The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Blog About a Blog About Blogs

by Tricia Dower

A recent Huffington Post blog by Lissa Warren has gotten a rise out of some literary bloggers.

“Will Blogs Save Books?” asks whether book reviews by bloggers will ever replace reviews in established newspapers. It’s a fair question, with newspapers and magazines devoting less and less space to book reviews these days. The Victoria Times-Colonist, for example, used to have a weekend book insert but now prints only the occasional syndicated review. Rumour has it the book editor has been reassigned. (All I know is she’s not answering my e-mails.)

Warren suggests that if bloggers did a better job of it, "we as readers would give book reviews on blogs as much respect as book review in major market paper.” She goes on to say that “ book reviews on blogs…tend to be self-indulgent. Book reviewing bloggers need to move away from opinion in favor of judgment. How does the book compare to—and fit in with—the author's previous work? What's the book's place in the genre? The canon? Does the writer succeed in doing what he or she set out to do—meaning, is it the book they meant it to be?"

Responding to Warren’s article, Lisa from the blog Minds Alive on the Shelves writes: "My main interest is not in the author's place in ‘the genre’—in fact, I am automatically suspicious of anyone who uses phrases like that…I'm not necessarily interested in a discussion of their previous books…I'm interested in the current book, the one I'm thinking about buying. I want to know if it's a good book. I want to know if it had big plot holes, if it held the reviewer's interest, if it was true to the jacket description, if it was funny or exciting or moving or informative. I want an opinion from someone who has read this particular book and thought about it."

Literary Feline says, "I want to know what people like me think and have to say."

Chris says, "Bloggers speak for the masses who aren't sitting in leather chairs smoking pipes discussing metaphor. Ordinary people read too."

I troll the ‘net regularly, checking out various literary blogs. It seems to me that bloggers establish a level of trust among some readers that newspaper reviewers may not. The woman behind The Incurable Logophilia, for example, recently wrote: "I do not usually read science fiction. It just isn’t my thing. But when Ann from Table Talk, whose impeccable judgment I trust completely, recommended Mary Doria Russell’s novel The Sparrow, I went and got myself a copy right away."

I suspect this trust comes from the fact that bloggers often write about how a book affected them. Since they also write about their families, pets, travel, and even their health, regular readers are brought into their lives to such an extent they want to share the same reading experiences.

I came upon a wonderful literary blog recently as a result of an online review of Silent Girl by Becca Rowan in Bookstack. A blogger in the UK who calls herself Litlove responded to that review. I followed the link to her blog and found "Culture Shock" about an Algerian writer, an entry that was so articulate and persuasive I wanted to read that writer right then. And so did many of Litlove’s other readers. Check out this other entry about "Truth and Memoir" and the intelligent conversation it has generated among readers from different parts of the world.

So, I don’t know whether blogs will save books, but I do know that people are reading and writing about a much wider range of books than you might guess if the “major markets” are your primary guide. Lively public discourse is happening about books you won't necessarily find in the New York Times or the Globe and Mail. It’s really quite encouraging.


Blogger T. Lee said...

I agree completely with you here, Tricia. (And may I say, I have always found your reviews of books fair and informative).

What is still happening, especially in Canadian newsprint media, is that disconnect (maybe even fear) of how to integrate online culture and print. So, they put all the 'interactive' stuff online to their newspaper's website, but don't have a clue how to build community, leaving all the angryboredidjit posters free reign to sully an otherwise good place to discuss books. CBC is an example of that. But the Guardian (UK)'s book sections online are rather good.

Thanks so much for the links and leads. I'm off to troll...


Thu Aug 21, 02:37:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

It IS quite encouraging to see the lively bookish banter on-line. And I couldn't disagree more with the writer who thinks bloggers need to be less self-indulgent. The charm of blogs is their intense subjectivity. If you want to write a rigourously researched piece of literary criticism, write a book! And then we'll blog about it. About we dropped our copy in a puddle because that cute guy who works at Starbucks was on his break outside the book store, having a cigarette and we tried to fling our hair sensuously and ended up sending our belongings flying but it all worked out in the long run because he came over to help, picked up the book and said 'I've been meaning to read this' and so we lent it to him with our phone number and got a date out of the deal and here's a picture of what I'm thinking about wearing! The book dealt with Swinburne.

Thu Aug 21, 02:43:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Good analysis of the situation, Tamara. Yeah, people who comment on many newspapers sites have many axes to grind. It's sometimes fun (and sometimes scary) to read their comments, but I don't want to join them. I'll have to check out the Guardian more often.

And, thanks for the nice words about my reviews. I wish had more time for them.

Thu Aug 21, 05:46:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Andrew, you are too funny. That's EXACTLY the attraction of blogs.

Thanks for your brilliant comedic touch.

Thu Aug 21, 05:49:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Hey there seems to be a meme about this. Just saw this CBC blog post: that looks at the current state of print versus Internet book reviews

Sat Aug 30, 11:11:00 pm GMT-4  

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