This might seem like a navel-gazing post, but I'm going to try hard to make it more general. It's responding to something I've noticed in the literary blogosphere at large - I think it is a wider phenomenon - which is the decline in comments on blog posts.
Speaking specifically about Stuck-in-a-Book, the number of comments I anticipate getting, particularly on a book review, has actually decreased slightly from four or five years ago, despite the fact that my stats counter tells me I'm getting ten times as many readers now. I'm lucky if 0.5% of the people who visit each day leave a comment, which seems an extraordinarily low percentage - and I've seen this trend around my favourite blogs, whether they have large or smaller audiences. Perhaps nobody else thinks this is the case, in which case this post may end up discussing something unique to my blog, but do let me know (ha!) in the comments if you do or don't agree with my observation.
Personally, I always find it hard to realise that people have read a post if they don't comment. Although I see that my blog is getting however many thousand hits a week, in my head it's only the tens of commenters who register. That's not intended to be a gripe, it's just an illumination of the curious way my mind works - but perhaps yours does too?
I want to write in praise of comments. Like many bloggers, I am passionate about the community in blogging - I beat the drum for community, and try to get involved as much as possible. That's why I join in with readalongs, or start my own; that's why I have run three series of My Life in Books so enthusiastically, and why I celebrate people like Kim, who is currently running a series of Bloggers' Best Books of 2012. Obviously a lot of blogging is necessarily done alone, and presents an individual's take on their personal reading life - but the reason we're all writing and reading on the internet, instead of jotting our thoughts in a notebook, is because we want to share the experience with others.
When I'm reading other people's blogs, all too often I forget how important the comment box is. Today's post is directed at myself, as much as anyone else. I read the post with interest, and appreciate the bloggers' perception or humour. I might well jot down the title of the book somewhere, or even head straight off and buy it. But, although I comment a fair amount (as do many of you), too often I move off somewhere else without having written anything. It's a bit like leaving a party without thanking the hostess.
The comment box is a portal. It stops the blogger being isolated, and brings the reader to their side. It makes what might seem the loneliest of pursuits into a two-way conversation and a bustling world of long-distance friends. Sometimes it adds information to the exchange, and that is wonderful; mostly it just adds appreciation or recognition - or even contradiction, which is, in fact, another form of recognition. Sometimes I think, "But I don't have anything to say." And what I probably mean is, "I don't have any personal knowledge on this topic", which isn't the same thing at all. A comment needn't be the product of research. A comment, any comment, demonstrates the time, energy, and thought put into writing is worthwhile - but is also rewards the reading time; it puts the reader in dialogue with the writer, and it elevates them both. Even a humble "this sounds interesting" feels like a warm smile, and a "great review" like a bearhug.
Perhaps it is because there are so many blogs now, and people don't want to scatter their responses too prolifically. Perhaps (more prosaically) it is because signing up and word verification have got so much more complicated. But, on behalf of myself and every other blogger out there, I want to champion the commenter and laud the comment box. It is the lifeblood of the blogosphere, and I apologise for forgetting that myself. I'll be making a New Year's Blog Resolution to comment more often as I read around the blogosphere, and maybe some of you will too. Perhaps some of you have never commented on a blog before - perhaps 2013 can be the year you step across the great divide! I'd love to know the thoughts of any blogger or blog-reader, on the topic of comments? I'd hate for that side of blogging to slope away - let's continue to support one another, and make blogging the wonderful, intelligent, friendly, joyous, constructive conversation it can be.