Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In search of ...

... a corpus delicti: Blogging and the "common reader." (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The search engine Technorati currently tracks "112.8 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media" on the net. The number keeps growing. In the face of 110 million of them, simply by saying "all blogs are X" the person who utters (or writes) that sentence betrays themselves as foolish. ... It is pretty much impossible even to try to keep up with the blogosphere without reading widely in it -- only a newsfeeder allows you to do that systematically.

I found what Susan Hill is quoted as saying in the Vulpes Libris post that is linked to interesting:

Some bloggers see themselves as the same as book reviewers in the papers but they are not. You are unedited. You are uncut. You write about what you want not what they ask you to; you are writing in a more relaxed way. You do not stick to publication dates etc. or only new books.

Well, in the column I used to write - which was edited, of course, and by some very good editors - I wrote about what I wanted, I wrote (I like to think) in a pretty relaxed way, I didn't necessarily stick to pub dates, nor to new books. True, I was the assigning editor, but I also ran pieces by books that had come out decades earlier (ask Roger Miller). The primary aim of my column was to recommend a book I had enjoyed reading. But it didn't always end up that way. I was initially much taken with Paul Theroux's Blinding Light, but ended up hating it and saying so. The same was true of J.M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year. I read it because I thought I would like it - I had liked Elizabeth Costello.
I should also add that not one of my editors ever toned down any negative criticism I wrote.


  1. You do not have to ask Roger Miller. He will tell you without being asked. Frank is mostly right. When I reviewed for him, he not only would occasionally take a look at a worthy older book on an anniversary or a reissue, he kept a lookout for worthy new books that were not "buzz" books or by "name" authors. I see nothing wrong in writing about what you want and doing it in a relaxed way. Sometimes a relaxed-seeming style is the result of painfully careful writing. I DO see difficulties in bloggers not having someone to edit them.

  2. I agree, Roger, about the lack of editing up to a point. If the lack of editing starts getting in the way of reader satisfaction, the blog will either die for lack of readers, or the blogger will take steps to have himself edited. I notice that on the Vulpes Libris site there apparently is some sort of community editing taking place.

  3. I read Susan Hill's entire post when she wrote it, and it seemed sensible to me.
    Most book review sections of newspapers and magazines overwhelmingly focus on new books, to coincide with pub dates. Blogs are great in that books reviewed are in the main those that the blogger has read for personal reasons, including reading recommendations on other blogs covering similar areas.

    Susan is also correct that, on the whole, the standard of writing on blogs is not as high as in edited articles, in my opinion. Probably, editors who also blog, on average, write higher quality blog posts.

    Both activities are different in many ways -- it is quite nice to be able to write what one wants, knowing that nobody is going to edit you. At work, what I write is perhaps more polished as a result of editing, but it is not quite as "me".

    There is room for all these activities-- which is one of the points Susan made in her post. But I do agree that there is a heck of a lot of drivel written on blogs or online comment threads of publishers' websites. Although much in the "mainstream media" is low quality, you do not see as much of the sheer self-indulgent ignorance as you see on the kind of blogs you would never visit twice.