I'm still not moved. However, I am now curious to read future essays and op-ed pieces posted on their blog. Specifically, I wonder what the new arguments for saving book reviews in print will be.
The print vs. pixels issue reminds me of the "Introducing the Book" video that made the rounds a while back. I wonder if Gutenberg had to suffer through so much criticism for his revolutionary technology.
Right now, I'm not sure what to make of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). I began reading their blog, Critical Mass, for news and information about books I might want to read. In the United States alone, something like 175,000 titles are published each year, and even if I had unlimited time, I'd never be able to browse them all to determine the ones I should add to my repertoire. The critic does the work for me by flagging the newest releases, culling the good from the bad, and pointing out important works.
Although I look at reviews, I'm not much interested in them as a genre of writing. For my taste, some tend to be a bit too long and a bit too heavy on critical analysis. Rather than read thoroughly, I do a quick scan because my interest lies in finding out the name of the book and author, a description of the plot, and whether or not the prose is worth my time. Frankly, I don't need to spend time with 3,000 words before deciding to buy a book and I don't need a critic to set the standard for my taste or influence my opinion. After all, I maintain this litblog because I love reading and have plenty of opinions of my own.
With the decline of book coverage in newspapers, the NBCC has launched a campaign to save reviewing. So now when I visit Critical Mass, I don't hear much about books. Instead, they fill their space with news of layoffs and the disappearance of stand-alone book sections. They tell me critics are the front line to dialogue about books. They flaunt the superiority of print over pixels. They say frothed rantings of litbloggers are inferior to the measured opinions of professional critics. And they believe reviews in newspapers bring prestige to authors while reviews on blogs, written by the book buyers to share passion for reading, are insignificant.
What am I to think? I am both a reader and a blogger. As a reader, I want to know about books. As a blogger, I have an interest in other blogs. Visiting Critical Mass is a natural fit, but the very reason why I was drawn to their site—book blogging—has been replaced by frantic pleas to save their jobs. And most of the arguments behind their cries disparage things I do every day, find valuable, and enrich my life. How is such a tactic supposed to engage my sympathies for their predicament?
The newspaper is clearly important to me because I am a paid subscriber to New Jersey's The Star-Ledger. I enjoy its well-rounded smatterings of international, national, state, and local news. Since I subscribe to their plan for extended coverage of Morris County, it arrives at the end of my driveway on Sundays and Thursdays. Two days a week are enough because I'd never be able to keep up with a daily.
The Star-Ledger does not have a stand-alone book section. On Sundays, they offer a books page covering four or five titles through a combination of staff and wire articles. But I don't subscribe because of books. If this page were to disappear, I'd sadly make a note and go on reading the rest of the paper. However, I would drop The Star-Ledger like a hot rock if they eliminated their local subscription plans or cut back on coverage of my county. I'm sure the Daily Record wouldn't mind picking up my business.
I don't regularly go to the Los Angeles Times or Chicago Tribune for news, so I'm not sure why I should concern myself with changes in their book coverage. If readers buy these papers specifically for their book sections, I can certainly see reasons for upset. They should complain to management or cancel their subscriptions.
In terms of job losses among journalists, I also have personal reasons for not caring much. During a previous life, I worked for a book publisher under a large media parent company with holdings in newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet. After eight years in books, I transferred to an online group. Two years later, my group was sold to another, larger media conglomerate which proceeded to lay us off one by one because we failed to bring in enough business to justify our existence. There was no hue and cry from sister companies, including the newspapers. I and my colleagues moved on to other jobs, and I have no doubt critics would do the same.
Much of the talk I've seen regarding the NBCC campaign boils down to saving criticism for criticism's sake, but I can't jump on the bandwagon. A newspaper is a business in the business of making money. If book sections fail to draw ample revenue or readership, of course there will be cutbacks. Asking us to sign a petition is a meaningless, albeit virtuous, gesture. If you really want to save book coverage in the newspapers you buy, cancel your subscription and tell them you're doing so because of failing book coverage. Or gather up the masses to demand stand-alone book reviews and subscription plans for that section. Or stop buying books from booksellers and publishers who never advertise in your paper and write letters explaining why you're no longer interested in their selections. Find a way to protest with your dollars.
