Monday, May 7, 2007

Book Reviewers and Bloggers: Can't We All Just Get Along?

by Jami Attenberg

This is the first time I've ever blogged anywhere but my own site (; I'll get to that tomorrow), but when you write a book (Instant Love, a collection of linked short stories now out in paperback; there, now you know everything you need to know about me) you get asked to do all sorts of exciting things. I kind of feel like I'm cheating on my old site though, like I'm sort of a blog trollop. Let's just say I have a lot of love to give. On the internet.

Anyway, much has been made lately (well, everyone always talks about blogging like it's some crazy thing the kids are doing these days, but it was just last week the New York Times hashed it up again) about bloggers and book criticism in this article about how bloggers might be replacing book critics in the literary landscape. (Galleycat, as always, has excellent coverage, so you might also want to read here and here.)

Now as a blogger (and not just one of these namby-pamby "Oh I'll start an uninspired blog for two months while my book is out because my publicist told me it was a good idea and then never look at it again once I realize it hasn't helped my book sales at all" kind of bloggers, I've had mine since 1998. Yes, I am a total loser), book critic (I write reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle and am a member of the National Book Critics Circle, who, incidentally are working their hardest to save the dwindling book reviews sections of newspapers across this country with their Campaign to Save Book Reviews), and author, I would just like to add my voice to the mix and say I sincerely hope we never lose the book review sections of newspapers.

I treasure all the book reviews I read every Sunday, if it's in print, like the New York Times, or online, where I catch what's going on in papers across the country. Admittedly I have a vested interest in all of this, but I remember even when I was a kid reading the book reviews in the Chicago Tribune (and I feel like it was a lot bigger section then, but I might be wrong), and how it excited me about what was out there, and also that it was someone's job to sit around and think about books all day. The reviews felt distinct and important and immediate because it was in the newspaper. I don't think we're ready for that excitement to go away just yet.

Blogs could never replace book reviews, though they may help to redefine them. Because after I finish my Sunday reading, I'll then go check out a few lit blogs to see what they thought about those reviews. I just get happy that people are talking about books, and how to think about books. Blogs are changing how we talk about everything, and I think they (and all kinds of online chatter, like message boards for example, or the comments on the blogs themselves, or even the immediacy of an instant message) even the playing field between the audience and the critic, performer, politician, etc. Technology helps us to create a new kind of accountability, which is necessary, because technology also helps us to create new ways to hide things. (I'll save the conspiracy theories for another time.)

There's room for both, is what I'm trying to say. And blogs aren't going anywhere, so the stuffy old critics (God, I love their stuffiness, though) better get used to them. As for me, I guess I'm just happy when anyone mentions my book anywhere, as long as they're not saying it sucks.

Tomorrow I'll talk about how bloggers get book deals. Secrets revealed! (Here's a hint: you need talent too.)

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