There’s been a lot of talk in the past week about echo chambers on the internet. Oddly enough, I’d planned out this post before the topic exploded after the election. Now it’s even more relevant. What I want to discuss is how a similar echo chamber phenomenon happens in the book blogging community as the political echo chamber that people experience on social media.
By way of introduction, I’ll link to this Wall Street Journal experiment that provides live side-by-side feeds of Facebook posts on conservative and liberal viewpoints. You can filter the feed by topics like abortion, Obama, Trump, gun control, etc. and view the contrast between the red and blue feeds. It’s a fascinating look at the echo chamber effect in which liberals post liberal things and conservatives post conservative things, but they only respectively follow liberal and conservative sources and therefore are never exposed to what the other side is saying. For many liberals, the bubble has just been broken with the election of Trump, and they’ve realized that not everyone had the same opinion of him as social media led them to believe.
Now obviously the echo chamber in the book blogging community is innocuous by comparison and lacks the divisiveness of the above problem, but I’ve noticed a similar effect here nonetheless. In the book blogging community, the type of books that are constantly being blogged about show a lack of diversity that I find tiresome and at times troubling. I don’t mean diversity in the sense of representation of under-represented populations in literature; I think the community does a good job of talking about, sharing, and promoting diversity in literature. What I’m talking about is the lack of genre, publisher, author, and title diversity.
How many times have you seen people blogging about the following: Sara J. Mass, V.E. Schwab, Marie Lu, Victoria Aveyard, Pierce Brown, etc., etc., etc.? I keep seeing the same books and the same authors over and over on my reader feed. I walked into a Barnes & Noble the other day and went over to the YA section, expecting to see a lot of the hot titles in the blogosphere on the shelves, but guess what? What I saw was a plethora of titles I hadn’t even heard of before, all shiny and new. This made me realize that the book blogging echo chamber is not a good place to get stuck in, and I had been stuck. My brain had been tuned in to all the popular titles among bloggers but had missed all these other titles that I feel I should have known about. I was so surprised at the amount of books I’d never heard of, right there on the popular YA shelf.
I’ve always consciously tried to keep my reader feed diverse. If I’m browsing for new blogs to follow and see that someone has been blogging about the same books everyone else is blogging about, I’m much less likely to follow them. But if I see someone blogging about classics or literary fiction or middle grade, all of which are unique in the vast sea of YA bloggers, it’s pretty much an immediate follow. But even so, I still feel as if I’m seeing the same books over and over again.
I get that blogging about popular titles attracts more readers. My reviews of popular titles definitely get more views and comments than reviews of other titles, which only makes sense. If you’ve read or plan to read the popular titles (which is likely because they are, well, popular), you’re more likely to read someone’s review. This allows popular titles to continue the cycle of popularity while lesser-known titles don’t get noticed because they don’t get reviews because those reviews don’t get clicks. (Also, I’m using the word “review” loosely here; it can be any type of post). I feel like we are causing an echo chamber of our own here in which we miss out on a lot of what the “outside world,” or non-blogging reader community, is reading.
I’m not telling anyone to stop blogging about popular YA books; they are popular for a reason, after all. But what I am saying is that it is sometimes good to step outside the blogosphere for a bit and discover something new. Or follow a blog or two that have very different tastes than you. Like a news feed with nothing but liberal or conservative viewpoints, you don’t want to get stuck in a mindset that there’s nothing different out there just for the sake of comfort and familiarity. It’s easier said then done, and I am definitely not practicing this all the time, but every little bit of reading outside your comfort zone is a good bit.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve experienced this and/or if you have any blogs to recommend that cover less popular titles!