And shame on the NBCC. In one breath, they trivialize the Internet and blogging. In the next, they ask for my help using the very media they scorn. Sorry, but I'm not moved.
Although spring has finally begun here, nighttime temperatures are still cold enough to require use of the furnace. After staggering out of bed this morning, I heard the heat kick on and I hate paying for heat. I decided to warm up the house by starting a fire in the wood-burning stove and needed some newspaper. I'm always behind on it, so I finally pulled the protective yellow baggie off Sunday's Star-Ledger in order to burn the sections I skip: Sports, Autos, and Real Estate.
The main news story, taking up the most prime spot on the front page, was "Harry Potter's Disappearing Act." How sad for poor, broken-legged, rib-fractured, stuck-in-the-hospital New Jersey Governor Corzine to be bumped to the side by Harry Potter. Corzine did get two front page articles: one on his speeding driver's affair with a married woman and the other about his staff's anxiousness to return him to power. But I didn't care. As I skipped the Corzine articles to read about Harry, I noted the subheading,"Even as he gets ready to take his leave, the wizard has the power to create wonder," and it made me chuckle. Clearly, on that particular day, a fictional character was a more powerful figure than a very real governor.
I'm not too much of a Harry Potter fan. Although I own the first five and plan on picking up the sixth now that the paperback can be found at discount prices, I've only read the first two. Eventually, I'll get around to finishing the entire series, so I'm not dying to find out what ultimately happens in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The Star-Ledger article, though, does a good job rounding up Harry's impact on the world and brought a few new facts to my attention:
By the time the seventh book is published, "Pottermonium" will have lasted 3,677 days (or 10 years), 4,195 pages, and 19.7 lbs.
There are 325 million copies of the first six books in print. In terms of numbers, they are only beaten by the Bible and "Quotations from Chairman Mao."
Most of the time, people drop their writing into it and, when they don't get the result they expect, declare it to be wrong, wrong, wrong. Yet, a lot of its users still find it and its analysis to be a fun time waster. Despite having written the program, I didn't come up with the algorithm and believe that the Genie works no better than the flip of a coin. However, I don't think it to be a complete time waster since there actually is some academic study that went into it.
In the most basic terms, the computational linguists behind the algorithm, Koppel and Argamon, took a bunch of fiction and looked for trends based on gender. Using complicated formulas, they determined that male writers tended to write more about specific things like an apple, a book, or the car. In contrast, female writers wrote about connections to things like my apple, your book, or our car. The nouns themselves (apple, book, car) didn't matter much but the preceding qualifier, whether an article (a, an, the) or possessive (my, your, our), did.
Although I think you really can't figure out whether a writer is male or female based on writing, I still believe that the linguists' algorithm has useful applications. I have received emails from several authors saying that they have used it to help make their female characters come across as being more female and vice versa. Now, Customer Experience Crossroads sees it as another tool for tailoring marketing to target market: "We don't all communicate in the same way. Worth considering when you think about customer experience."
Although BookBlog began as a book club, no membership is required to participate since the focus has moved more toward meaningful discussion. The more voices and points of view we have, the better our understanding will be of each featured title.
The Wasp Factory is a fantastically disturbing book that brings to a head the question of nature versus nurture. Narrator Frank Cauldhame is by his own admission a naughty boy who runs around the isolated island killing bunnies and wreaking havoc. He does boyish stuff like blowing things up and having private wars using any living creature he can find. By all means, he is very masculine in his behavior. He has grandiose ideas of secret powers that he can usually control, but he admits that sometimes these powers are even beyond his command. He has a far-fetched imagination, creating a fantasy world where everything has dark names like his catapult, “the black destroyer,” and areas of the island called “sacrifice poles,” “snake park,” and “bomb circle.” The title of the book comes from the “wasp factory” he created in order to predict the future.
