord Johnnie.  I loved these books when I first read them more than 50 years ago; rereading them for the purpose of close analysis was just as much fun.

The past few weeks have been filled with the drama surrounding Romance Writers of America, a scandal of sorts with its roots in racism, lack of diversity, and lack of transparency in dealing with those issues.  I'm not going to rehash any of that, or bring up my very tangential involvement, except to say that my fifteen or so years of active membership in RWA meant I made a lot of connections with other writers.  Friends? Um, not all of them, and only a tiny few of those connections have survived.  But it still means that reading a book by someone I knew back then brings in an automatic bias.  So I haven't posted reviews of many books by people I know or knew.

Let me be clear:  I would never, under any circumstances, direct an author to a review I had written of their work*.  Reviews are for readers.  But I don't have any way of knowing, unless they post it in front of me on Twitter or something, which authors routinely search for reviews of their books.  It's not likely that I'd post a really bad review of a book by someone I've had a positive personal relationship with -- whether in person or just through social media -- but even minor criticisms might be taken the wrong way.  I really do appreciate my online contacts, and I would rather not review a book written by a cyber-friend than risk that friendship.

(*I did recently inform an author with whom I've interacted on social media  that I reviewed one of their books 30+ years ago. I no longer have a copy of the review.)

But BookLikes has become more problematic today than it has been for a while.  I think I started to take it for granted again, but it's been down for 24 hours now with only a brief Facebook notification that they're working on it.

So, what to do?

Well, I have a website that I haven't even looked at for a year or more.  It's due to renew in February, and I actually thought this morning that I might let it all lapse.  Could I convert it to something more attuned to books and book blogging?  I don't know.  That's not my area of expertise; I wouldn't even know how to start.

But it's been six and a half years since the Great Purge at Goodreads, and so many of us have found a home at BookLikes.  We like the freedom, even if we don't like the spammers.  We like the platform, even if we don't like the silence from the operators.  Most of all, however, we like each other.

If the platform returns, I'll be backing up as much of my material as I can.  Some of it may end up here.  Comments may be lost, but at least the core will be saved.  Again, that's if the platform can be resuscitated.  And I'll add links to it for this post, too.  If it comes back.

I'm committed to doing what I can -- within the constraints of time and budget -- to keep the community alive, regardless.