What’s in a Name?

Books I’m reading is a series of posts I write that are centered around, well, books I’m reading. As it’s the only regular feature featured on this blog, its numbers dominate the tag count.

My tag cloud

Let this be a(nother) lesson to me that quantity is not quality, all that glitters is not gold, and whatever other dross aphorisms fit here. Because in terms of “looks” (clicks on the post, clicks on the blog the day the post is posted), “likes” (likes), and comments, these “Books I’m reading” do terribly. Nobody reads them.

Being the great rationalist that I am, I’ve rationalized why this is so. I think that “books I’m reading” as a title signals to readers that this is a book review post. Now, books reviews are great, and I read them all the time. However, book reviews constitute a very saturated market populated with 800-pound gorillas and elephants-in-the-room like The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, and other bona-fide gatekeepers. Throw as many teacups as I’d like at these guys, I’m not going to make a dent on them or persuade anybody to read my blabber instead of (or even in addition to) their lit. crit.  Furthermore, book reviews are interesting only if the book under discussion is potentially to a person’s taste. Take me as an example — I’m a big consumer of book reviews but only in the genres of books that I read. Show me an article/post that I believe constitutes a book review, and the first thing I do is skim the title of the book, figure out if it’s in the fiction or nonfiction category, and skip it if it’s the former. Terrible of me, I know, judging a book by its “cover” like this, but what’s really, truly terrible is my suspicion that most people operate the way I do. (Not incidentally, these conjectures give me great admiration for you bloggers who do do book reviews. Ra ra!)

You can see that I’m a great rationalist because the rationale places the blame (in case there’s any) far, far away from me/my writing. In this case, I’ve gone even a step further and have considered a scheme where I can just use another title for the “books I’m reading”-type posts going forward. It’s really not a stretch because most of these pieces use the books as segways into whatever it is that I want to talk about (usually some aspect of the publishing business), but the posts are hardly ever about the plot, style, voice, theme, or writing chops of the authors. In short, they’re not really book reviews.

What say you? Do you think I can pull it off? Do you think it would make a difference? Erasing any memory of what you actually did, would you be more likely to read this post if I had titled it “Writers & Liars”, this one if I had called it “The Art of Titling”, or this one if I named it “Huh? to International Publishing”? Conversely, would you have been more likely to skip this post and this one if you thought they were book reviews?

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One Response to What’s in a Name?

  1. Esa says:

    I think as soon as you mention a book in a post, you are in a sense expressing an opinion already, even if you do not adhere the criteria listed above. If I see a person in a waiting room or on public transit and they have a book in their hands, I like to try in an inconspicuous way, to see what it is. You don’t need to cloak it in fancy dress, just for the sake of clarity.

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