Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Blog? Bacchantes of the Book World

Bloggers all over cyberspace, the boundaries of which are infinite, have considered the question, "Why blog?" Who posed this question first?  Socrates, Kant, or dovegreyreader?  I’m never in the vanguard and this question trickled down to me through a charming essay at Stuck in a Book , in which Simon, an Oxford student, considers his position as the  writer of an engaging blog in which he gracefully conveys his boundless enthusiasm for books. Although he may be the youngest and among the most exuberant of the writers on my Blogroll, all of them read and blog as if inspired and frenzied by a God of Reading, whoever that might be.  They are the Bacchantes of the Book World.
Some bloggers write actual reviews, others keep a journal of their notes or impressions (I'm the impressionistic type). Many admit they prefer writing without the pressure of reviewing for newspapers or magazines, a task which entails tact and tempering criticism to be fair, overpraising because one is intimidated by the fame of the writer, or, worse, overemphasizing the flaws because trashing is amusing.  There is less negative “attitude” in the U.S. book pages because space has shrunk to a premium and why waste space on bad books (unless they’re by really famous people)? But I’m constantly shocked by the slash-and-burn reviews in UK newspapers of pretty good books.  In the U.S., book reviewers have begun to adopt a more conciliatory tone.  In the UK, ironically, it is often bloggers who are wishy-washy.  (Sebastian Faulks, in his excellent novel, A Week in December, portrays a book reviewer who lives to eviscerate books--no doubt a writer's nightmare.)
I love to complain about book whores, though I don't really care one way or the other:  some bloggers are one-man-or-woman PR firms.  I watch with fascination as self-referential English bloggers (Americans don’t go in for this so much) make self-congratulatory lists of books they’ve received free from publishers (who cares?) and assure us that all of the many books of which they’ve no doubt read a paragraph or two are excellent.   
In a way I understand them.  If there’s a lot of traffic at one's blog and publishers and writers drop by, it’s embarrassing to remember that one's review might not have been 150 percent positive.  And so one might gradually become a PR flack.
On the other hand, who cares if one blogger reviews and another does PR?  Blogs are personal, self-edited, and free--and can be whatever the bloggers choose!
I’d like to change the name of my blog to Book Whore because I believe I coined the phrase, but as my husband pointed out, I’m not one.  I no longer accept any free books from publishers  because it makes me unhappy to stare at a shelf of books I will probably never read.  There are just too many good books in the world to waste time on the mediocre, especially if one isn't getting paid 

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