The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Don’t hate me for posting this

Posted on: June 12, 2007

UPDATE: I’d like to make something clear based on a couple of comments on this post. This prophet who came to warn us of the danger to litracha was Adam Kirsch, supposedly an excellent critic himself, who wrote for the New York Sun. I picked on Kakutani because she has the status of being the most influential and loathed critic this side of the Atlantic. Pardon me for not realising how challenging her to a duel before properly attributing the prophecy would have been confusing. I’m pretty sure Kakutani rarely, if ever, thinks about book blogs. I’d be surprised if she knew what one was. (This fits in to my fantastical image of her based primarily on Ed rants about how often she uses the word “limn”.)

You know I’ve dropped all pretense of taking this matter seriously. I’m in a good mood and I found this article hilarious because it (along with countless others) shows how backward these print people are.

My dear readers…

be prepared for…

THE SCORN OF THE LITERARY BLOG ! ! !

womanscreaming100x72.jpg

In one sense, the democratization of discourse about books is a good thing, and should lead to a widening of our intellectual horizons. The more people there are out there reading, making discoveries, and advocating for their favorite books, the better. But book bloggers have also brought another, less salutary influence to bear on literary culture: a powerful resentment. Often isolated and inexperienced, usually longing to break into print themselves, bloggers — even the influential bloggers who are courted by publishers — tend to consider themselves disenfranchised.

Michiko Kakutani I hope you’ve been using your best fountain pen and Moleskin notebook because I’m comin’ to take your job, babe!

<—- That’s Kakutani

<— That’s me

It’s not hard to tell who’s going to win.

As a result, they are naturally ready to see ethical violations and conspiracies everywhere in the literary world. As anyone who reads literary blogs can attest, hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned.

Really? I feel as if I’m in the minority on this issue — most litbloggers that I know don’t seem to care much one way or the other. I, on the other hand, remember (vaguely, I admit, this being at the beginning of my interest in wider literary world) when a female critic was lambasted for giving a negative review to a book when it was “discovered” that she had some kind of negative history with the author. The fact that a close buddy of the author had given the novel high praised in another publication was widely ignored. (Of course the literati are above such petty motivations, everything is subjective, why strive for any standard?)

The blog form, that miscellany of observations, opinions, and links, is not well-suited to writing about literature, and it is no coincidence that there is no literary blogger with the audience and influence of the top political bloggers. For one thing, literature is not news the way politics is news — it doesn’t offer multiple events every day for the blogger to comment on. For another, bitesized commentary, which is all the blog form allows, is next to useless when it comes to talking about books.

Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. He thinks that something as important as politics is more suited to “bitesized commentary” than literature? Isn’t that part of the problem we’re facing now? Also, what century is he in? When he writes about blogs I step back in time to 1997. And am in a science fiction movie. Dinosaurs rule the earth and they don’t like a lot of information with breakfast, lunch or dinner so they’ve put a…I dunno forcefield around blog posts that limit human slaves to 500 characters.

This will be the last corner of the world left unconquered. It’s a sure bet that the print folks won’t be there. The dinosaur overlords will have had them chained to their desk typing out consumer report reviews on the latest Random House book, guaranteed.

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.

Pooter for life! (How many bloggers does he know and I wonder if he keeps them in cages for research purpose?) I am happy that at least one newspaper article writer acknowledges that literary criticism isn’t taking place in newspapers even if he believes we’re all yearning to write for The New York Sun or something.

This important announcement came courtesy of the happening folk at the GalleyCat.

That great picture of myself in warrior form was done by Iorek Vair for a RPG game at the Guild Wars Guru site. I don’t know who created that magnificent forcefield but if the artist wants to let me know, drop a line.

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35 Responses to "Don’t hate me for posting this"

Very funny! I like the part about blogger conspiracies.

In comment to your comment to me about Margaret Atwood’s book; I had never read any of her books, nor had I even heard of her until I read information about her on shelfari. I read The Handmaid’s Tale in May, a different kind of book for me to read, but I could not put it down, I stayed up till 2am one night to finish it. The Blind Assassin I finished yesterday. Both books are great, the author keeps the reader wanting to know whats on the next page, and the next. They are not books the reader can speed through either, to many details. Oh, I also have to keep notes when I read her books.

Shhhh! Don’t complain. It only encourages them.

MissDaisy Atwood is a huge author in Canada so I was sick of her before I even knew what kind of books she wrote. Your description of the second book though made me want to read it.

I like details and notes, so that should be fun.

Sylvia oh, this whole post was an excuse for me to post a RPG version of myself.

Oh this one annoyed me whereas most I just let go. Still, whenever people say bad things it tells you so much more about them than about their victims. I sense major projection going on here from the author who must be seeing his own aggressive responses reflected back in the nice blank page of the internet. And what’s with the comparison between literature and politics??? In what logical universe does that analogy work?? Lovely RPG, by the way.