Frank’s family is very strange. His father lives off what is left of the family wealth and is an eccentric ex-hippy. He and Frank seem to have an OK enough relationship, even though Frank knows his father has been spending most of his life telling lies which seem to be for just the heck of it. Frank’s mother abandons him, adding to his hatred of women, which turns ironic as we discover the end of the story. Frank also has a brother, Eric, who escapes from a sanitarium. Eric had been put away for setting dogs on fire and scaring the local children by stuffing worms and maggots into his mouth.
Note: If you have not yet read this book, SPOILERS appear below.
At the end of the book, we find out that Frank is actually female. His father uses an attack by a dog, in which Frank supposedly loses his testicles and most of his penis, as an experiment. Born a girl, Frank’s father pumps her full of steroids and goes as far to create a fake set of male genitalia out of wax. His father obviously has his own issues, but why did he do this?
There are so many strange aspects worth examining in this book. I would first like to discuss Frank’s claim that he has murdered three people. Frank is not a reliable narrator; he has an overly active imagination and a grandiose idea of himself. He claims to have taken his first victim at the age of six. He supposedly killed his cousin with an Adler snake as revenge for the previous year when his cousin killed their bunnies with Eric’s homemade blow torch. Also, Frank claims to have encouraged his younger brother Paul to blow himself up with a bomb found on the beach and to have made an enormous kite allowing his cousin Esmeralda to fly away and never be seen again.
Has Frank really done these things? We do know he has a taste for killing animals, which psychologists often say is a sign of a future serial killer. Could the cause have been the male hormones? Or perhaps Eric does all the killing while Frank tries to take credit for it, and maybe this is the real reason why Eric was sent away. Could the deaths all have been just freakish accidents that occurred when Frank was around? What do you think?
And I bet Vonnegut is looking down and loving it. Mastermind and author Eric Spitznagel explains:
The idea was cooked up several months ago, over far too many beers in a San Francisco bar. Some writer friends and I were enjoying a post-book reading cocktail, and though I can't recall anymore who brought it up (or why), we began discussing Kurt Vonnegut's asshole. Not his actual asshole, of course. Rather, his infamous asshole doodle, which first appeared in his brilliant novel Breakfast of Champions. (link)
If I were to draw a picture of my own, ahem, anus, it would look something like this: · . I retain everything.
In a comment to yesterday's survey request, a reader (Hi, Fleela!) mentioned visiting BookBlog via RSS. Before recently, I hadn't paid much attention to the feeds served here because I didn't know of the many, many joys of RSS readers. When I began using Google Reader regularly, I discovered that this feed came up looking totally wonky. As a result, I signed up for FeedBurner and a nicely formatted feed can be found here:
If you're using an RSS reader right now, you might want to update your subscription through the above link. I subscribe to it myself—to make sure things look okay rather than read what I've just written—and I have yet to discover any wonky business.
In order to continue improving the site, please take a few moments to complete a demographic survey. It's completely anonymous and only takes a couple of minutes. Your participation is much appreciated.
When you love to read, buying books is a hard habit to break. Although I should put a moratorium on it, I can't seem to stop myself. Recently, I thought I might be able to scale back on purchases by getting a library card. After a few visits and online holdings searches, I am convinced there are no books in my local branch.
Last month, I received a few book shipments.
I really enjoyed The Wasp Factory, our discussion selection for next month. Typing "Iain Banks" into Bookins produced only one title, Whit, so I ordered it. Based on a recommendation from Zonker, who I still see as a connoisseur of SF because he knows way more about it than I do, I just added The Player of Games to my wish list. It's out of print, so we'll see if I manage to get it.
Another Bookins acquisition was Happiness by Will Ferguson, which is Brian's selection for June's discussion. I have read scattered passages, and it's pretty funny.
When I posted about the trailer for Intoxicated by John Barlow, I had mentioned typos and grammatical errors in his email. The author contacted me again and rightly pointed out that what I thought was a slip of grammar actually wasn't. My quick and imperfect reading skills were at fault, so I stand humbly corrected.
