Notes on eight years of book blogging

Obviously I’m thrilled to be included in the Times’ (UK) list of “Forty bloggers who really count.” As is my nature, I also feel anxious and unworthy, but at a certain point (which came for me a long time ago) it is tacky and seems disingenuous to say so. Feel free to call me on that.

This month marks eight years since I started blogging. When I began, not long before this photo was taken, I figured the whole endeavor would quickly and unceremoniously go the way of my first website, which I set up in 1995, decorated with little New Yorker drawings, and abandoned to disappear along with everything else on the Alachua Freenet.

If you’d told me in 2002 that I would keep at it for so long or that so many people would know about this site or care what I had to say, I probably would’ve reacted the way I did to two boys in elementary school who said I was pretty: decided you were mocking me and head-butted you to the ground, shouting, “Why do you have to be such a jerk?”
I’m grateful to all of you who’ve visited this site through its many permutations. Even now, every six months or so, I find myself re-evaluating and changing what I do here.

This year I’ve posted more sporadically, read fewer new books, and written far less book criticism, so as to finish the novel that, as the Times notes, has yet to materialize. (The list compilers were very kind about the delay, actually. I wonder sometimes: John Steinbeck aside, has anyone in the history of letters ever whinged so publicly and at such length about writing a book that does not even exist?)
I find myself focusing — here, at Twitter, and elsewhere — ever more unapologetically on the strange assortment of writers and cultural phenomena that interest me. In the last six months, I’ve obsessed over Muriel Spark and day jobs, started an intermittent column on Christian fundamentalism, tried to explain my reasons for writing a novel rather than a memoir, outed myself — at NPR, no less — as a hypochondriac with a disorder of the humors, and discovered that the archives of my great-great aunt (and self-given namesake) are held by the State of Mississippi.

Which is to say: If my perspective and voice are the strengths of this site, they are also its limitations.
The truth is that, nowadays, there are so many excellent sites keeping up with book news, interviewing authors, reviewing novels, and commenting on publishing, my own appetite for participating in generalized literary talk has dwindled. I read other sites as widely as ever, though, and I’ve been interested to observe the evolution of book blogs.

Whether you’re just stopping by or are a regular reader, I’d like to direct you to some other bookish venues that you might enjoy (and want to send copies of your books to, since I, as only one person, can really only get to so much).
Surely by now anyone who’s even occasionally dipped into book and culture sites over the past decade knows about Bookslut, The Elegant Variation, The Literary Saloon, About Last Night, and the other early blogs that tend to be driven by one (or two, or three) perspectives. I know all of the people behind these sites — some are good friends — but I followed them daily long before I met them in person, and I still do.

Among the many smart, independent group sites that have sprung up more recently, I suggest updating your RSS feeds to include one or more of: The Second Pass (run by John Williams; I’m a contributor alongside Emma Garman, Alexander Nazaryan, Daniel Menaker, Carlene Bauer, Jessica Ferri, and others), The Millions (run by C. Max Magee, and featuring Emily St. John Mandel and Sonya Chung, and most recently Lizzie Skurnick), The Rumpus (run by Stephen Elliott, and featuring Seth Fischer, Rozalia Jovanovic, and Elissa Bassist), HTML Giant (run by Justin Taylor and featuring Nick Antosca, Jimmy Chen, and Blake Butler), Words Without Borders (whose blog is edited by the inimitable Bud Parr), and Open Letters Monthly.

The LA Times’ talented and tireless Carolyn Kellogg sets the tone for the newspaper’s Jacket Copy blog with a nice mix of industry and literary reporting. I miss (my friend and former editor) Dwight Garner at The New York Times’ Paper Cuts, but Gregory Cowles and some of the other contributors do a great job there.

The LRB, Bookforum, and The New York Review of Books all have blogs now. Laura Miller, Salon’s first-rate book critic, has rearranged the books section to allow for bloggy entries. Thessaly LaForce, mastermind, with Macy Halford, of The New Yorker’s Book Bench has moved to The Paris Review, which suggests that the venerable literary magazine could join Granta, Tin House, A Public Space, and VQR in blogging or publishing online-only work.

As for writers (not already mentioned above), I recommend Alison Bechdel, James Hynes, Amitava Kumar, Alexander Chee, Stephany Aulenback, Laila Lalami, Marie Mockett, Marlon James, D.E. Rasso, Kevin Kinsella, Gabrielle Bell, Levi Stahl, and George Murray. Also, if you’ve lost track of Lizzie Skurnick, she writes regularly for The Daily Beast and Politics Daily. And Betsy Lerner is a writer and an agent whose blog is both hilarious and informative, so you can almost convince yourself you’re getting work done while hitting reload there.

Galleycat, Sarah Weinman, and of course Publishers Weekly do quick, smart industry reporting.

At The Awl, Alex Balk and Choire Sicha have published my thoughts on Sarah Palin and militia groups, and you can find the two of them writing there on a wide range of cultural topics, alongside Chris Lehmann, Ana Marie Cox, Lindsay Robertson, Maura Johnston, Maria Bustillos, and Tom Scocca, among others.

More blogs, some of which I’ll kick myself for forgetting to mention, are listed on my links page. I’m also following good people at Twitter.


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