Book blogs

I came across this at The Valve; it’s an excerpt from an article called “The Blog Reflex” from n+1:

People might have used their blogs to post the best they could think and say. They could have posted 5,000-word critiques of their favorite books and records. Some polymath might even have shown, on-line, how an acute and well-stocked sensibility responds to the streaming world in real time. But those things didn’t happen, at least not often enough. In practice, blogs reveal how much we are unwitting stenographers of hip talk and marketing speak, and how secondhand and often ugly our unconscious impulses still are. The need for speed encourages, as a willed style, the intemperate, the unconsidered, the undigested. (Not for nothing is the word blog evocative of vomit.) “So hot right now,” the bloggers say. Or: “Jumped the shark.” The language is supposed to mimic the way people speak on the street or the college quad, the phatic emotive growl and purr of exhibitionistic consumer satisfaction – “The Divine Comedy is SOOO GOOOD!” – or displeasure – “I shit on Dante!” So man hands on information to man.

Why, when I read these kinds of articles about blogging, do I never recognize the blog world that’s being described? Does anybody out there who reads book blogs recognize what’s being described here? Why do I feel like the people who write these kinds of articles are looking at a different internet than the one I see?

Okay, sucky book blogs are out there, but — they’re not that hard to recognize and then avoid. And people do write great stuff, they do write long critiques, they do respond intelligently to the world. The main criticism here seems to be that book blogs don’t really talk about books and reading and ideas; they are all about publicity and popularity and making quick, undigested judgments on the latest new thing. I just don’t buy it.

I don’t subscribe to n+1 and I don’t know if the full article will ever appear online, but I am interested in trying to read it somehow. Or maybe I shouldn’t — I will just get more annoyed. (Do check out the Valve post; it’s kind of funny.)


Filed under Blogging

16 responses to “Book blogs

  1. Brandon

    I didn’t care for the Valve post or the excerpts from n+1, but I think the article made a good point. I’ve seen a lot of blogs where people write “sooooo goooood” and whatnot, and yes, it’s annoying and won’t win the blogger points for intelligence, but I’ve made my peace with these kinds of things. I’m not as dismissive as the n+1 article–in fact, I’d just as soon dismiss the article itself. I don’t necessarily think a critique has to be 5,000 words long (nor would I even want to read a 5,000 word critique of anything, no matter what your credentials are), but the article excerpt seems to imply, “Bloggers are stupid; I’m smarter.” The critique is valid, I suppose, since we all know there’s more crap than gems online, but it’s not like we haven’t come across articles like this. Sure, the author may lament the sad state of Internet lingo, but that’s something people have been complaining about for years.

    Maybe the author of the article should worry more about his own lack of originality. With that in mind, is it any surprise that print media is losing its battle against blogs?


  2. I’m curious, too, to read the n+1 piece–as much because I think n+1 is trying to do something smart–though this sounds idiotic and dull. It’s too bad for them to be doing the kind of tired thing that someone like Maureen Dowd does (did you see her “wow! chick lit is really a big deal!” piece?).

    But, like you, I feel like I’ve found a rich reading community online & when I read idiocy, I just click away: so much easier than having to be polite in person…

    (Sorry–don’t know why I’m so grouchy…)–Anne


  3. Cam

    I started to write a snarky comment about the N+1 excerpt, but couldn’t decide if it lent credence to the argument or not. That anyone can think that there is one over-riding characterestic of an entire medium of expression is astoundingly narrow-minded and the opposite of inquiring, thoughtful writing. True, there are solipsitic blogs dealing with all sorts of topics, books included, but it isn’t the blog world where I reside.

    But, I think that some bloggers reinforce the idea that blogging is only of a certain type, that one must adhere to certain precepts in order to be a true form of blogging. I was trying to understand the whole John Edwards campaign/Amanda Marcotte thing today (something that I had missed in the news last week). One of the things that struck me, beyond confirming how divisive politics will be throughout the 2008 elections, is that both sides seemed to characterize all blogging in very black/white terms, assigning attributes to all blogs that supported a certain position, firmly stating that theirs, the antithesis of the other, was the correct position. Lots of pots calling the kettle black type thing. Somehow I think this attitude is related to that expressed in the N+1 article, but I have to think more on what exactly this is. A need to pidgeon-hole, perhaps? An assumption that only certain styles are legitimate in the blogging world (the eeew/ahhh sooo good book review; the left/right (choose one) wingnuts are so crazy and misguided and hateful) that the majority outside this realm don’t count? Or maybe it is just easier to pick on the stereotype instead of looking at the reality of the diversity of the blogging world.

    I just don’t get it.


  4. These sorts of articles quite frankly sort of depress me and turn me off blogging. Aside from the fact that I sincerely hope I don’t sound like that, it all just seems so hip and trendy to talk down to others. I don’t read as widely as you do on the web (I guess I keep to my own little corner), but this is the sort of literary snobbishness that I have always disliked about the book world.