Intoxicated, a tale of addiction and madness in the Victorian countryside, hit the right target market with me. As I age, my bones increasingly creak and my muscles exponentially atrophy. I've learned valuable lessons in ensuring I can get out of bed in the morning, and now I mostly read about raucous behavior rather than engage in it. I began the book with much enthusiasm and appreciated its Charlotte Bronte references, but I have had to put it aside for required (and more lucrative) reading. I plan to return to it as soon as I get through the next two or three books.
A trip to the post office yesterday resulted in the reward of two books to add to the hundreds of others.
Back when I joined Bookins, a quick browse through their recent arrivals didn't yield many titles I wanted so I created a wish list. And then I promptly forgot all about it. To my surprise last week, Bookins sent an email saying that Crossing California by Adam Langer was on its way. I wasn't expecting it and, thankfully, I hadn't already acquired it from someplace else. Now that I'm reminded of the wish list, I should probably spend a little more time managing it to make sure duplicates don't unexpectedly show up in the mail. By the way, the book itself is in very good used condition with no water damage (a pet peeve) at all. Little things like this make me most happy.
A month or so ago, I received an email from Jeremy C. Shipp asking if I would consider his new book, Vacation, as a monthly discussion selection. If you can believe it, his email was the first of its kind. Sure, I receive lots of canned publicity requests sent out to distribution lists. But, in nearly five years of running BookBlog, no one else has ever asked about our monthly discussions. In any case, many thanks to Raw Dog Screaming Press for the review copy, which literally also had me screaming due to the massive paper cut I got upon ripping open the envelope. Vacation has jumped to the top of the TBR pile and will be my next book after finishing Remainder.
Speaking of review copies, I have a huge pile on the floor of my office. I do eventually want to get to most of them since I appreciate the efforts of those in publicity. When I was in publishing, I always wondered why the publicity department worked so hard for so little money and so much grief. My job sucked, too, but at least I got paid well since I had an impact on sales.
One review copy I want to get to is The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings. The uncorrected proof from Random House came packaged with a Hawaiian lei and pitched as summer reading. And I am so ready for summer. This title, a coming of age story, will be released in May 2007.
I'm also interested in Male of the Species by Alex Mindt, another uncorrected proof of a May release. Published by Delphinium Books and distributed by HarperCollins, it's a debut collection of short stories about the "befuddlement and yearning of fathers and their offspring as they attempt to connect across cultural and generational divides." Carl Lennertz of HarperCollins and Publishing Insider also included a handwritten note directing me to his post on the book. He loved it. Gender issues have been on my mind recently, so this is one I'll need to put within easy reach.
The relentlessly inventive mega-selling Scotsman has never feigned to suffer for his art. His latest turnaround time is slightly less staggering when considered in context - since his first, million-selling novel The Wasp Factory was published in 1984, he has settled into a routine of writing for a highly disciplined three months and taking the rest of the year off to pursue his perpetually adolescent interests in fast cars and fancy technology.
Banks is the Tarantino of the book world. In 1984 he became an overnight sensation when he published The Wasp Factory, the tale of a bored adolescent who murders three people, then amuses himself by mutilating animals. Short, violent and wilfully perverse, it divided the critics and became a cult classic.
After a five-year wait, The Steep Approach to Garbadale was published last month in the United Kingdom. Following are links to reviews of Banks's lastest novel...
So how is the ageing enfant terrible actually doing? On the surface, brilliantly. Whether writing science fiction or literary novels Banks commands sales and reviews that would turn other writers puce with rage, and carries the whole thing off as a kind of joke. But there are also signs that the extraordinary writing trajectory which began with The Wasp Factory (another dysfunctional family with dark secrets) in 1984 is faltering.
The Steep Approach to Garbadale is as good as anything Banks has ever written, if not better. It is the story of a young man's getting of wisdom, an oblique but observant history of Britain from the 1980s to the present day, and a great game of consequences. And he never does let on that 'spraint' is the word for otter dung.
