Sooner or later every book-blogger suffers a bout of restless leg syndrome. The self-doubt. The hand-wringing. The earnest resolutions. Darby M. Dixon III is better than anyone at capturing the tones of a blogger’s existential Angst (h/t: The Millions).
Dixon’s answer to the why-O-why-do-I-do-this stumper seems inadequate, but only at first. “[W]hat that reason for blogging is, is that I’ve got a passion for fiction and that that’s something other people ought to know about,” Dixon writes. (People ought to know about the fiction, he means, not the passion.) The answer seems inadequate to him too, because it does nothing whatever “to nullify or eliminate any of the sources of gut-wrenching guilt that accompany every half-hearted post, every one-line entry, every radio-silent week (or two) (or three).” But it does, as he puts it, “leave the door open” to an effect that is not altogether negligible. “What it means”—what his passion for fiction, translated into blogging means—“is that there’s more chance than zero chance that some of what’s in my head might make someone reach for a book that they might not have reached for otherwise.”
Even though I have only been keeping this Commonplace Blog for eight-four days, or have only reached the seventy-seven post mark (which seems to be the standard unit of measure for these things), I agonize about it on a daily basis. Since I am an academic, I worry that it doesn’t “count” as publication. I am afraid that I am wasting my time. I fret that no one is reading the blog; and then, when someone does read it, I fret about my reputation, my immortal part, about being called “silly” and a “racist.” (Epitaph: “he was a silly racist.”) I wonder if I am showing too much ankle, or perhaps should show a little more. I am assailed by a sudden lack of confidence that the books I have been praising recently—Francine Prose’s Goldengrove, Roland Merullo’s Fidel’s Last Days, Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels—are the really important books of our day. I torture myself with the thought that I am the only one in creation who drops the article in a book title when it follows a possessive. (Revised epitaph: “he was a silly racist stickler.”)
There are compensations, however. To blog is to get out from under the heavy hand of editors who believe they can write better than you. In recent years I’ve had editors alter my sentences to “read better,” and have opened the print version to find that allusions or metrical language or parallel structure or sometimes even grammar had disappeared—and cliché or nonce words had replaced them—because the editors failed to recognize them. To blog means also that you need never compose another begging letter. You don’t have to recommend yourself for a plumb assignment any more. If you want to review a book you review it—even if it were published half a century ago. And as a result, no more envy. No more opening the book pages and saying, “Why did they give it to that yutz? What about me?” (No more book pages at all any more, or vanishingly few, but that’s another story.) You got something to say, you go ahead and say it.
Patrick Kurp, who has been at this for going on three years, wrote in response to the anxious noises that I was making:
I am not saying that we book-bloggers serve them, but better them than ourselves. As long as there is more chance than zero chance that some reader somewhere will discover that, even if she is a minority of a minority she is not a minority of one, perhaps this blogging is not an utter self-indulgence.