Thursday, December 06, 2007

Scorning book blogs: replacing a deleted post

Apparently all my scorn in the post this replaces should have been directed at Adam Kirsch and not Gail Pool. Profuse apologies to Gail Pool. In mitigation, Wolcott's review is ambiguous about where the quotation comes from, though seeing as it's a review of a specific book, you would have thought such a long quotation would be from there. I deleted the post and replaced it with this near identical version, and though I'm sure it was covered at the time of publication, it still deserves a kicking.
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 key words here being "I know". This is James Walcott quoting from Adam Kirsch's attack on book blogs. Kirsch fails to provide any specific examples of book blogs, but he wouldn't have written that sentence if he knew Dan Green's The Reading Experience or Richard Crary's The Existence Machine. And if he doesn't know either, then he is unqualified to generalise about book blogs. Not that it stops him.
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.
The key words here being "only", "professional" and "usually". A professional editor would demand examples and clarification of the other two words. Another obvious use of book blogs is to provide self-satisfied professionals with a straw man, and if those useful links are "usually" to print journals, what do the exceptions reveal?

It so happens I'm also a professional writer, though not in the field I would prefer. What I consider more important is that which I write out of a need to speak. The last "long-form essay" I wrote was a year ago, about Richard Ford's Sportswriter trilogy. The form suited what I had to discover. Usually, however, a shorter blog post is appropriate. It's often much more of a challenge to write short. Sometimes I wish James Wood used a fifth of the words he writes nowadays. (Which reminds me of a critic of Derrida's long-winded style, influenced, he said, by having to pad-out three-hour seminars. Compare this with the concise reviews and essays by his friend and mentor Blanchot, who remained outside professionalism.)

And it's early days: book blogging is a new form of criticism under restraint. It has good, bad and indifferent practitioners. As a reader, I make the same decisions online as I make in the bookshop and the library. I don't dismiss fiction because of Tom Clancy anymore than I dismiss online criticism because of Amazon customer reviews.


  1. Anonymous10:16 pm

    Whereas others of us just wish James Wood would shut up.

  2. Do you mean James Wolcott?

    Or Jersey Joe Walcott?

    Say what you will about those who criticize blogs: at least they're better spellers or have editors who are.

  3. I was thinking of Theo Walcott of course. Top literary critic him.



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