You are without a doubt a book lover and when you stroll into a bookstore or any place where books are available, you can’t help yourself, you buy one, or two, or more. When you get home, you bring them out and set them aside, reverently, as if they’re art. You snap some pictures for your twitter or Instagram, prop them up on your shelf or bedside table, ready to dive into them as soon as you have a moment. But the hard part’s done now, you’ve gone out and brought the thing, and announced to others that you have it!
People read for a lot of reasons, and the reasons people read (for knowledge, entertainment, escapism, pleasure, whatever) are often deeply personal, and is a topic that has been extensively considered and studied since reading became a thing.
Why do we do it?
Why do we read books, keep them once we’ve read them, reviewed them and talk about them online? What kind of psychology drives the book blogger culture?
For everyone who’s currently thinking (cos it’s fun) or (to tell other people what I think about books) or (in case I want to read them again, because I paid money for them Damnit) I’m standing in the corner of my kitchen like Slenderman, right now, slow clapping.
These obvious, surface reasons are only the beginning friend!
Reading books and playing video games have a surprising amount in common in terms of activities to consume one’s free time. I, as someone with a rather vivid imagination (not vivid enough apparently to come up with a less clichéd phrase than ‘vivid imagination’) enjoy bring brought into other world, something which both games and books tend to do. There’s a term in the gaming community that of a ‘Completionist’; a player who in video games challenges themselves to fully ‘complete’ games, getting every achievement, all items, stats and rewards.
Book bloggers, I’ve found, are the Completionist’s of reading; taking the act of reading of having a book, through all it’s possible ‘achievements’ from a books content to its aesthetic, through posting reviews, staged pictures, reading goals, TBR’s, challenges and Bingos, various hosted discussions and just casual chats. It feels as though, in the book blogging community, there has to be some sort of achievement obtained at the end of all this otherwise why else would we even undertake the effort?
If some sort of need wasn’t being taken care of by these things, we wouldn’t do them.
But what need is this?
Well actually, it’s an assortment of needs.
Do you read books because you’re good at reading? You’re fast, decisive, have a reading goal of 150 for this year which you know at your best you can achieve?
You’re the kind of reader that likes to be challenged, in quantity or content, you like being presented with different ideas in new and unique ways, see the experiences of others in an accessible form. If this resonates somewhat with you, then I just translated the upper levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into the context of book blogging. Boo-ya!
Maslow’s a guy who wanted to understand what motivates people. He believes that people possess a set of motivational systems, that drive their behaviour, actions outside of instinctual or unconscious factors. He developed the hierarchy of needs, a psychology version of the food pyramid, less grain products, less dairy and more covering everything humans need to survive, including air, shelter, water—to the less tangible things like love, security, self-esteem.
Books in this case, being only slightly less important than air.
Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival (water, air, that whole shtick), and this will be the first thing that motivates us and our behaviour. Once that need or ‘level’ is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, continuing on.
Every book blogger, in this case, reads and blogs to fulfil different combinations of the same five needs, and to meet these needs they find themselves facing at different points in their lives.
Belongingness and Love:
Despite being a fairly solitary activity, reading, in the book blogging, book community feeds into this need of relatedness. Book blogging is all about community. The communication of ideas, concepts, thoughts and opinions with others.
Maslow identifies one human need as being the need that we/our thoughts matter to others, and that we’re making a contribution to society. This is the easiest need to apply to book blogging/the bookish community, hell it’s there in the name blog and community. By participating in bookish events, creating reviews and content and rec-lists, we’re fostering a sense of community, using a bookish language and various events, resources and platforms to connect and communicate with others.
And when our posts are retweeted, liked, reblogged and commented upon, this only deepens our community connection, our need then is fulfilled (even if we do throw shade and argue)
There’s a sense of accomplishment that accompanies finishing a good book, or finishing a bad book, as the case may be. Esteem, in fulfilling this need, we read because when we finish we feel confident feel as though we have achieved something. There is an achievement portion to bookish culture (reading goals, lists, Bingos, and challenges) that- when you succeed in, your endorphins go ballistic. Even some of the less outwardly competitive aspects of book blogging, just reading the books themselves, creating and posting reviews, achieving reading goals all of these things impact our self esteem, our sense of accomplishment.
TL;DR we feel good about ourselves when we ‘do’ things. The Bookish Completionist that this fulfils is the kind of reader who thrives on facing more so external/measurable challenges than more conceptual/internal ones.