No reader of Iain Banks's first novel, The Wasp Factory, has come away from it unscathed. The story of Frank Cauldhame, disturbed teenage founder of a private religion practised with murderous consequences in an isolated Scottish community, may suggest precursors -- elements of adolescent atavism lifted from William Golding's Lord of the Flies and a pervading atmosphere of sexual disgust that owes something to early Ian McEwan -- but the book's deadpan horror and casual nihilism unfold with a power that is Banks's alone. It remains, almost 25 years after publication, one of the best novels by any postwar Scottish author.
Chinua Achebe (born November 16, 1930) is a Nigerian novelist and poet, an esteemed and controversial literary critic, and one of the most widely read authors of the 20th century. He attended Government College in Umuahia from 1944 to 1947, and the University of Ibadan from 1948 to 1953. At the University of Ibadan, then known as the University of London, Achebe studied English, history and theology. A diplomat in the ill-fated Biafran government of 1967-1970, Achebe's work is primarily interested in African politics, the depiction of Africa and Africans in the West, and the intricacies of pre-colonial African culture and civilization, as well as the effects of colonialisation on African societies.
Things Fall Apart, was published in 1958, and is often considered among the finest novels ever written. Having sold over 10 million copies around the world, it has been translated into 50 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time, and is the recipient of over 30 honorary degrees as well as numerous awards for his work.
I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me.
At the north end of the island, near the tumbled remains of the slip where the handle of the rusty winch still creaks in an easterly wind, I had two Poles on the far face of the last dune. One of the Poles held a rat head with two dragonflies, the other a seagull and two mice. I was just sticking one of the mouse heads back on when the birds went up into the evening air, kaw-calling and screaming, wheeling over the path through the dunes where it went near their nests. I made sure the head was secure, then clambered to the top of the dune to watch with my binoculars.
Recently, The Guardian conducted a poll asking readers to name the books they can't live without, and The Wasp Factory is number 93. The discussion begins on April 23, 2007, so I hope you'll stop by to share your thoughts.
It's been one of those days. Due to sundry reasons, I haven't managed to finish a single thing. I worked on the site because all of its pages were recently converted to PHP, but got tired of looking at code. I began another post, but ran out of writing steam. I attempted to answer emails and respond to comments, but still suffered from issues with words. During the afternoon's pleasant weather, I managed to halfway put together a small rock garden before tiring of hauling rocks.
Although I feel like I did a lot of work today, I accomplished very little except for one thing. I have chosen a book for next month's discussion. The following is from the back cover copy of Remainder by Tom McCarthy:
A man is severely injured in a mysterious accident, receives an outrageous sum in legal compensation, and has no idea what to do with it.
Then, one night, an ordinary sight sets off a series of bizarre visions he can't quite place.
How he goes about bringing his visions to life—and what happens afterward—makes for one of the most riveting, complex, and unusual novels in recent memory.
Remainder is about the secret world each of us harbors within, and what might happen if we were granted the power to make it real.
Normally, I finish each book I choose to discuss before choosing it for discussion. I'm only a small way into Remainder, so choosing it seems fitting on a day of getting nothing done.
Despite dismissing Bookins based on a quick initial impression, Eddie found my post on book swapping interesting enough to check out each service. He eventually joined Bookins and asked me to also sign up so he could get referral points. I have since traded about a dozen titles through them, and here are some of the new impressions I have of the service.
Books I Have Shipped
By far, the best thing about Bookins is how easy it makes clearing out book clutter. Doing a quick look around, I currently possess more than 500 books and 0 bookshelves. As a result, books sit atop every flat surface, fill all the nooks and crannies in the house, and pile up based on a sorting system understood only by me. In my office, a stack doubles as an occasional table. In the living room, another stack is the perfect place to display trinkets at varying heights. I even have two piles of professional titles set up as a retaining wall to hold back the slippery slide of newspapers and magazines.
