This blog turns three years old today—it started as a new year’s resolution I made in 2008, and it’s the only one I’ve kept for so long. In all the time I’ve been blogging I’ve heard background chatter that blogging is a dying if not dead medium; the most popular blogs now look more like websites for mass-media properties, and a lot of what would fit best on a blog a few years ago now gets Tweeted or Tumblr’d. It may say something about our culture that we talk often about how books matter less and less, while we sign up for tools that offer subtle gradations of saying things briefly.
But the book still lives, as an idea if not always as a business proposition. And as for blogging, well, I’m stubborn, through the baby fog and all the rest, for the same reasons I gave last year. Blogging makes me a better reader, and though I do Tweet and (very rarely) use Tumblr, only here can I work out the kind of thoughts I can’t compress into 140 characters but which aren’t quite ready for prime time (i.e., a published review). I blog less than I used to, but, I think, with more of a purpose now: Though I swore to myself when I started blogging that I wouldn’t write what would formally qualify as a “review” here, these days I’m more interested in expanding on ideas contained in individual books or stories, either riffing on something I’ve written for print or exploring ideas that would be hard for me to summarize in a 600-word assignment. If I’m disappointed at how much word counts have diminished since I began writing book reviews for publication (oh, jeez) 15 years ago, I can’t complain that I lack the space to say what I’m thinking about. Here, the only limitations are available time and, perhaps, a good editor, still one of the benefits of writing for publication.
But if I don’t have a backstop, I’m not doing this entirely alone. The comments, email exchanges, and personal conversations I’ve had as a result of this blog have been profoundly important to me, and that in itself is a reason to keep doing this. As always, thanks for reading.
Posting here will be light for a little while. I like to think I have a good reason, though:
That pensive fellow up there is Daniel Neidorf Athitakis, who was born yesterday. He’s doing fine, as is his mother. Me, I’m a bit sleepy but mostly just over the moon over this kid. I’m sure it’ll be a little while before I get back into a regular groove around here, but a bit of a break might not be such a bad thing. Regardless, I imagine that I’ll try to sneak in as much reading as I can between feedings, changes, and other parenting duties. Talk to you soon.
I’ll be offline for the next few days, though I may show up on Twitter on occasion. In the meantime, please consider studying up on the Advanced Genius Theory (Jason Hartley‘s thoughtful responses to my post deserve a response as well, and I’ll get to it soon), or take a look at some of the Q&As with literary websites I’ve been conducting for Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle; better yet, spend some time at the sites featured in the series.
Posting will resume around the middle of next week. As always, thanks for reading.
Today I’m heading up to New York City for a batch of meetings and events hosted by the National Book Critics Circle. I was elected to the NBCC’s board earlier this year, and since then a few people have let me know how they feel about the organization. Some of what they say is positive, some of it’s negative, but in either case the common theme is that they’re not quite sure why it exists. What’s the use of a nonprofit for book critics when their authority has eroded and the Internet has made it easy for bookish people to congregate, support each others’ writing, and celebrate the books they like best?
The NBCC isn’t unique among nonprofits in that regard. I don’t mention it much here, but my employer is in the business of helping people improve their nonprofit associations—most (if not all) of which are in the same boat as the NBCC, struggling to figure out how to be meaningful to their members as the Internet finds new and exciting ways to eat their lunch. The NBCC doesn’t do a lot of the things most associations do—it doesn’t have a staff, or lobby politicians, or produce its own magazine, or run a certification program. (I’m trying to guess how many hospital visits would result from even suggesting a Certified Book Critic credential.) But whether you’re in the American Society of Widget Makers or the NBCC, there’s a pervasive worry that the recession is going to eradicate most of your reason for being and some random dude’s website is going to take whatever’s left. The NBCC can at least take some comfort in the fact that it’s not the only organization wringing its hands over this.
