Michael Orthofer went to the NBCC’s panel on book criticism in the 21st century and took extensive notes on the conversation, from which one gathers there was much of the usual “general wariness about online book-coverage,” and that “oddly no one thought that dedicated book-sites might offer something else.” What is that something else? As Orthofer puts it, “Big newspaper (and magazine) book sections tend to have an awful lot of overlap in what titles they cover… and the fact that the reach of the online sites is, if nothing else, much deeper seems to have gone unnoticed by all.” No doubt because they’re too busy telling themselves that bloggers are a bunch of disgruntled resentniks. (Richard Grayson, also in the audience, has more on that lie book reviewers tell themselves, including what sounds like a particularly unfortunate suggestion that bloggers are just one step away from crazed gunmen. (Not that I don’t know exactly who mainstream book reviewers are thinking of when they express such sentiments, but, come on, people, haven’t you ever heard of outliers and anomolies?)
Nevertheless, kudos to Steve Wasserman for suggesting that much of the print media’s attempt to recapture the ground they’ve lost to independent bloggers has been little more than “junk food,” which, along with the point mentioned above gets right to the heart of the problem with contemporary book review sections: Too many readers have come to the conclusion that the music they constantly play says nothing to them about their lives. And thanks, too, Sir Salman Rushdie, for showing up and saying book reviewers and bloggers should coexist peacefully.
(Scott McLemee emails to take umbrage with my earlier assertion that the NBCC’s four-day “week-long” symposium did not include any active independent litbloggers; in addition to his role as a columnist for Inside Higher Ed, McLemee reminds me that he has also been writing the Quick Study blog for ArtsJournal since January of this year, along with the cultural blog Crooked Timber and the historians’ group blog Cliopatria, hosted by George Mason University’s History News Network. McLemee did not take part in the discussion described above, but was a participant in another panel dealing with literary magazines migrating online.)