I'm not a collector. Nearly all of the above books haven't yet been read, and I plan to eventually get around to each of them. If I have finished a title and decide to give it away, it goes into one of two trading piles on top of the stereo. The first is dedicated to those in good condition for listing on Bookins while the other consists of the casualties. As an example of a casualty, I have a slightly bloodied (from a paper cut) copy of Zadie Smith's White Teeth. I'd never subject a stranger to such grossness, but relatives or friends, who aren't afraid of my pathogens, might want it.
After receiving notification from Bookins, shipping a book is as easy as putting it in an envelope and attaching a shipping label. Postage via media mail is prepaid, so no trip to the post office is necessary and it costs me nothing. If you have a lot of books to give away, Bookins is an incredibly convenient and economical way to find them new homes.
Books I Have Received
The quality of my purchases have varied. The first book received, Fahrenheit 451, is pristine and appears as though it has never been read. Both Whit and Auntie Mame have broken spines but are otherwise in very good condition. Election suffers from bargain bin syndrome with icky sticker residue on the front and permanent marker marring the bar code on the back. Speaking of this last title, the mode of delivery was sort of perplexing because the envelope didn't have a Bookins-generated label on it. Rather, the shipper hand wrote my address and paid the postage out-of-pocket.
I buy lots of used books, so most imperfections don't phase me. I can handle dirt, tears, broken spines, dog ears, stickers, and marginalia. However, my nerves can't handle sketchy bindings or water damage. Loose pages means I'll eventually lose some of them, and I find nothing more annoying than trying to separate and turn ripply pages or reading wavy lines of text. Both Happiness and Drinking, Smoking & Screwing arrived with water damage, and I wish Bookins had a feedback mechanism as a way to stop incoming shipments from those who think its okay to list items of iffy quality.
$3.99 for a used book plus shipping is reasonable, but I'd buy from them a whole lot more if they based their rates on actual shipping plus a nominal fixed fee. For example, media mail on a mass market paperback is $1.59. That means Bookins nets $2.41 per such a transaction and possibly more if the USPS gives them a volume discount. Although their profit margin is smaller on heavier items, they are poised to rake in a tidy sum while users do most of the work by populating, maintaining, and shipping the site's inventory. Just for contrast, eBay earns only $0.41 on an item listed at a penny and selling for four dollars.
Points are also needed to receive books. Number of points varies from title to title, and I'm not sure how they come up with their calculations. For users, it means you have to give in order to get. But Bookins doesn't make money unless its users get. It is in their best interest, then, for everyone to have lots of points to spend, so I have received freebies for joining, Christmas, and filling out a survey. I'm sure bonus point opportunities will continue to pop up, so I see no value in ever buying extra points at the outrageous cost of $1.00 each.
Despite some of my reservations about ordering through Bookins, giving away a book couldn't be easier or freer. It's the best service I've found for finding new homes for my books, of which I have more than the average person's excess. This reason alone is enough for me to continue using their service.
During n+1's "The Blog Reflex" controversy, I wrote a post stating that I tried to obtain a copy of the magazine in order to find out what all the fuss was about. Although a few litbloggers were frothing at the mouth, I didn't want to comment on the article's content, since I rarely make judgements based on hearsay. I visited several bookstores to no avail, and was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from n+1's subscriptions director with an offer of a copy. Last weekend, I finally found the time to go through it and pay special care to "The Intellectual Situation" (the entire piece) and "The Blog Reflex" (a subheading).
Here's a surprise: the tirade against literary bloggers that all the fuss was about is a humor piece. And quite a good one, actually. It's called The Intellectual Situation, and it contains calibrated tirades against email culture and cell phone culture ("Whatever Minutes") as well as blogs. What didn't come across in the quoted discussions about this piece is that the anonymous authors are partially mocking themselves. It's a cranky humor act -- "see how retro we are". I've heard the same routine in bars and restaurants many times, actually, so maybe the piece isn't as original as all that, but there are a few very funny lines.
