As many of you may have already seen, Agni editor Sven Birkerts had a piece on lit blogs in the Boston Globe a few days ago. As usual, it was all about how newspaper book review sections are disappearing and the lit blogosphere is incapable of picking up the slack. Here's a bit:
I'm talking about print reviewing here. For as exciting as the blogosphere is as a supplement, as a place of provocation and response, it is too fluid in its nature ever to focus our widely diverging cultural energies. A hopscotch through the referential enormity of argument and opinion cannot settle the ground under our feet. To have a sense of where we stand, and to hold not just a number of ideas in common, but also some shared way of presenting those ideas, we continue to need, among many others, The New York Times, the Globe, the Tribune, the LA Times, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Honestly, most of this article read like someone suggesting that book reviewing in newspapers is responsible for keeping western culture alive. If the book sections go then so goes society and we all end up sitting around staring off into space and wondering what all those pretty square shaped objects with words in them are for. I mean really, "settle the ground under our feet"? We are fighting a war against terrorism - not any place in particular, not any one leader in particular, (like catching bin laden would end all of this...) and not any one government in particular. We are waging a war against an idea - a scary word in the damn dictionary - and Mr. Birkerts thinks that the lit blogosphere is inferior because it can't give America a "sense of where we stand"?
Please - we are so far past having any kind of sense at all.
Part of the argument in this muddle seems to be that lit blogs link to other places and thus do not generate original content like newspapers do. I love that this comes up again and again and again and no one in any of these articles ever seems to mention the incredibly original content that is out there everyday. For the record, go check out a podcast or two at Ed's, or see the latest Lit Blog Co-op selection, or read the new issue of Endicott Studio's Journal of Mythic Arts (or peruse the gorgeous daily blog covering all aspects of mythic literature and art and providing content that is never ever in a newspaper anywhere). Jenny D. is always doing her amazing bit of linking combined with her own deep thoughts - again, find that kind of eclectic and intelligent commentary in a newspaper review section, and Bookslut is up with the witty daily blog and a new issue - heading off with an interview with Thomas Mallon. Last time I checked he was pretty damn literary.
In other words - good original stuff is out there, all over the place, and I never have any trouble finding it. Why is it so tough for these newspaper people to?
I really never wanted to make this a big "us versus them" silly junior high school fight but I am so tired of reading what the lit blogosphere can not do and hardly ever seeing anywhere what we accomplish on a daily basis. You would think, with the future of America apparently at stake, newspapers would be saying wonderful positive things about how so many literary minded people are writing about books on the internet merely because we love them so much. You would think the lit blogosphere would be held up as an example of positive change in the literary landscape - of proof that books and reading will never go away. You'd think these guys would freaking love us.
Yeah, I'm not holding my breath waiting for the love fest to start either.
So what am I doing around here at Chasing Ray that refutes Mr. Birkert's conclusions? On August 15th I'll be participating in a multi blog celebration of Australian authors. More than fifteen sites will be talking Aussie authors and books in our first stop on the One Shot World Tour. Many future stops are planned, with Scotland looking like the next destination, hopefully in mid-October. The goal here is to shed some light on great writers (and great books) and maybe introduce Americans who read our sites to authors they may not know about. We are starting with a country we are all fairly familiar with just to get our feet wet, but plan to cast the net far and wide around the world in the future. Things should get interesting and I'm looking forward to the great mix of interviews and reviews we have set.
Next up, during the last week in August, is Recommendations from Under the Radar. This will be a full week of twenty-some blogs all posting about books that we feel have been wrongfully forgotten by the reading public. From picture books to adult titles, we cover the gamut of ages and subjects with titles both in and out of print. One of the things that I despise most about our literary culture is the habit of over exposure for new books to the detriment of excellent older titles. There is no reason for every major print outlet to review (and review and review) the same book over and over. There is a tipping point where no one really cares what anyone else has to say. Older books though are often unknown to many readers and if we are mostly concerned about spreading the word on good books, then we shouldn't be ignoring those that were published before 2007. This is a shot at changing things just a bit and hopefully bringing some very deserving stories many new fans.
Finally, the Winter Blog Blast Tour is set for the first week in November and will be the same format as the SBBT, although offering more exclusive interviews and thus more authors. We are still compiling our author list but I can promise a group that encompasses everything from picture books to graphic novels to high drama. We are aiming even higher this time, and have already scored an impressive bullseye or two. I don't know how many authors we will end up with, but I'm sure we will exceed the 25 from the SBBT.
The next time more than twenty different book sections all agree to work together to run a solid week of author interviews all aimed at talking about a broad scope of titles that extends far beyond the latest big thing, please let me know. I'd love to see them try and do it.
As the lit blogosphere continues to evolve, I am discovering that the possibilities for original content are limitless. We can do what newspapers do, only faster and cheaper. Do I think that the blogosphere is better than print? No - but I'm not trying to be better than anyone else. I'm trying to be better, period. The folks in print can point and jeer and endlessly whine but none of that will slow down the inevitable. The lit blogosphere has grown up, ladies and gentlemen. And for all our linking, don't be fooled for a second into thinking we need print content to tell us what to say. The last time I checked there were no training wheels with the internet and as for me - I started flying solo a long damn time ago. And I have to tell you, the view from up here is really quite extraordinary.
Maybe if he looked a little further, Mr. Birkerts would have seen it too.