Introduction: Active Reading

This is a compilation of my writing about literature since the late 1980s.  For a backgrounder on my reading and writing youth, I include an introduction here called Looking for Mister Write, written in 1989 to be published as the lead off to a book review column I was about to begin for the small press magazine New Pathways. The reviews ran, but not the introduction, but only for a couple of issues before New Pathways folded.

I started emailing book commentary under the title of First Impressions in January of 1993 in response to a request from my cousin, Rich Everett, to let Rich know a little bit about what I had been reading lately. I thought if Rich was interested, others might be, and so sent out email invitations to friends and family to let them know First Impressions was available, not realizing at the time that what I was writing was a reading diary–a format with a long and glorious history. Perhaps because I was sending it out on this new technology (to be quickly followed up by its own Web page, one of the earliest book review sites on the World Wide Web), I believed I had invented something new and wonderful. First Impressions lasted for fifty “monthly” installments, a string that was broken for about a year when I took on a position as book review columnist for a grandiose scheme called the Internet Daily News, as well as occasionally just due to the vicissitudes of life.

For over five years, the web version of First Impressions was hosted by SF Site, and they maintained an archive of the installments when I placed First Impressions on hiatus in 1999. I had entered graduate school in creative writing in 1998 (for more detail on this decision, see How I Got Here) and most of my reading shifted to unpublished work of my peers. Also, most of my writing time was spent commenting directly on their work and creating my own fiction. Shortly before I placed First Impressions on hiatus, though, I played with changing the monthly format of it to an irregularly updated one through an early Weblog tool called GrokSoup.

After graduation and re-entry into the normal working world, I debated restarting First Impressions. The days of email commentary were long gone, smothered under the mass of spam, and one of the pleasures I had found of keeping the diary online had been the feedback received from readers. At my new job as the Online Community Coordinator for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, my boss installed MovableType on a test server to see if we could use the Weblog format to enable cross-department communication. That’s when I rediscovered the world of blogs, and determined to start my own, using the name first conceived of back in 1999 for GrokSoup: immediacy. As I was doing this, I received a notice from SF Site that they could no longer maintain the First Impressions archive for free. I converted all the First Impressions commentary into entries in the blog, as well as all those other bits and pieces of book commentary I had published since 1990.

The blog eventually went the same way as email, buried under the malaise of sites seeking to maximize page views with SEO optimization. In 2014, I realized that it was time for something different. Having just converted the textbook my wife had written into an eBook, I thought, “How about that?” Thus this is the latest incarnation of my writing on books: an eBook, available online, as a PDF, and for electronic readers. So, while the format is different, the object remains the same–to be an active reader, not simply a consumer of the written word, requires that you think about and express yourself regarding the book or story you had just finished.  I hope you’ll use this to join me in active reading, for which we will all benefit.

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