He's absolutely right. It is a humor piece that also partially offers a somewhat self-deprecating take on its unnamed author, who reminisces about a time before technology became the standard mode through which we communicate. According to the nostalgic narrator, "What's odd about so many modern technological improvements is that they are achievements of human liberation in their emergency uses, and they decivilize in their daily use" (p. 9). In longing for the old ways, the narrator mentions savages (pre-technology) and barbarians (post-technology) and wonders if we are nothing more than a bunch of barbarians sacking civilization, armed with cell phones and computers.
The article's main idea focuses on how today's methods of communication are decivilizing society. With technology, correspondence moves at the lightening speed of bits and bytes via email, cellphones, blogs, and computers. However, thought—or the history of thought, at least— moves slowly. Email, as a nearly instantaneous medium, requires some speed. Take too long to reply and the original message could go stale; be too rash with choosing your words and your tone could offend. (And, boy, do I know this. I am both a tardy responder and frequent offender.) Public cell phone use by many compels others to also use their cell phones in public lest it be thought that they have no one tell what they are doing right now. The computer, a work machine, is also a recreational machine. Although the activity n+1 uses in its example is porn (My guess is shock value, but they may have been channeling Avenue Q.), the point is that the computer has become a paradox. It is both the way to work and goof off from work.
And then there are the blogs. Drawing a parallel to the Speaker's Corner revolutionary on a soapbox, the narrator eventually concludes: "So much typing, so little communication...It's incredible" (p. 7). Before reading the article, I assumed that it spent all of its effort disparaging litblogs because of the hyperbolic reaction by some litbloggers. On the contrary, the charge is a generalization against the millions upon millions of blogs out there. Lit- and news blogs are simply used as examples of the failure of the medium, which is also a paradox. News blogs sprung up as an alternative to mainstream media, but capital brought them into the very same mainstream they intended to criticize. Blogs were supposed to be the voice of the people, but the people are increasingly being silenced by dollars.
According the the article, the litblog is both an "accident waiting to happen to bloggers" and "the avant-garde of 21st-century publicity" (p. 6). For the former phrase, litblogs should contribute to serious criticism of literature but do not do this often enough because of the conversational tone of the medium. As for the latter, they should be an alternative to mainstream reviews but they sacrifice their independent voices for free books and clicks. If I think about ALL the blogs I have read mentioning literature (litblog, news blog, personal blog, whatever) and generalize, I can't disagree with either of these statements. Sturgeon's Law most certainly applies to blogging, literary or otherwise.
Over at The Reading Experience, Dan Green has written a thoughtful response to the article in terms of how its allegations applies to his site and those belonging to the uber-litbloggers. The Literary Saloon, in response to a statement by n+1's Keith Gessen, objects to being "tarred by one big brush" and goes on record to assert that they "rarely call people assholes." Both "The Blog Reflex" and Gessen's statements are generalities. But both counterpoints respond with inward specifics. Perhaps there is some merit to the article's idea that "lit-bloggers [have] become a self-sustaining community, minutemen ready to rise up in defense of their niches" (p. 7), but, frankly, I don't see how this is a bad thing.
At the conclusion of "The Blog Reflex" lies another paradox. Our nostalgic n+1 narrator bases some assumptions on the idea that no one reads litblogs.
A bottomless labor market exists in which the free activity of the mind gets bartered away for something even less nourishing than a bowl of porridge. And you can't dine off your inflated self-respect and popularity—not unless you get enough hits to sell advertising (p. 7).
So, let me get this straight. Litbloggers have sold their souls for a pittance? And we do this for self-respect and popularity because most of us do not get many hits? If we were to get enough hits to sell advertising, would we turn out like the news bloggers? And at that point, would we no longer be the voice of the independent critic but part of the mainstream capitalist machine? Oh, wait, aren't we already not independent because we've been bought for the price of a book (or in the case of this post, a free literary magazine)?
Rather than spin into a frenzy over the above, I'm going to go the blog route and counter a generalization with some navel-gazing. Because I do sell advertising, I know my own traffic very well. What's n+1's circulation? 5,000? 10,000? 20,000 readers each year? Such numbers, compared to the reach of BookBlog and many others, are the pittance, dear blogging friends. As a result, I see no need to get all worked up over a bit of criticism from down below.