Oh, I don’t hate you for posting this — no, not at all. It’s exactly the right kind of response — great job.

Finally someone has said it. I love that those author and critic litblog-bashers apparently think we’re intelligent enough to buy and read their material but god forbid we assume that we possess the necessary brain cells to actually form an opinion. Gasp! And to write about it? For shame! Really, what is the world coming to? What happened to the world in which the reading public sat docilely by while those in the informed and incredibly educated literati told us what we should read and how we should think (or talk) about it? Join the conversation!, they say. I say, since when is it a conversation when one person does all of the talking?

I think maybe you and I are in the same frame of mind. I posted this exact article on my blog today!! How funny is that???

I loved what you said !

litlove I’m not sure why he chose the politics angle — when one checks the “Most Read/E-mailed/blogged” list of any newspaper you don’t typically see arts articles anywhere near the list so…

Dorothy W I wanted to do more but my eyes get a bit twitchy when I have a post with too many images on the front page. :D

J.S. Peyton it’s especially weird since it’s fairly common practice for books review to be done by…well other authors. Last time I checked you didn’t have to have an impressive education to get your book published. I must be missing all the public intellectuals filling the newspaper dailies….

Stephanie ha! I shall go and read it forthwith. I’m only sorry I have zero experience with photoshop — I could have made this funnier.

I agree with Litlove when s/he says “whenever people say bad things it tells you so much more about them than about their victims”. Personally, as a book blogger, I’m not out to change the world. Believe it or not, I’m not even out to tell people what they should or shouldn’t read. I just happen to love discussing books and found it’s been an ideal outlet for that. But I do agree that I “see ethical violations and conspiracies everywhere in the literary world” though I’d drop the “literary”. Makes me sound paranoid, just as Michiko Kakutani would portray me I guess, but yes, I do believe politics plays a big a part in the publishing world and awards, as they do in any other field. I’m not often found ranting about it, but if some people are what’s the problem with shining some light on it? True, some bloggers might be off base and just have an axe to grind, but the same can be said for print critics. Any intelligent person knows not to swallow everything they read, regardless of media.

Oh my goodness Imani! Thank you for making me laugh. I needed that today! :)

Haaaaaa! I read that article, too, and thought: “Hell hath no fury like a book reviewer who protest too much.”

Great article you’ve written here, even though “The blog form, that miscellany of observations, opinions, and links, is not well-suited to writing about literature.”

So, more like nice try. :)

This person whose name I don’t care to remember would really hate me, since I’ve really been pissing all over some “great” books lately. I say we need to get people talking about books. Enough with Paris and Lohan. Let’s talk about books, let’s argue, let’s debate, let’s talk about something intellectual for a change!

Anyway, I’m enjoying your site; I found your way here via A Variety of Words. Keep up the good work over here!

John Rutford yes, I’m not sure if journalists are being disingenuous when they act as if ethics is such a non-issue. Perhaps it is considering what they’re facing now (and some of those NBCC questions were ridiculous). But the thought that, because reviews are opinions and subjective therefore all biases are acceptable (or an able editor cannot weed them out) seems very…I don’t know…cute.

My blog isn’t about telling people what to read either. It’s all conversation and enthusiastic suggestions on my part.

Stefanie you’re very welcome. I have to admit that I don’t really want to have to deal with articles like this very often. ;)

LK maybe he’s been getting less writing jobs lately and a careless editor remarked, “oh that job you wanted? I got some blogger to do it for half the price. They’re the new illegal immigrants!”

Biblioatrist thank you and thanks for commenting. I do wish that these print folks would get back to writing about books and concentrate on more worthwhile issues like the falling status of libraries in the public rather than self-absorbed myopic rants about the hordes at the gate.

lol-that was really funny…just wanted to let you know that I’m adding you to my blogroll, and I look forward to looking through your blog more in the future!

I’m adding you to my blogroll also, if you don’t mind!

Good for you, Imani. I always love visiting your site! I’ve just commented over at Book Chase, responding in part to your comments there, so I thought I’d be fair and write them here too:

Who on earth reads all these professional book critics besides people who love to read, and a subset of those people are those like us who like to write about their reading. Frankly, I would have considered these “professionals” members of our community until they insisted on exiling themselves from it. I’m an amateur – I fully admit it! I read for the love of it and I write about it for the same reason! How do the multitudes who read my blog hurt the seriousness of their criticism?
I think we should ban all post-theater and post-movie discussions too. It’s unprofessional, I mean, my god – do they have an MFA? Do these people wielding their unprofessional opinions around the streets and cafes have a license? They could put out someone’s eye with those things!

I’ve just linked to your post as it was one of three posts that inspired me to write about this subject. I enjoyed the fun direction you took your comments. I really don’t understand why some critics feel it necessary to take shots at bloggers, not sure what we’ve ever done to them. If they really think they are so much above us shouldn’t they just ignore us? Any publicity is good publicity right?

