Tuesday, September 01, 2009


The Function of Book Blogging at the Present Time

Newspaper book-review pages are going the way of the sestina and the villanelle. Is it utopian to hope that book bloggers, an unregulated bunch, can fill the cultural void? Skeptics claim blogs long ago lost their luster, back in the good old days, even though the word blog turned an impish ten years old just a few months ago.

Anecdotal Evidence and A Commonplace Blog asked a number of book bloggers to speculate about the past, present, and future of this youngest of literary genres. Their replies will be posted to Anecdotal Evidence and A Commonplace Blog over the next several days and (in most cases) cross-posted to the contributor’s own blog.

The symposiasts were asked nine questions to nudge them into reflection:

• What are the non-electronic precursors of book blogging?

• Who do you look toward for inspiration and models?

• How does book blogging differ from print counterparts such as book reviews?

• How do you respond to this statement?—Blogging is just another hobby, like stamp collecting or hockey.

• How has the experience of blogging changed the way you write?

• What about the sometimes vicious nature of the beast?—the ad hominem attacks, and the widespread tendency to confuse harsh disagreement with such ad hominem attacks.

• Some say the golden age of blogging has already passed, that blogging has failed to fulfill its early promise; and the evidence which is given is that no one becomes famous from blogging any longer. Do you agree?

• In a recent blog column, the technology writer Michael S. Malone suggests that a handful of bloggers have “earned huge audiences, while millions of others have not,” because readers have learned to trust the more popular bloggers “to either consistently entertain us, or we trust their judgment in selecting interesting items for us to read, or we trust that their world view is just like our own and their ability to enunciate those views even better.” Do you agree? Does this explain why no book blogger has earned a huge audience?

• Are book bloggers wise or foolish to include political commentary?

At the end of the symposium, Patrick Kurp and I will offer our own reflections on the subject, summarizing, synthesizing, and perhaps even drawing up a manifesto for bloggers–think of it as a sestina or maybe a villanelle—who wish to join us in storming the gates of literary culture.

We hope our readers will join the conversation by adding their comments, criticisms, gripes, insults, congratulations, proposals, propositions, rejections, and giggles. And we hope you look forward as much as we do to reading and discussing our symposiasts’ ideas on The Function of Book Blogging at the Present Time. The first contribution, from Walter Aske of Elberry’s Ghost is posted at Anecdotal Evidence. Look for it there.


Art Durkee said...

I don't see much difference between print and online, personally. Except perhaps that online can be snarkier purely because a reviewer is not beholden to anyone but their own opinion.

But does that mean the ad hominem attacks are worse online than they ever were in print? Hardly. Anyone who thinks that needs to read historical artistic criticism—for example, Nicolas Slonimsky's "A Lexicon of Musical Invective," which consists of bad reviews of great music—and they will soon realize that not much has changed at all. The entire of Walter Winchell, similarly, can be seen as ad hominem.

The only thing that makes things seem snarkier online than in print is the ease and speed with which one is able to toss off a heated reply. It's all too easy to hit the Reply button in the heat of the moment. In other words, the technology makes it perhaps too easy to reply in emotional haste, rather than requiring one to have slowed down and thought about one's reply before committing it to text. This is an effect of the medium, not any fundamental change in either human nature or in the nature of discourse. (It's surprising to me how many online literary types seem to really miss this basic point about the medium itself. I guess most of them haven't read McLuhan, or even Hugh Kenner.)

Anonymous said...

The Denver Bibliophile responds http://denverbibliophile.blogspot.com/2009/09/book-blogging-present-and-future.html

Ms Baroque said...

These are really interesting questions. I've been reading a lot of NON-book blogs lately and I can tell you that huge audiences seem to love blogs about how to get rich blogging, cleverly disguised as being blogs about "writing" (blog "content" [sic], so you can get rich writing your blog). And politics, of course. And anything technological will have mass numbers. An Oprah-style book blog might be able to do it, but at that point you're aiming *at* the numbers, not the books. I'm not sure how huge an audience a book blog actually needs - and influence isn't all about numbers. Better to be really engaged, think straight, get it right.

As for the review pages, well, the downfall of the blogs can be a kind of amateurish enthusiasm, and I've seen bloggers get a little too excited that they'd been sent a free book. To some extent, in reviewing the current crop, they are working for free for the publishers, this is true. But the fact is that there are all kinds of book blogs, and they don't all replicate, or even aim to replicate, the reviews pages.

Some of them, including some on your blogroll, like say Maud Newton and Mark Sarvas, are just as professional - are written by journalists and writers - and do a better job than the reviews pages are ABLE to do. There isn't really much in the UK that's like that; we're not as slick. Maybe it's because the market's smaller over here.

(And by the way, here in England there are poets old and young still writing sestinas and villanelles...)

I'll link to this, and look forward to reading your symposium results.

Ms Baroque said...

By the way, you might be interested in this fascinating thing:


cgk said...

Interesting venture -- but it's too bad you begin with the assumption that newspaper book coverage and blogs are two separate things. I don't think so -- but I realize I'm biased. I blog about books at Jacket Copy for the LA Times.