I apologize profusely

I’m SO, SO sorry for linking to and commenting on this article about how much book blogs suck, but I simply can’t help myself. I’ve wanted to stop posting about these attacks on blogs because it gets boring after awhile, not to mention disheartening and repetitive. But then someone says something so utterly annoying I can’t keep quiet.

So, I’ll keep this short. The author of the article, Richard Schickel, starts off by quoting from a New York Times article that discusses shrinking space for book reviews and the possibility that book bloggers will pick up some of the slack; here’s Schickel’s claim:

“Some publishers and literary bloggers,” the article said, viewed this development contentedly, “as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books.”

Anyone? Did I read that right?

Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity.

I find it interesting the way Schickel moves seamlessly from the quotation that talks about commenting on books to a defense of reviewing and criticism. He’s assuming that all book bloggers attempt to produce professional reviews or criticism, which isn’t at all the case. What makes Schickel slip from commenting to reviewing all at once, thereby eliding a whole range of possible ways of writing about books? Why do people assume that if you write about books, your only purpose can be to become a professional reviewer?

Of course, there’s no reason a blogger can’t produce reviews or criticism that’s just as good as anything that appears in print (and on this issue you simply must see Dan Green’s wonderful response).

What’s wonderful to me about blogs is the range of writing you can find — everything from formal reviews and criticism, to informal commentary, to highly personal reading responses, to news of the book world and gossip about writers. Why do people who attack blogs assume that all bloggers are aiming at one thing — to produce writing that will “threaten” what appears in print?

Okay, I’m done. Now for an announcement: I’ll be gone for a few days on a work-related retreat (which probably sounds dreadful, although I don’t think it will be). I’ll be back on Friday or thereabouts.


Filed under Blogging

11 responses to “I apologize profusely

  1. LK

    You go, Dorothy! I like what you said about the range of writing — that is exactly what I enjoy about litblogs too. Have a fun retreat.


  2. Oh boy, work-related retreat? Stay positive, and have fun!


  3. Another common assumption I’ve picked up is that it’s assumed that most readers with blogs want to be writers too (or something like that). I’ve found that to be pretty weird.

    I forgive you for blogging about this — after all I did too. 😉 I hope you’re work-related treat turns out OK!


  4. What I find disturbing is the assumption that bloggers are uneducated (the Saint-Beuve slam) and that the idea of a democratic literary landscape turns into a wasteland. I think Dan Green’s thoughtful, succinct, and calm response does a great job at proving schickel wrong.


  5. Well, you know how I feel on this topic. I think that Imani is right that people do assume the bloggers want to be writers, and I think that is an incorrect assumption. I do think some people want to publish books, but many haven’t any interest in that. Some might just want to practice writing or improve it–and I think there is nothing wrong with that. I also like the wide variety of blogs. I go different places looking for different things. Is variety and choice a bad thing?


  6. As far as I’m concerned, the nicest thing about blogs and bloggers is that they’ve created a whole new thing I like to call literary praise. We’ve spent centuries criticizing literature. I say it’s high time we spent a little time praising it. And Schickel seems to insinuate that only those who actually have jobs as book reviewers with the print media have the credentials to write about books. That’s like saying only the best writers get published, which we all know isn’t true. Or that only the best books get reviewed, another false statement. If the print world chooses to ignore (i.e. not hire) some extremely qualified people to review books, why shouldn’t they go elsewhere? And besides, the print world can’t possibly hire all the people who are qualified anyway. Personally, I’ve discovered many, many more wonderful books through blogging than I ever did through most book reviews, which is why I read them less and less these days. After all, aren’t book reviews supposed to be about finding books you’ll like, since reading is supposed to be a leisure-time (i.e. enjoyable) activity? (Sorry for such a long comment. I can see I probably should have written my own post on this. Sigh!)

    Hope you enjoyed your retreat.


  7. have a wonderful retreat!

    I find it interesting that so many book reviewers are threatened by litbloggers to begin with – it makes no sense. I think some people view blogging as the equivalent of myspace, so even the
    most elegant review of Pride and Prejudice becomes the same thing as “I was so totally drunk last night.” I think the rise and popularity of blogging is one of the best things to happen to writers and those passionate about subject matter in a long, long time – it allows for a community of like minded people to come together and be a little less isolated. I could never find so many people to read Don Quixote with in my area of many million! Not that I’m reading Don Quixote, mind you. But if I were.


  8. Hear hear! What an irritating article. I agree with Emily (comment 7). It’s so nice to have a flexible medium where you can just say how much you like a book if you feel like it. Or how a book astounds you or frightens you or makes you smile. Completely different from all the things you have to keep in mind for academic writing.


  9. It is interesting how worried these commentators on blogs are by the concept of democracy. Surely readers will choose the kind of literary responses they are interested in regardless of whether it is a blog or a newspaper review. Personally I enjoy reading about literature via a range of media, with a heavy emphasis on quality blogs, and I find it incredibly patronising that articles like this seem to assume that I am not able to make these choices for myself!


  10. Have a great retreat! I do think these attacks on book blogs say more about the person attacking than the blogosphere. They are generally so ill-informed, and so desperate to prove their point. Overstating a case is always a sure sign that it’s a feeble one. We must be doing something right to be attracting this much paranoia!


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