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May 17, 2007



So does this mean that John Freeman's laundry bills are being picked up by Little Brown? :)

Jack Pendarvis

You know, Mr. Variation, I learned about the AJC situation from your blog. And you seemed sad about it. You even spurred me to action, I believe. You got me riled up! In the good way! This man's hands are clean, Ms. Byrne! He likes book reviews! We all like book reviews! Now let's all be friends. One day the sun will melt the earth and there will be no newspapers or blogs or anything and then won't we all feel silly?


i was taken aback by her response to your post. i do, however, give her points for a vivid, if entirely misguided, metaphor: "...if newspapers are dying, then blogs are the maggots come to feast upon their corpses."

mmm! SO glad i had lunch right before reading that. :)

seriously, i think Ms Byrne did you an injustice in her interpretation of your article, and i posted a comment to that effect over at NBCC.


I'm still trying to figure out why the NBCC published this thing. The only purpose it seems to serve is fanning the flames of this insane conflict. I also thought it was interesting that she completely ignored Eric Williamson's excellent post about book reviews in literary journals. The message from Byrne seems to be that the only thing that matters is newspaper reviews and those of us who don't believe that are not truly "literary" enough.

Whatever the hell that means.

Dan Green

Her post shows every evidence of insanity, as did also the recent outburst by Michael Dirda. For some reason (and I truly can't quite parse it out), literary blogs seem to be driving some of these people right around the bend. (Paranoia, persecution complexes.) That she would respond so hysterically to your own really quite low-key and reasonable post especially boggles the mind.


What link do I hit for a shot of synovial fluid?

Erika D.

I'll join in this chorus. Then again, it's been quite awhile since I've expected sustained rationality, fairness, and honest "dialogue" from the Critical Mass blog. Which is why I resigned from the NBCC and why--apart from the fact that I've never once read the AJC or its book review and know nothing about Teresa Weaver (apart from her former title and her connection with the NBCC)--I haven't signed the famous petition.

And I still think your posts were excellent, Mark.

Janine P.

Most literary blogs, as fun and useful as they may be, simply do not post lengthy, in-depth reviews of books. They may link to such reviews and offer a few brief comments in response (which is fine for what it is), but they do replace book review sections of newspapers or magazines.

They could try to, but I don't see this happening yet.

As for Michael Dirda, he's not insane. He has a fondness for print. Is Mark Sarvas publishing his novel in an online version or will actual ink and paper somehow be involved? Doesn't he understand that there is no real "market" for literary books made of paper?

Dan Green

"Most literary blogs, as fun and useful as they may be, simply do not post lengthy, in-depth reviews of books"

This is increasingly simply not the case. I don't know what "fun" blogs you have in mind, but if you can't find newspaper-length book reviews on litblogs, you're not trying hard enough.

Steven Augustine

The most entertaining irony of the matter being that Ms. Byrne's rant is written with all the flailing hyperbole of a novice blogger's first flame. What Ms. Byrne does here is inadvertently call attention to the meritocratic nature of online expression; she sabotages much of her argument by expressing herself less ably than many of the bloggers she sets out to belittle.

Why she sets out to belittle them in the first place, though, is still beyond me. Will any bloc of potential readers (the authority to whom these shrill appeals are being made, in the end) be swayed by professional-wrestling-style trash talk of such silliness?

Rebecca Skloot

I posted about this over at Critical Mass, but wanted to comment here as well. I'm coming to this whole thread a little late because I'm in the midst of a cross-country move right now.

I ("Blogmistress" of Critical Mass) was just as surprised and disheartened as the rest of you to read Byrne's post. Fueling this ridiculous (and I think totally false) online vs. print debate does no good for anyone. Obviously, I didn't create Critical Mass as a forum for trashing lit blogs. My full comment is here.

Erika D.

Rebecca, I agree with you that the group blog enterprise is a difficult one. All the more reason, then, to give more thought to what can make it successful. If you're going to have a group blog that's billed as the blog of the NBCC Board of Directors (and not the blog of a group of individuals otherwise identified), I think some extra steps will be necessary to give readers the confidence that the disclaimer about posts not representing an official perspective has any real weight.

Obviously, you know, from my specific experience, that I come to this with some extra baggage. But I think the history of my quarrel(s) with the NBCC, which I won't detail here on Mark's blog, is worth recalling because some of the ways it might have been dealt with more effectively hold true now as well:

1) I think the board/blogging committee members need to speak up, and speak up quickly, if/when they disagree with a particular post (or a series of posts) that conveys a harsh/divisive argument.

2) Similarly, they need to defend the voices of reason. I'm thinking here of Mark's voice, for example. I was utterly sincere in my earlier comments to him--I don't know how much more skillfully he could possibly have written those posts and yet he was, frankly, attacked by Ms. Byrne. A "critical mass" of response is needed.

3) I think the element of speedy response matters in other ways, too. For instance, as someone who routinely writes reviews for literary journals and "niche" publications, I personally appreciate this week's Critical Mass posts for book reviews/coverage. But didn't anyone with "posting power" realize those points earlier? At this moment, they run the risk of being overshadowed by the more strident (and numerous posts) that have caused so much discord.

4) I think those with responsibility for the blog may need to make an effort to represent more viewpoints that aren't their own. I know that in the past, when I was still a member, I sent material along (unsolicited, I suppose it would be called). Some of said material did make it to the blog (for which I sincerely remain grateful to you). But some didn't, and I have good reason to suspect why.

If you and your colleagues truly do want that blog to be perceived as a smart, welcoming community (where I, for instance, might once again feel able/"safe" enough to post, and once again send people over for the material I do find useful), I think you all need to give some serious attention to efforts that could make that happen. Otherwise, no matter how many times you repeat yourself, it will be very hard for people to believe that the dominant "ideologies" any reasonable reader could discern at Critical Mass don't, in fact, dominate the NBCC.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."