You wanna be the very best that no one ever was. Gotta “read” them all.
Really, at the tippy top of Maslow’s pyramid, this refers to self-fulfilment, the desire to both discover and exceed your own potential and relate this to the things you do, the way you behave. In terms of books, this comes in with the experience of empathy through literature, as you take in and experience a work to its full potential. You read because it gives you access to a range of emotions and events that otherwise would take you years, decades, a millennia to try to experience yourself. Literature in this way is the greatest reality simulator — a game that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.
This need drives us to not feel content at being just another reader, we want to grow from the experience of reading, be challenged by what we read and inspire others to reach their own reading potential. Reading books and providing commentary and opinion upon them is a skill in this sense, and you want to master that skill. It’s about your constant quest to become better and learn more through reading. This is what matters to you the most.
Like a character in an RPG you won’t be happy until you reach max stats.
Now, I do have to say there has been the addition of two other hierarchy needs over the years (psychology, always developing, always labelling) Cognitive needs, and Aesthetic needs.
In terms of reading and the bookish community this is pretty self-explanatory at only a glance.
Cognitive needs - knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability. Books teach us stuff, pose questions, they’re also fairly predictable, usually tied up in a neat bow, or follow the same patterns, structures. That’s a comfort.
Aesthetic needs - appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc. Bookstagram; just so many lovely photos of books. Twitter, god. Blogs gah. Have you seen some people’s blogs? Also why are book covers so pretty?
But these needs are only the half of it.
This motivation to read and write about what you’re reading is only half of the story. We have to talk about the reward you get from this fulfilment, psychologically that is. What does the achievement of belonging, esteem and self-actualising needs do that keeps you coming back to blog?
When you post your bookish-thoughts online, or say you’ve finished a book and someone else tweets; me too! What did you think? You get a shot of dopamine to your brain.
Dopamine, an important neuro-transmitter in the brain that gets released as a reward mechanism, this also happens when you eat good food, have sex, pee after you’ve been holding it for ages. AGES…
Anyway, like game Completionist’s, those shots of reward keep you coming back, or in this case keep you reading. In the same way of a video game achievement happens, or the same way people get addicted to drugs; drugs release dopamine, and addicts get addicted to this release of dopamine in their brains.
Basically you’re addicted to the sense of achievement you get when you complete a book, post a pic, write a review and not only that, but the achievement you feel when you look at your bookshelf, book-talk with others, and that your achievement is then acknowledged.
So… we’re addicts, and our drug of choice is Bookish-achievements.
This form of Completionism is something of a new theory called Conceptual Consumption; which states that some people consume ideas and knowledge like they do physical things like food. Essentially, we suck in a bunch of experiences so we can possess them, own them. The rarer the experience (ARC’s, obscure books, limited/special copies/editions, hardback covers) the more valuable it is. We are the Kirby of book readers/bloggers. Kirby’s copy ability is pretty amazing. He just sucks up enemies and swallows them into the deep abyss of his stomach, taking on their abilities, gaining all of their knowledge. Kirby loves to eat and his appetite is endless.
And so is ours.
We ‘consume’ books and each time we do, we put them on an invisible trophy wall, or actually a very real one (see: Bookshelves, blogs, Instagram’s and other social media accounts). These places all show off the experiences and accomplishments we’ve collected, and, if you think about it, each review, post or book influences the next, as we’ve assimilated parts of each book, discussion and experience into ourselves and into the ways we experience and discuss books into the future.
Just like Kirby keeps a piece of the enemies he absorbs, we, to some extent, have assimilated the books we read, and the things we write about them into a part of who we are. As readers we are what we read, we experience all of those individual realities. Sure it’s mainly in our heads, prompted by some scratching’s on paper or on a screen but, we are there with the character’s and their story, experiencing everything with them along the way.
I still remember the first time I read HARRY POTTER, POKEY THE LITTLE PUPPY or more recently Maxine Clarke’s THE HATE RACE, and I’m sure you can remember your own experiences with some of these titles as well. We as readers are rewarded for our achievements by getting to own them when we’re done. Sure thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people read these works too, but the experience we have individually between the pages is uniquely our own.
TL;DR We read, show off and discuss what we read in order to add some more experience points to our life’s resume, unlock fulfilling achievements as per our individual needs, and get rewarded via dopamine, because we are addicts.
We are all book addicts.