I was interested to read this post from The Literary Saloon about the panel “Grub Street 2.0: The Future of Book Coverage,” which was part of the NBCC’s symposium: “The Age of Infinite Margins: Book Critics Face the 21st Century.” I don’t want to write about the future of book coverage, exactly, but a few of Literary Saloon blogger M.A. Orthofer’s comments caught my attention. Orthofer notes that the panel’s participants didn’t seem to recognize one value of book blogs vs. print reviews that seems crystal clear to me: that book blogs deal with older works as well as newly-released ones, and that even when it comes to newly-released books, book blogs offer more variety of coverage:
the fact that the big newspaper (and magazine) book sections tend to have an awful lot of overlap in what titles they cover was not raised — and the fact that the reach of the online sites is, if nothing else, much deeper seems to have gone unnoticed by all.
Well, duh, right? Anyone who has read even a few book blogs for a little while will notice that a broad range of books gets discussed and you never know what you’ll find, but you are almost certain to find something new. Isn’t it clear that if a reader wants to find out about books published in the past, even the recent past, print reviews are not the place to go? And might not blogs be a good place to start such a search?
The other thing I noticed is a comment made by one of panelists, paraphrased by Orthofer as the suggestion that:
unlike someone writing a novel or poetry and finding satisfaction in creating something like that, even if it was never published, no one writes book reviews just for their own pleasure and satisfaction.
Orthofer disagrees with this idea, and I do too, at least to a certain extent. Now, I’m quite certain that I would never write a book review if I knew no one would see it ever. But I’m happy to write about books without attempting to publish what I write in any traditional venue (recognizing that publishing them on a blog is a sort of publication). I write this blog purely for my own pleasure and satisfaction; I’ve never wanted to use the blog to try to find myself some other kind of writing work and I know I’ll never make any money from it – and I don’t even try.
In fact, the writing I do on the blog is, depending on how I look at things, possibly keeping me from doing other kinds of writing that would help my career, in some way. The time I spend writing for this blog I could actually spend writing scholarly articles, if I were interested in spending more time on them. Or I could spend the time writing specifically for non-academic types of publication – review articles or maybe even a book of some sort. I write about 300-800 words just about every night for this blog – if I wrote for some other, more “useful” purpose, those words would accumulate pretty quickly into publishable work (in the traditional sense). But I’m not terribly interested in doing more of those things than I do now, so I don’t.
(I’m not pretending to be a book reviewer on this blog, let me clarify; if I thought of myself as a “book reviewer” I’d work harder on writing more thorough posts. But I do write things that could be considered related to book reviews, and so do most of the bloggers I read.)
There’s something wonderful about producing writing about books for no reason other than the enjoyment of it — if I were paid to blog, I bet it wouldn’t be as much fun.