Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You Should Be Ashamed of Yourselves, Book Bloggers

How dare you make up your own mind about the books you read and the authors who write those books? Where do you get the audacity to write all that meaningless tripe that you try to pass off as a book review? What makes you think that what you have to say is of interest to anyone but other brain dead book bloggers like you?

Adam Kirsch, New York Sun columnist, has about had enough of you. So cut it out.

In fact, despite what the bloggers themselves believe, the future of literary culture does not lie with blogs — or at least, it shouldn't. The blog form, that miscellany of observations, opinions, and links, is not well-suited to writing about literature, and it is no coincidence that there is no literary blogger with the audience and influence of the top political bloggers. For one thing, literature is not news the way politics is news — it doesn't offer multiple events every day for the blogger to comment on. For another, bitesized commentary, which is all the blog form allows, is next to useless when it comes to talking about books. Literary criticism is only worth having if it at least strives to be literary in its own right, with a scope, complexity, and authority that no blogger I know even wants to achieve. The only useful part of most book blogs, in fact, are the links to long-form essays and articles by professional writers, usually from print journals.

Still, it is important to distinguish between the blog as a genre and the Internet as a medium. It is not just possible but likely that, one day, serious criticism will find its primary home on the Web. The advantages — ease of access, low cost, potential audience — are too great to ignore, even if our habits and technology still make it hard to read long essays on the computer screen. Already there are some web publications — like Contemporary Poetry Review (, to which I occasionally contribute — that match anything in print for seriousness of purpose. But there's no chance that literary culture will thrive on the Internet until we recognize that the ethical and intellectual crotchets of the bloggers represent a dead end.
Does Mr. Kirsch feel threatened by the hundreds of literary bloggers out there who have formed a new literary community of their own? Is he unhappy because there is an audience for less pretentious literary opinion than one finds in print journals? Or is he bothered by the fact that bloggers figured out how to use the internet to discuss books and writing before the big boys in print journalism realized what was happening? Is he really the literary snob he appears to be?

Only Mr. Kirsch knows for sure.

I have to chuckle about this one-sided war between professional critics and amateur book bloggers because that's exactly what it is: one-sided. Book bloggers could not care less. I've never seen a blogger argue that "the future of literary culture" lies with blogs. Book bloggers are not that pretentious and I'm amazed that what we do bothers people like Mr. Kirsch so much and so easily. The only thing that should bother him is that book bloggers have probably done more to sell books, simply by talking about them and spreading the word about lesser known authors and books, than all the pros who review the same handful of books and authors every Sunday.

Well done, book bloggers. Keep up the good work.
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