Blogs saving books? A conversation, part 2

This is, as the title states, part 2 of this discussion. If you haven’t kept up, please see part 1 here before reading this installment. This part consists of a review of Lissa Warren’s column that touched off this entire debate. In the third installment I’ll review and comment on the indignant book bloggers’ side.

The first hand’s take: A representative-apparent of the old guard, Lissa Warren (a book publicist and editor) wrote (in a newspaper column) that blogs aren’t (and won’t become) an adequate replacement for these old standbys, the standalone book review sections of major newspapers.

She points out a few book blogs she reads, two of which are in my feed reader — the New York Times’ Paper Cuts and The Elegant Variation. She finds fault with even these, though.

Warren’s main criticisms of book blogs?

    1. Instead of offering original reviews, they often link to reviews in paper media.
    2. Blogs, by format, are too short.
    3. Reviews on blogs are self-indulgent.
    4. They lack a book summary and an introduction to the book’s main characters.

My response: I read a lot of blogs — at the moment, my feed reader holds 112 subscriptions. Not all of them are book blogs, but a good number of them do discuss books on a fairly regular basis. The first two criticisms don’t hold water, to use the old cliche. Warren herself knocks down her straw-man argument for the second. In addition, there are some blogs that offer lengthy, in-depth reviews. These three come to mind.

The first? In the blogs she cites, perhaps those newspaper reviews actually did start the conversation — apparently they were published before the blog post went live. I don’t, however, the the blogs I read, find most (or many, for that matter) reviews linking to a review in the old media. {Even if they did, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that.}

Now we’ve reached her third point. I’ll let this stand in her own words:

Well, I think book reviews on blogs — particularly those of the Blogspot variety — tend to be self-indulgent. Book reviewing bloggers need to move away from opinion in favor of judgment. How does the book compare to — and fit in with — the author’s previous work? What’s the book’s place in the genre? The canon? Does the writer succeed in doing what he or she set out to do — meaning, is it the book they meant it to be? Whether it’s the book the blogger wanted it to be is of much less importance to me, frankly.

I’d also advise that book reviewing bloggers jettison the use of personal pronouns (yes, I’ve used a slew of them here; you can nail me in the comments). And for goodness sake, I wish they’d stop telling me what their father and their girlfriend — or their father’s girlfriend — thought of the book. Also, I don’t need to know how they came to possess the book — how they borrowed it from the library, or bought it at B&N, or snagged a galley at The Strand, or got the publisher to send them a copy even though they average four hits a day. The banal back-story is of little interest.

Emphasis in the original.

[Wow, she uses a lot of dashes.]

Yikes. I’d label that vitriolic. (That last sentence is judgment, by the way, not opinion.)

I try, when I write my own measly reviews, to make sure I do address the book’s relation to the author’s previous work, the book’s genre and the canon, when I’m significantly versed in such to have and/or voice an opinion. Sometimes I’m not, though. A reader’s reaction to the first work she’s read by a given author is in some ways just as valid as the reaction of a reader who has read all of that author’s works; they’re different reactions, in terms of depth and familiarity.

How the reviewer feels about the book is important to me. As I read that person’s reviews over time, I’ll come to know how that blog’s taste matches or clashes with mine. Without this, what’s the point? Maybe I’m being obtuse. I don’t really understand this point.

Personal pronouns should be removed? That’s such a small thing to take issue with. There is also a not-quite-stated-in-words criticism in Warren’s opinion piece, though, that blogs are written informally and are prone to grammar and usage flaws. While this may be true of some blogs, it’s harsh and over the top to apply this fault to blogs across the board; that’s just not true! Informal? Sure. I think it’s valid in this medium. The back story is important to me, as well.

Now to point four above. First, I know all blog book reviews don’t lack this. But I also question the need for plot summaries and an overview of characters to be in book reviews. First of all, this information is readily available. The reviewer could quote Amazon or the book jacket. But this isn’t original content. If a blog mention lacks this, I can just click over to Amazon in a new tab and read about it there (or in BookMooch, LibraryThing, GoodReads … or, if all else fails, there’s always Wikipedia and/or Google). I don’t feel the need for summaries and character overviews to clog up my feed reader. Actually, if I’m interested in reading a book, I sometimes have regretted reading the book cover beforehand — it gave too much away. I usually don’t read it.

I’ll leave this side of the debate now with another quote from Warren:

I can’t ignore the power of blogs to stoke the public interest, any more than I can ignore the fact that the traditional book review outlets are drying up and no one has yet determined how to save them. No, I don’t believe blogs will save books — not in their current format. But I can envision a day when blogs do for books what books have done for people: challenged us, made us think in ways we never would have.

Part 3, coming soon!

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2 responses to “Blogs saving books? A conversation, part 2

  1. Pingback: Blogs saving books? A conversation, part 3 « Word Lily

  2. bookroomreviews

    Thank you for the sweet compliment:) Made my night! Very eloquent and thougtful rebuttals! I love this debate actually, it is giving us little old book bloggers more of a voice in my opinion.

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