Back in October, I wrote a post about book swapping that took swipes at four services. It included Bookins, which I dismissed after finding BAFAB (Buy a Friend a Book) on a links page. BAFAB is a made-up holiday, consisting of four weeks a year, that asks people to buy books for friends for no reason other than as a thoughtful gift. I'm not a supporter, mostly because I think friends should buy/loan friends books all the time. Designating special week for it, and four a year no less, is a bit much.
Debra Hamel, BAFAB's creator, recently saw that old post and took exception to it. Now months later, I realize what I wrote was kind of harsh, but I'm not sure I agree with Debra's assessment that "marydell of bookblog.net went into a strange rant against, well, me." First off, it wasn't about Debra Hamel, the person, since I know little about her. I simply am not a fan of her reviews or BAFAB. And, I'm pretty sure I did not rant. Although choice words were used, anyone who's ever had some real life contact with me has likely seen me really lose it and really start ranting. It isn't pretty...or a flattering portrait.
I never insinuated that BAFAB was a "cash cow" because I have no issue with anyone attempting to earn money from a website. I certainly do it here since the bandwidth bill is more than I care to pay out of pocket. Also being an Amazon Associate and knowing their schedule (which has since changed), the timing of BAFAB just seemed suspicious to me at the time. But, hey, it's BAFAB Week right now, so go buy a book and do it through BAFAB's recommendations or enter a contest.
In any case, I have no objections to Debra's defense of herself and "holiday" by writing a counter-post. After reading through the comments on her site, I noted that a BAFAB fan had wanted to respond directly to me. I generally close comments to avoid spam, but I have reopened this one and invite anyone to go ahead and praise BAFAB over there. As visitors google "book swapping" and land on the page, they'll also get to see counter-comments. I'm all for debate and exposure to varying points of view.
Although I have no problem with Debra's displeasure with me, I am kind of bothered that she felt compelled to post her response in three places: the BAFAB site, her personal site, and MetaxuCafe. For my part, I said what I said here and only here. BookBlog wasn't even a member of MetaxuCafe back in October, so my harsh words didn't reach beyond the audience of my own site. Dragging me through the mud in front of the entire litblogging community seems, like BAFAB, a bit much. Regardless, I have apologized to Debra since my intent was never to hurt her feelings and I am sincerely sorry if she took it that way.
Since October, some of my original assumptions have changed. BAFAB is still not for me, but I better see the consequences of sharing unpositive thoughts without better-tempered language. I'm also now a member of Bookins. Despite my criticism, Eddie still found it to be worthwhile enough to check out, and he made me join so he could get referral points. So far, I have traded about a dozen books through them. I have some additional thoughts based on the experience, both pro and con, which I'll share at a future time.
Although regular posting has recently been light around here, I have been concentrating efforts behind the scenes. A new post is also about halfway completed and I have several topics on the burner for future content. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, the rest of this post relates to some site business. The following item relates to a confirmation for Burst Media regarding advertising placement on the site:
Thank you for your interest in Burst Media.
In order to complete the evaluation of your application, we require verification of your association with the web property(s) on the application.
Please post a copy of this entire e-mail message to the domain and reply with a link to its location.
If you do not respond to this request in a timely fashion, we will assume you no longer wish to have a relationship and we will reject the
We eagerly await your response.
The following item relates to a confirmation for any future advertising being placed on BookBlog:
"Placement of advertising on BookBlog is handled by Joel Sullivan on behalf of Hardcover Blogs."
Today, we are pleased to announce the first ever Litty Awards, the first annual award for litbloggers; bloggers that have worked hard to keep you informed of the latest book news, provide their opinions and insights, and feed your brain with a regular intellectual banquet.
Thank you, Book Chronicle, for shortlisting BookBlog for a Litty Award. Since the list names many blogs I admire and know are of much better quality than our site, I don't hold much hope of winning any of the categories. However, I do appreciate the recognition and am sincerely humbled by being included in such fine company.