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 (cprw.com), 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.

25 comments:

  1. I actually just read a post on this same article over at Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic. Guess you two are thinking alike today.

    You used the word I think of every time I read an article about bloggers written by a literary critic: pretentious. It's just amazing what a high opinion they have of themselves. I have purchased and read books because of blog reviews. That is good for the literary world. Seems that critics are not advocates for literature, they are advocates only for themselves and their profession.

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  2. Thanks for pointing me to Stephanie's post, Matt. She's had some very interesting comments over there.

    It appears that we all agree that "pretension" is part of the problem...it surprises me that these "bright" guys don't see that they make such easy targets of themselves when they write that kind of crap.

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  3. I think Mr. Kirsch and his like-minded print reviewers are terrified that the bloggers will blog them right out of a job. Why else bother with us?

    Pretentious is just the right word here, Sam - or what I like to refer to as literary snobbery. I don't know how I've managed to form an opinion without all the special training that Mr. Kirsch has had *sigh* Clearly I am not qualified :)

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  4. Sam, it seems that "great minds" think alike!! Thanks for stopping by!

    And yes, I do agree with you on everyhing you said! First of all, I do think many literary critics feel threatened by us "Nobody's" that are out in the blog world. I do feel most of them are too pretentious (great adjective!) AND Literary snobs to boot! I posted an article a few days ago about Stephen King and how he was snubbed by Harold Bloom. This is Literary Criticism at it's worst.

    And I really like how you used the word "Community". I love that concept, because that's how I feel. I love the community of book bloggers out there. I feel we are a part of something, and I value their opinions!

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  5. All I can figure, Wendy, is that we are somehow a threat to people like Kirsh. Otherwise, he wouldn't use one of his "so valuable" print columns to dump on us this way. :-)

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  6. Hi, Stephanie. The more I think about this column, the more I think that "the gatekeepers" are unhappy that we've somehow or another figured out the combination to the lock on the gate. It's suddenly too crowded for them in there.

    "Community" is important to me because I come to know and trust the people in that community. I don't have to agree with every opinion I read, but because I know a little about the people in the community I soon learn the ones who share my reading tastes and they begin to steer me toward books I would have never tried otherwise. That's important.

    As you said, too many professional critics allow their own prejudices and snobbery to taint their writing...something Kirsch accuses book bloggers of doing. That's more than a bit hypocritical, IMO.

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  7. Ugh. It just makes my skin crawl with annoyance (to say the least) when I read articles written in the same vein as Mr. Kirsch's. I've really been trying to stay out of this debate since it seems so incredibly useless. Why attack the very people who would support you?

    I'm not going to say anymore because I've already commented about on this on a few other blogs and frankly the more I think about it, the angrier I get. Suffice it to say, I don't like being told I'm too dumb to have an opinion. Oh, but buy our books and read our articles!

    Imani at The Books of My Numberless Dreams also blogged about this today. Great minds are thinking alike today... : )

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  8. Thanks for the link, Ms. Peyton...that was a funny response to Kirsh's piece and I hope that he sees it and realizes how counter productive his public whining is...and WE are supposedly the dumb ones. :-)

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  9. Wow, this guy's so bilious he makes Richard Schickel look like our best friend! And he doesn't know anything about blogs, either. Who told him that bite-sized commentary is all the blog form allows? Furthermore, I've read some literary criticism that's so top-heavy with scholarly pretension that the words are dead on arrival on the page. All of this boils down to the little-mindedness that unfortunately, one sees so often in academia.

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  10. I hope that "little-mindedness" of his doesn't work its way into too many of his columns, bybee. It's not too professional, is it? :-)

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  11. I have to agree not only with you, Sam, but w/ JS and Imani too. Who on earth reads all these professional book critics besides people who love to read, and a subset of those people are those like us who like to write about their reading. Frankly, I would have considered Mr. K a member of our community until he exiled himself from it. I'm an amateur - I fully admit it! I read for the love of it and I write about it for the same reason! How do the multitudes who read my blog or yours hurt the seriousness of his criticism?
    I think we should ban all post-theater and post-movie discussions too. It's unprofessional, I mean, my god - do they have an MFA? Do these people wielding their unprofessional opinions around the streets and cafes have a license? They could put out someone's eye with those things!

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  12. Ted, that's the saddest thing about this so called war between bloggers and the pros...it didn't have to happen. It was generated entirely by a few snobbish "big shots" who for some misguided reason have decided to attack a whole community of avid readers rather than embracing them as part of the overall team. That is a tragic mistake on the part of those guys and it only serves to make them look totally ridiculous...which I suppose that they are. Such childishness tells me more than I ever wanted to know about people like Kirsch.