I’ve wound up geeking out on association work more than I expected to in the past year, which is part of the reason why I decided to run for the NBCC board. Run right, it’s an admirable culture. Association folk are easy to like because they tend to be enthusiasts for their professions without being craven businesspeople; at heart, they’re just people who really like their work and want other people to like it too. So I became a little more of a joiner than is perhaps dignified for a reader: I think book criticism is important and interesting, and I’d like other people to think it’s important and interesting too. And though there’s no shortage of places to talk about books, there’s no national organization with the explicit purpose of supporting good book criticism and pointing out its value to a wide audience. I know some people think the NBCC falls short of that mission. I know lots of people think that a bunch of critics getting together to pick their favorite books is an elitist activity that has nothing to do with how people really read and talk about books these days. But the mission itself has value, and if there’s another group that’s actively, formally, and consistently supporting the work that book critics do, I haven’t heard about it.
That doesn’t mean I know what it’ll take to make print publications solvent and respect their book sections again, or how best to support the the online outlets that have arrived to fill the vacuum. For now, I can say that I’ve edited and read enough copy about board governance to know that the smart strategy going in is to listen more than I talk. I won’t be able to hush up entirely, though: Tomorrow I’ll be part of a panel on what the next decade in book culture will be like, where I’ll mostly be figuring out ways to say something more interesting than “Beats the hell out of me.” If you’ll be there, or at one of the awards events, please say hello. (I look pretty much like my Twitter profile image, though it’s a few years old; recalibrate for less hair, larger jowls.)
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to entirely escape the ill effects of the winter weather that has been punishing the Washington, D.C., region for most of the past week. My home phone and Internet connections are currently down, and the prognosis for when they might return is somewhere between a few days and few weeks. I’ll likely be able to post on occasion until my Internet access is restored—if, for instance, I can plant myself for a little while at a Wi-Fi-enabled cafe like the one where I’m writing this. But whatever it is you come here expecting, expect less of it for a bit. Thanks.
Today is the second anniversary of this blog. I thought about commemorating the date by linking to my very first post, but I’d rather not embarrass myself, or waste your time—much of what I blogged about then would barely rise to the level of a Tweet now. That says something about how much about how much blogging has changed in a short 700 or so days, and indeed you don’t have to look far to find people who’ll tell you that blogging is a dying if not dead exercise.
But I persist, because doing it still satisfies the chief goal I set for myself when I started—to become a better reader. When I began, I figured I’d spend, say, six months or so minding my own business until I figured out what I was doing, then make some kind of announcement about the project. Of course, the literary blogosphere is too tightly knit to let you mind your own business for very long; I received a nice note by A Prominent Litblogger less than a week in. That’s a happily unexpected side-effect of blogging: Doing this has introduced me to a lot of smart people I wouldn’t know otherwise, and helped start a few friendships as well. That, too, is a reason to keep going.
As for “figuring out what I was doing,” nuts to that—I gave up on that along time ago. I have a few tics and routines, but as a general rule I click on “new post” not exactly sure about where I want to go. (That’s probably painfully obvious sometimes, but I make no great claims for the quality of this enterprise—these are just “notes,” remember.) What’s flattering is that so many people have shown up, and are willing to watch me work it all out in public. Thank you for reading.
People who read this blog via RSS won’t notice it, but for a little more than a year I’ve maintained a page on this site dedicated to book readings and signings in the Washington, D.C., area. The format is admittedly clumsy, but I’ve tried to make the listings fairly comprehensive, and the page is easily the site’s most-read individual page. However, these days I think more and more about sunsetting it.
I’d miss maintaining the page if I just stopped doing it. It’s a good way to keep up on who’s planning to come to town, and assembling it occasionally tips me to some important changes in the D.C. bookselling scene. If I hadn’t been updating the page this morning, for instance, I wouldn’t have come across the sad news that Lambda Rising, the District’s pioneering GLBT bookseller, is closing its two stores. But there’s no getting around the fact that doing this is fairly time-consuming, and that there are other places that do this sort of thing with a lot more tech-savvy.
So if you like the listings and would like to see them continue, now is the time to speak up and let me know. I’m not (just) fishing for encouragement—I’d like to hear thoughts about what would make the listings better and more useful. Fewer listings with more specific information? Comments and/or brief reviews? More outbound links? If the listings are meaningful to you in any way, please leave a note in the comments or send me an e-mail. Regardless, thank you for taking the time to read this site.