I'm flattered to have been invited back to participate in this year's Online Book Fair brought to you by Love of Reading. If you're showing up here for the first time, I encourage you to browse through the archives and recommendations down along the right side of the page.
I thought it might be interesting to look at what, if anything, has changed since my post last year. At the time, I opined:
Because of the unlimited space on websites, the offerings on most blogs are limited only by the author’s laziness. They can offer detailed interviews, lengthy reviews and analysis of publishing trends. There’s no pressure to review the book of the moment, so bloggers can follow their noses or indulge in their passions, which might include creating a repository of author interview podcasts. But what blogs do best, I think, is create a literary sense of community, something very similar to what the Online Book Fair is attempting. At very little expense and at no real inconvenience to readers, we offer a gathering place where ideas are exchanged. Newspapers and magazines are necessarily static, with dialogue limited to the letters page. But blogs and other online forums can foster a real-time conversation which brings in readers from all over the world weighing in on thoughts that matter to them. Anyone who thinks no one is reading any more hasn’t spent much time online.
What strikes me most a year later is the growing convergence between what, for the sake of this discussion, I'll refer to using the inelegant labels "Old Media" and "New Media." Sure, there have been a few unimaginative journalists and at least one rabid publicist who seek to position this story as Us versus Them - upstart, resentful outsiders taking on the gatekeepers of the culture. But a funny thing happened along the way: The upstarts have become gatekeepers, after a fashion, and the gatekeepers are showing a streak of rebeliousness with the result that the conversation has moved to a new level. And that, I think, is the real story.
On the one hand, you've seen well established literary bloggers like Maud Newton, Laila Lalami and Edward Champion become familiar bylines adorning book review pages from Newsday to the Philadelphia Inquirer to the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times and beyond. (My own reviews can be found in a newly added sidebar, This Gun For Hire, located down the right side of this site.) For all those who would have you believe that literary bloggers are nothing more than embittered wannabees fueled by ressentiment, this growing body of work stands as, one hopes, a final rebuke.
On the other side of the fence, newspapers have launched themselves into the blogging business. The best of these blogs, Dwight Garner's superb Paper Cuts, displays all the characteristics of the most popular and effective literary blogs - individuality, thoughtfulness, attitude and voice - coupled with the remarkable resource of the New York Times' bottomless archive, delivering a daily bit of book talk that's been an essential stop since the day it launched, as the often lively comments section attests. The Los Angeles Times' Jacket Copy, though less engaging, is marked by editor David L. Ulin's thoughtful contributions. Frank Wilson of the Philadelphia Inquirer was the first books editor into the blogosphere, where he provided an important early look at life inside a Book Review. And then there's Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle (of which I'm a member) which, despite the occasional misstep and inadvertent faning of the Us v. Them flame, also has a formidable resource upon which to draw: its talented membership, which has contributed thoughtful essays, reading lists and invaluable advice for book reviewers. We've also seen the launch of Steve Wasserman's book section at Truthdig, a weekly feature that proves that worthy criticism needn't necessarily exist in print form. And Bookforum, one of the best book reviews in the land, now offers its entire contents online.
Still, lest anyone think it's getting too polite and friendly out there, it's worth considering all this in the long shadow of Norman Mailer's death, which has inspired tributes and attacks from new and old media alike. Consider pugnacity; passion; carelessness; sloppy writing and faulty thinking; earnestness; the occasional gleaming sentence; righteousness; fury; engagement ... it seems to me that the qualities that made Mailer simultaneously maddening and vital, infuriating and essential are precisely what you'll find touring the ever-expanding literary blogosphere. So welcome to fair. The fun is about to begin.