Why I Blog

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2022 Blog Discussion Challenge:

Looking over some blogging resources recently reminded me that the first question would-be bloggers are encouraged to consider is why they blog. But as soon as I started to dismiss this directive as so obvious as to not merit consideration, I realized that, although I’ve certainly answered this question in my own mind, I’ve never written about it. Here, then, is the reason why I started Notes in the Margin way back in the mid 1990s.

In the late 1970s—in what now truly feels like another lifetime—I completed the course work, though not the dissertation, for a Ph.D. in English and American literature. I spent more than 25 years studying the history of literature and learning how to read literary works closely and write scholarly critiques about them. 

As much as I loved studying literature, I eventually became disillusioned with the elitist notions of academia that surrounded it. I remember the exact moment when the full realization hit me. The chair of the English department said, “It’s like when somebody without any knowledge of the subject says “I don’t know what art is, but I know it when I see it.’” I was so busy mentally nodding my agreement with that statement that it took me a couple of minutes to realize that he was scoffing at the notion. He continued to talk about how only those of us who had devoted most of our lives to studying “real literature” were qualified to talk about it.

Even back then I believed that a lot of what happens when we interact with a text transpires beneath our level of conscious awareness. 

Fast forward about 15 years. A woman in my library book group read a short passage from the book under discussion, then said, “When the narrator says this, I don’t believe him.”

Bingo! This woman didn’t know the term unreliable narrator, but she recognized one when she saw it.

I don’t remember who the woman was or what book we were talking about, but I immediately recognized the phenomenon. We all know a lot of things that we don’t know we know. I believe serious readers know how reading a particular book is affecting them, but they may not have the training and the vocabulary to analyze, understand, and explain the process.

So when I started Notes in the Margin, the first task I worked on was the creation of the glossary of literary terms, which explains the vocabulary and analytical techniques I spent all those early years learning. Since the beginning, that has been by far the most frequently visited part of the site. 

And that is why I blog.

© 2022 by Mary Daniels Brown

11 thoughts on “Why I Blog”

  1. Excellent! I too studied English and Japanese as an undergraduate and was at first fascinated but later annoyed by the pretentious terminology and complicated models that felt to me were more about showing off than about analysing a text.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who felt that way. Thanks for reading and commenting, Marina Sofia.

  2. When I was in grad school, the literary work in question was just an excuse to espouse whatever sociological theory was in vogue at the time. As for your elitist department chair, I would counter that only those who EXPERIENCE a work of fiction or poetry are qualified to talk about it. Knowing literary terms and techniques gives readers a common language to discuss these experiences in a way that will provide new insights to the reading experience of others. Stepping down from the pulpit now . . .

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      I didn’t learn anything about various approaches to theory (Marxist, feminist, etc.). We were strictly New Criticism: the work is what it is, with no external influences allowed. And we had any notion of personally experiencing the work vigorously beaten out of us.

      1. We were strictly New Criticism in undergrad. It was a huge shock to get to grad school and discover the English Dept. was treating literature like sociology. If undergrad had been like that, I would not have majored in English.

  3. I enjoyed this post very much. I headed off right away to your glossary of literary terms, because I often have a problem coming up with the right words (or any words) to describe a book and my thoughts on it.

  4. This is such an interesting discussion – I agree with you that people can often recognize literary techniques that they don’t have the words for. And I love your idea for the glossary. I have a similar(ish)Book Blogger’s Guide to Acronymns, Terms, and Slang that still gets decent traffic. If you don’t mind, I’d love to link to your list for further reference. (Oh, and you should add “unreliable narrator” to your list! I’m going to add it to mine.) 🙂

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks for commenting, Nicole. And thanks for the heads up on “unreliable narrator.” There is a round-about way to get to it in the glossary, but I’ve set up a new entry all its own for the next time I update the Glossary (which I should get to soon . . .).

  5. I have little formal training in looking closely at the books I read, but it’s benn one of the most pleasurable parts of my life to take on a literary book.

    And why do I blog? I read a lot of books. I read widely. I love to share the good books that I read.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Good point, Deb. I firmly believe that lots of folks without formal training in literary criticism can and do appreciate books. Keep blogging your reviews!

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