  5. I approach any print media article about blogging with the expectation that it will be as dumb as the blogs they describe and work from there. I am rarely surprised.


  6. I couldn’t find the complete article, but some of the language described sounds more like high school students whose main interest is in impressing other high school students and whose reading is assigned.

    The antagonistic attitude towards blogs and blogging in general bewilders me. Many authors and editors blog and appear to enjoy both writing their own blogs and reading other blogs.


  7. I’m with Anne – I think this is a self-indulgent piece that intends to promote the cleverness of its author as opposed to all us trolls out in blogland. Unfortunately that kind of thing never really comes off and it sounds sulky and whiny. My experience of writing in the blog world is that it has stunned me with its quality and insight.


  8. Surely a post of this type and the intelligent and thoughtful comments gives the lie to the idea that bloggers=stupid and only interested in the latest thing. Like you Dorothy I don’t recognise any of the book blogs on my blogroll as fitting the n+1 definition.


  9. I’m so tired of articles like the one you quote from I’ve stopped reading them. They only serve to raise my blood pressure. I don’t know who they are writing for or why. Anyone who really reads blogs knows there are plenty of good ones and plenty of bad ones, just like there are plenty of good books and plenty of bad books. The internet is just like any other media in that regard.


  10. I’m not quite sure how to react to the article you cited. My first impression was reminiscent of your own. What blog world is the author talking about?


  11. Ok. After giving it some thought -but not too much thought, because of my own “need for speed,” (Hey, when you’ve only got an hour -before the baby wakes up- to write, speed becomes paramount)- my official reaction to this article is:

    Soooooooo what!

    Some bloggers don’t have all the time in the world. Certainly most of them aren’t paid for their work and therefore don’t feel the need to post only that which is capable of receiving literary awards. Many bloggers write to keep in contact with close friends, family, and people who live on opposite ends of the planet. Or, perhaps they blog because they enjoy making new friends? Not everything in the world takes as much thought as the article makes it seem.

    As for the cadence of “the language {that} is supposed to mimic the way people speak on the street or the college quad” I don’t see why it’s a problem. Sometimes a blogger just wants their readers to know that they enjoyed The Inferno -period. Besides, for many people, blogs are highly personal and therefore the speech they use reflects the kind of language they speak on a daily basis.

    “Second-hand and often ugly or unconscious impulses” can be the stuff of the blog-world because many people treat their blogs as they would a journal –a device to get their thoughts down, unedited. And besides, anyone who’s ever written a book on how to be a writer or an artist has said that in order to do so, a person has to be willing to make mistakes and do bad work. The quantity eventually leads to quality.

    I bet if we were to randomly flip through the article’s author’s journal, we would find some very drab and not well considered stuff. “Second-hand and often ugly or unconscious impulses” are part of being the flawed humans we all are.


  12. My interpretation is that the authors did not know a lot about blogs, so they landed at random in a corner of the blogosphere. Predictably, they found badly written hasty rants. And then it is as if space scientists, after landing the Viking probe somewhere on Mars, conclude that Mars is just rocks — no life, no water. Maybe said scientists are spending a little too much effort to find water and life on Mars, but I bet the authors of the n+1 article, in their haste to publish, failed to spend the right amount of time to home in on any of the very many extraordinary blogs that are out there. And they fell into the trap: their criticism of badly written hasty rants is just a well written hasty rant.


  13. Such great comments — that n+1 quotation has inspired some strong responses. I always debate whether I should bother posting this kind of thing, because it IS annoying and it can be a bit depressing. And then I decide to post on it, mainly because I like hearing people’s responses. I’m not alone in my being annoyed! Since there are so many, many blogs out there, they are an easy target — you can always find something to mock, which just shows that the ability to mock blogs isn’t all that impressive.


  14. I agree. I have no idea what blogs these people are reading. Everyone I read is obviously very articulate, thinks a lot before posting, and is a joy to read. It’s ridiculous to try to characterize blogs and blogging. I mean, would people compare People Magazine or USA Today to Shakespeare and Doestoevsky just because they’re all printed matter?


  15. I have mixed views about the n+1 piece. There is a grain of truth in what the writer says, in that most of the tens of millions of bloggers do not present their material well. A collection of truly random samples would perhaps reflect the writer’s views, though such a collection is difficult to gather, given the amazing capabilities of today’s search engines. I was ready to be angry, but was pacified on reading “at least not often enough”, which led me to think that the writer does allow for the fact that there are a few well-maintained and readable blogs.

    My sample may be biased (or my views snobbish) but I find that the vices that the writer attributes to bloggers (bad grammar, exhibitionism, intemperance, badly expressed consumer satisfaction) are far less common on book blogs. On some of my favorite literary blogs, there is a total absence of fanfare, an almost fanatical devotion to correct usage, and concentration on the topic rather than the person. Just as the above excerpt warns against letting our standards slide, these wonderful blogs show me how high the quality bar has been raised.


  16. Pingback: Corporate demon or sub-useful blight? « The Books of My Numberless Dreams

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