Fair and balanced critique isn’t part of the MaudNewton.com reader contract

The latest meeting of the literary-blogger cabal was held this weekend. We coordinated upcoming ad hominem attacks on less popular establishment-media types and voted on who we’ll congratulate next (ourselves, of course).

Anyway. While I don’t feel compelled to respond directly to Ms. Howard’s concerns, I was asked last week (for a panel) to consider the place of literary weblogs in the cultural discourse. What I said seems somewhat germane to the slew of accusations tossed out in the Washington Post article, and so I will take the incredibly ill-advised step of quoting myself for anyone who wants to read further. Here’s a somewhat shortened version of what I said:

I think it’s too soon to say how weblogs will affect literary criticism and reporting. As [one panel member] points out, weblogs link and respond to source material like the excellent reviews, essays, and interviews that routinely appear in the Guardian. On the other hand, Jessa Crispin of Bookslut has observed that Salon–traditionally a good resource for book lovers–has cut its literary reviews, recommendations and reportage significantly over the last year or so.

Some resources are waning, then, while others are waxing. I wouldn’t presume to predict what literary coverage in newspapers and magazines will look like in the next five years.

I agree with [another panel member] that the weblog format doesn’t lend itself to the sort of thoroughgoing, rigorous analysis that one would expect in a scholarly book review. Often the literary and publishing weblogs provide a mere sentence or two of opinion and analysis. (There are exceptions. See, e.g., About
Last Night
and 2Blowhards….)

Still, the Internet is by its nature a forum for debate. If someone disagrees with my take on Elizabeth Costello, for instance, she might write a paragraph or two taking issue with what I’ve said. Someone else might respond further, agreeing in part with me and in part with my critic.

The dynamic and democratic nature of the Internet (at least at present) ensures that arts debates will no longer be confined to the pages of newspapers and periodicals but will be open to anyone with smarts and a knack for expressing him or herself. Every day I happen upon new sites written by people who are at least as passionate about books as I am and can express their passions in an intelligent, charismatic way. Three or four years ago it would not have been possible for me to read their opinions, or for them to read mine.

While online debates can be splintered and diffuse and sometimes clubby, I’m heartened by the
sheer number of them. Who knew so many people cared about books?

Other members of the cabal, naturally, have had worthwhile responses to the Post article. If I don’t link to each of the members now I’ll be assessed double dues at our next meeting. We’re not talking money, folks, so please click. Your blogrolling now saves me muscle strain later.


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