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  13. Wow, a War On Bloggers - we out here with our Computers of Mass Destruction should be trembling! Blog sites are like cells hiding in the mountainous terrain of Bookistan, waiting to be flushed out by the Flag Wavers Of Liberty and Freedom like our noble correspondent!

    ***

    Hey, Sam: couldn't help noticing that you wrote "could not care less". You are the first American I have ever seen to write/say that instead of "could care less". Sure you haven't been reading to much stuff with thepublication line Harmondsworth"Penguin etc - ie from Across The Ditch???

    And would you say "couldn't care less", which is what we would say (cf "could not...")

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  14. Looks like they're finally on to us, Sally. I knew we couldn't stay under their radar forever...god help us now. :-)

    You hit on one of my pet peeves, BTW, with the "could not care less" vs. "could care less" thing. It really ticks me off when people say they "could care less" when they want to show their ultimate disdain for something. It's all like using a double-negative in the sense that it entirely changes the meaning of their words. But I've long given up trying to argue the point with anyone..."couldn't care less" is the way that I would usually phrase it.

    I lived in the U.K. for four years and traveled there and worked with Brits and lots of Australian engineers for a dozen years. They don't seem to make that mistake. And you're right, I read a lot of stuff published on the other side...that sure screws up my spelling because I can hardly remember at times which is the American spelling of certain words...and my spell check has both versions now. Yikes.

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  15. I read the book blogs because they're NOT professional book reviews. They're ordinary people telling me if a book's good or not. It's "word-of-mouth" by internet, and it's ALWAYS been my experience that word-of-mouth sells better than official reviews.

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  16. I totally agree, Annie. Heck, there are plenty of times that I read professional reviews and come away with no idea whether or not I might enjoy the book being reviewed. Those fellows sometimes get so bogged down in technical issues and literary history that doesn't interest me that they put me to sleep and dissuade me from ever picking up the book in question.

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  17. Here's an interesting post - the last couple of paragraphs were the most interesting... http://bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2007/06/finding-cracks-in-edifice-tim-brown-on.html

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  18. Thanks for the link, Wendy. Interesting, indeed...

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  19. Makes you wonder why they are bothering, doesn't it, Chris?

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  20. Hello! I actually just posted in response to Kirsch as well - I suppose he's getting a lot of feedback from his hated bookblogs. Great site you have here!

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  21. Hi, bibliolatrist, glad you stopped by...and thanks for the kind words.

    I suspect that Kirsch has had one heck of a lot of feedback, but he strikes me as the kind of guy who will just say that bloggers proved his point by making all of those "illiterate" responses. I think that he sees only what he wants to see, and sees nothing that would disprove his ignorant assertions.

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  22. Thanks, Becky. You know, I really do believe that book bloggers are doing a good thing for writers and readers alike. We spread the word about books that never get reviewed in major print publications and we do it because we love the books and authors. Our enthusiasm shows and it makes others curious to see for themselves what has us so excited.

    I seldom get that excited by reading a long, obscurely written review that I have to struggle to understand. I trust the word of readers in the blogging community because I know that I have more in common with their tastes than I do with some snob like Kirsch who really doesn't care about readers like us.

    What I still don't understand is why Kirsch and others like him are so eager push us aside. Do they really believe that we'll return to them for the advice and information that we find everyday on the web.

    That genie is out of the bottle now...and he's not eager to return to it.

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  23. Have you heard about the Early Reviewer's program at Library Thing? It is unique as far as I can tell - Library Thing has negotiated with Random House to release a certain number of Advanced Readers Editions of some of their books and they are giving them to Library Thing users to read and review there, but are ENCOURAGING cross posts to their blogs! We are being told if the program goes as planned (ie: lots of reviews get written and RH is happy), that they will be making these deals with other big publishers. Given the scope of the conversation here at your blog, I thought this was interesting. So here we have a big name in publishing, wooing bloggers for reviews. Obviously the publishers think the litblogs have some pull when it comes to encouraging sales. Whaddya think about that!?!?! By the way, I was one of the lucky bloggers to snag a book in the first draw: Peony in Love, by Lisa See.

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  24. Wendy, I think that the way that publishers have embraced book bloggers may be one of the main things bugging some of the snobbier pros in the pack.

    I'm an avid user of Library Thing, too, and just completed a review of Forgive Me, a book that I received through that Early Reviewers program. I'd love to see that idea take off because I really enjoyed the book and probably would have never read it otherwise.

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