On Literary Blogs


I suppose I should say that I’ve never gotten into literary blogs. Some involve reading groups, many discuss gossipy things about authors and the publishing industry, and all review books and god they’re all snobby. And being snobby isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but this is the kind of “snobby” where they will accuse others of being snobs without seeing that maybe they’re a bit pretentious and unwelcoming themselves.

It is weird I’m complaining about this, because Kirsch in the article above points something out that’s all too true:

Literary criticism is only worth having if it at least strives to be literary in its own right, with a scope, complexity, and authority that no blogger I know even wants to achieve. The only useful part of most book blogs, in fact, are the links to long-form essays and articles by professional writers, usually from print journals.

That’s absolutely correct – one can’t afford, as a blogger, to be writing full-length commentaries or essays for the most part, or even dense, complicated comments on things which might be shorter in length. One’s audience will tire out very quickly (it should be noted I encourage those of you reading to print out my work. What I do is write, it just so happens I use a blog to publish).

What one is doing as a blogger is keeping an audience engaged on the Internet. That means one is competing, to some degree, with one’s own sidebar for attention. It should be noted, again, that this does not make criticism or entries in literary blogs useless or artless – it’s just a different sort of art. It’s more important to get something up about a new book, bad or good, than to take the time to review it fully and ponder its themes and creation. That “timeliness” is not necessarily “short and shoddy,” because one tries to get comments going, and there have been comment threads I’ve read that are better reading than some books. Let’s be serious: to say “this medium is closed off to serious thought” is not an assumption with empirical grounding.

It is an assumption which holds true, though, when one has an end in mind. In this case, I think a lot of us want a lot more from the Internet than it provides. Gracchi and Amy King are wonderful and goodness gracious, I want to know a lot more academics that blog. Those covering where journalism or marketing are going often give me plenty to think about. Generally speaking, good blogs are there, but more often than not, I have to sort through a lot of nonsense to find the right ones. I remember Arts and Letters Daily once linked to a prominent academic’s blog, and I was furious at him, since he was only using the blog to promote his own book over and over and over again.

It is precisely because there is quality commentary and thought on the Net across all fields that we know that the snobbiness of literary bloggers for the most part is a defensive reaction. They know full well that anyone can talk about books – the issue isn’t getting everyone involved, but getting everyone involved and still having a sense of standard. And they know full well that there are standards, and it’s hard to meet them. I’m not blaming anyone for the fight between new and old media that’s going on: it’s more like, newspapers should know not to cut resources they literally can’t replace because of hype, and literary bloggers should strive more than pound their chests to create the quality they aspire to, to create the quality that got them into reading and reviewing books in the first place.


  1. Wow! If your words were darts, certainly a few literary bloggers are taking a direct hit from this post! Yet truth does have a way of stinging. However; I am confident you would find the section on Books at my blog tailored to your petition. And I join you in encouraging others “to create the quality that got them into reading and reviewing books in the first place.”

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