I’m following Bibliolatrist and adding you to my blogroll too if that’s okay.

Weeee! All this blogroll adding. Thanks Eva, Bilblio and Mutford — of course I don’t mind. :D

<b>Ted</b> yes I find these criticisms weird. Of the literary blogs that I’m familiar with the only ones who strive for “literary criticism” or at least to the level of a newspaper book review are, well, the ones currently hired by newspapers! They’ve interviewed John Banville, are in the publishing world to varying extents and have books picked up by NY houses. Either that or they’re academics. Most of us are pretty happy meeting and greeting with like minded readers, sharing thoughts on what we liked and didn’t, and harbour no other literary aspirations far as I know.

<b>Matt</b> you’re right, but I think they’re trying to get to the majority of readers who are unfamiliar with blogs and make them prejudiced against us right off the bat.

OMG, I was chuckling while reading your post. I think you have the right spirit about the issue (and with nice graphics to go with the commentary) – at some point you just want to scream: GET OVER IT ALREADY!

Love your avatar. Would gladly give you my best fountain pen and moleskine whenever you’re taking on Michiko Kakutani.

Imani, you crack me up!

DO as you can tell by my next post I’ve got the notebook covered, but I will gladly accept the offer of fountain pen when I need it — the one pictured was pilfered.

The funniest thing about my choice of combatant, IMO, is that Kakutani probably has no idea what a “litblog” is and if she did, would not give a fig.

LK glad to be of service.

I enjoyed your commentary! I think this whole thing is so funny – it seems like “traditional” critics are feeling soooo threatened by bloggers these days. I read a similar article whining about online movie reviews recently, too.

And I’m tired of Margaret Atwood, too!!

Great post! Oh dear, after reading all those comments I’ve forgotten what mine was. Oh that’s right. I sit on both sides of the fence: I study literature at phd level, and i’ve recently started a book blog. I love my blog because I can say what I like without having to couch it in theory and context the whole time. And I bet even ‘proper people’ who write books about books or publish articles about them, still sometimes say to their friends – ‘oh, that poem really blew me away’, or ‘that novel was a bit boring actually’. At least, I hope they do.

Well said! It’s all so ludicrous that a good dose of sharp-edged humour is the best response. I love your picture too!

<b>tinylibrarian</b> oh dear, online movie reviews? But surely there are even <i>less</i> learned, erudite film critics in print than the ones for literature? How ridiculous. In the world of movie reviews I would not hesitate to say that there is better criticism on-line because it’s written by real film buffs, rather than the interns and sports writers doubling for duty in the local paper.

Thanks for commenting. My exhaustion with Atwood is probably sillier than yours since I’ve yet to read a word of her fiction.

Meli I hope they do too. I’m pretty sure they do, actually, unless they’re robots.

Kate I’m actually hoping that my post will be quoted, rather than any of the assorted more eloquent responses to these charges, when another desperate print critic wishes to support his conclusion that bloggers are all ineloquent pooters.

I’m not a literary blogger (only a small percetage of my posts are about the books I’ve read, although I read a lot), so I guess I should not be affected much.
However, I think it affected me enough for me to say that I can write better than her. I can even sell more of my fiction than her. Just wait until I publish my first book (which I am writing write now).
Peace.

Imani – okay that was hilarious! Great article – I love your fantastical images, they seem to fit this inane attack by paper reviewers against bloggers (and you’re right, I don’t know of any bloggers who have rolled up their sleeves and want to duke it out with any of these guys – I sum it up with a bit “WHO CARES?!?!?”). I’m beginning to think some of these guys completely lack a sense of humor –

Wendy *who scurries away to scratch out her measly opinions on her blog, forever humbled by the ever present print reviewers who clearly understand literature better than she could ever hope to*

Ha, thanks Wendy for commenting, I do like your blog! It’s true it seems to me that few of these folks have a sense of humour at all, but then they DO think we’re out to grab their pay stubs (or something).

Go geekcritic! Although I did edit my post to show that it was Adam Kirsch who got all high and mighty, not dear Kakutani. How great for you that you’re writing a book! I wish you all the best with your efforts.

Check out this interesting blog post – the last couple of paragraphs I found the most interesting (yup, I think these guys are scared to lose their jobs, and maybe their fear is a bit warranted!!):

http://bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2007/06/finding-cracks-in-edifice-tim-brown-on.html

I was mad enough to blog about this article too. I linked to yours on a post today.

Wendy thanks for the link! On other sites I’ve read reports on the panel that Brown mentioned in that post and he did seem to be one of the more interesting participants.

Chris thanks, I’ll be sure to check it out. I’m glad you told me since WordPress is not catching those links as of late, and if I don’t happen to drop by a blog I have no idea.

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