Thursday, April 26, 2007

Book reviews and blogging

The NBCC campaign to save book reviews is gaining momentum, and yesterday, Marie Arana, books editor at the Washington Post, wrote on the NBCC blog:

I've been in this business a long time, and I can't remember when book review sections were not in peril. Newspaper staffs are filled with people who don't understand what we do or why readers love us, even though the very public they serve tells them often and strongly that books are important to their lives.

A recent arts and entertainment survey of
Washington Post readers shows that interest in book news is second only to interest in restaurants. That means that readers want book information more than they want information on new movies, pop music concerts, live theater,or even newly released DVDs. And yet when the accountants come around wanting to cut the newsroom's budget, it's always book sections that are scrutinized first.

Arana gets the other editors at the Washington Post Book World to comment on the issue. Michael Dirda begins his piece with this:

Every blogger wants to write a book. In fact, the dirty little secret of the internet is "Littera scripta manet"--the written word survives. A book is real, whereas cyberspace is just keystrokes--quickly scribbled and quickly forgotten.

I have two points to make here. I wonder if Horace knew at any level that coming societies may have a form of writing that's not done on paper. His maxim seems more like a warning against leaving important things to only oral communication. Digital word is the written word, for every practical purpose.

Second, it is unfair to argue that every blogger wants to write a book (those who do, like Scott Stein, end up publishing theirs). Why should one assume that a wish to talk about books is dependent on one's future as a writer? Blogging has opened up vistas for me that were not imaginable in the absence of the World Wide Web. Not only has it made me a more learned person, it has also piqued my interest in the arts by democratizing their coverage. If the non-visual world had been my only medium of expression, I don't think I would have bothered getting a look in.

There is also the question of what constitutes "serious work". I have often felt that critics like Dirda rest their argument on the dissipative nature of the Internet. They seem to be saying, "The Web allows you to be irresponsible and ill-informed about what you speak becaue there is no accountability." Well, thankfully, blogging today has so many erudite participants that it is almost impossible to pass something silly without the fear of a loss of face. The communities, whether literary or any other, are so well-knit that one can be assured an immediate slap on the wrist for a lapse.

In other news, you can now show support to the NBCC campaign on saving book reviews by displaying a sticker the kind you see on my blog when you scroll down (below the Archives). It's available at Critical Mass.

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