And it seemed right, I mean rite, to me

  1. The indie book blog is dead: to begin with.

1.1 It’s January 2019, and the topic seems to have resurfaced at Vulture – of all places – after The Millions was acquired by Publishers Weekly earlier this year. The fact that the millions have shifted from being a blog to become an online magazine not now but nine long years ago seems not to have struck a chord with the vultures, who speak with some grandeur of the end of an era: “(…) an online Wild West full of hungry readers and exuberant writers still young and innocent enough not to mind working for (almost) free.” And they add: “there’s a consensus among readers, writers, publishers, and critics that something has ended.”

1.1.1 Either I have a problem with the word consensus, or this something whose death is once again proclaimed never really existed in the first place.

1.1.2 “The kind of readerliness of the Millions, I just feel like that’s not really in fashion anymore — the idea that you would just write about a book because you liked it, and that would be good enough”, argues Laura Miller.

1.1.2.1 It was never in fashion, nor about being in fashion, Laura. At least, not for the indie book blogger who hit publish in a post about an obscure book in 2002, without knowing who would read her review nor why – and who continues to hit publish to this day without a clear answer to these questions.

1.1.2.2 It is good enough.

1.1.2.3 In fact, you should try it, sometimes. The fun part is: you don’t even have to sign it with your own name. You can be whoever you want. You can be nobody.

1.1.2.4 In fact, that’s how it all started.

1.1.2.4.1 “I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you – Nobody – too?” Emily Dickinson

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1.2. It was nothing less than a blog that brought me to this (unfortunate?) piece at Vulture. As Anthony beautifully puts it: “The book blog died a long time ago, but keep reading the ones you love as zombies in any part of human culture remain as effective as ever at reducing their subject to the bare, intricately nuanced essentials.”

1.2. 1 Maybe I am too old-fashioned? Too cynical? Too obscure?

1.2.1.1 I am a zombie, too.

1.3 “The age of book blogging is dead. Long live … Bookstagram?”, proclaim the vultures.

1.3.1 If by that they mean ‘the age of making money with book blogging’, then, perhaps, we are talking at cross purposes here.

1.3.1.1 Blogs have become invisible to marketing, as much as they already were at their so-called golden beginning

1.3.1.1.1 If you cannot put a price on it, it does not exist.

1.3.1.2 Blogs have also become less visible to the conversation, which has grown and multiplied and fragmented itself, partly shifting to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr – you name it.

1.3.1.2.1 If you cannot be the conversation, you do not exist either.

1.3.1.3 Or so it seems.

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1.4 Back in 2016, on the occasion of shutting down Book Slut, Crispin was already speaking of “the end of an era of internet freedom”, and the death of a book community “driven by enthusiasm not clicks, goodwill and not money”.

1.4.1 If the question is not money nor attention, then the small community of zombies is still here, Jessa. We are not in for the money, and the goodwill is real;

1.4.2 However, if what is lacking is not the enthusiasm but the attention and the money it may bring, then I am sorry to tell you, honey: you have to be willing to play the game and trick the algorithm;

1.4.2.1 But the good news is that the spring may have run dry, and yet you are still free to join the conversation – for free;

1.4.2.1.1 You are free to be invisible;

1.4.2.1.1.1 I know, it may sound too indie for some, honey. Or too cynical.

1.4.2.1.1.1.1 But, the fact is, I am nobody. Do you want to be nobody, too?

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  1. Book blogging is dead. And poetry is dead. The novel is dead, art is dead. Cinema is dead, the book is dead, even the truth – you got it – is dead. “Imagine being haunted by the ghosts of all these dead things.

2.1 I am old enough to remember the good ol’ days when the small, enthusiastic book blogging community was accused of having destroyed print culture and literary criticism.

2.1.1 “It is also not accidental that criticism has all but disappeared from the news media and has taken refuge in those cloistered communities called humanities faculties. Now critics are a dying breed, to whom nobody pays attention unless they also turn themselves into a form of entertainment and spectacle. The vacuum left by the disappearance of criticism has been filled, imperceptibly, by advertising, and advertising is now not just an integral part of cultural life, it is its main vector. Advertising plays a decisive role in forming taste, sensibility, imagination and customs.” Llosa.

2.1.1.1 Well, apparently, we can now all feel relieved that advertising has shifted its attentions to Youtube and Bookstagram, leaving book blogs finally free to be invisible and passionate and indie again.

2.1.1.1.1 We don’t need to make a spectacle out of ourselves, we don’t need to please the algorithm, we don’t need to fit a pattern;

2.1.1.1.2 And we can write posts like this one, which can potentially piss everyone off, but will never be read.

2.1.1.1.2.1 What a bliss.

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2.1.2  “But in recent years, there’s been a surge in confessional criticism. This can probably be traced to several things: our declining belief in a tradition or canon (whose dead white masterworks once ensured that critics shared a set of reference points outside the self), the exodus of writers towards the Internet (which enables the immediate posting of one’s personality), our ever-metastasizing regard for pop culture (which demands a critical response of commensurate informality), and, of course, David Foster Wallace.” Guriel.

2.1.2.1 There is nothing fundamentally recent about confessional criticism, dear. As recently as in 1905, Virginia Woolf was already proclaiming the Decay of Essay Writing: “The essay, then, owes its popularity to the fact that its proper use is to express one’s personal peculiarities, so that under the decent veil of print one can indulge one’s egoism to the full. You need know nothing of music, art, or literature to have a certain interest in their productions, and the great burden of modern criticism is simply the expression of such individual likes and dislikes—the amiable garrulity of the tea-table—cast into the form of essays.”

2.1.2.1.1 Who first screamed death of the book review? Did they really even know what a book review was, is and could be?Hu

2.1.2.1.1.1 We are constantly circling around the fictions we create to make sense of our fictions of decay

2.1.2.1.2 “To be obsessed with potential bias or conflict of interest on the book reviewer’s part is to imagine the reviewer as a judge, who is obligated to provide every author with his or her day in court. But that judicial standard is impossible, because there is no such thing as an objective judgment of a work of literature; aesthetic judgment is by definition personal and opinionated. Nor would a perfectly objective book review even be desirable. The whole point of a review is to set one mind against another, and see what sparks fly.Kirsch

                              2.1.2.1 “Of course there are inessential blogs, just as there are inessential literary critics.” Self

2.1.2.1.1 Any real critical movement should not be confined to one community or one single forum;

2.1.2.1.1.1 “Anyone can make his opinions public now.” Open Book

2.1.2.1.1.1.1 Deal with that.

2.1.2.1.1.1.2 “It’s difficult to have a general conversation now“. Open Book

2.1.2.1.1.1.2.1 Generality was an illusion anyway.

2.1.2.1.2 Innovation tends to come from the fringes rather than the centre, and the edges are constantly shifting places.

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2.1.3 “Books bloggers are harming literature.” Stothard

2.1.3.1 Clickbait, marketing, and commercial concerns are doing the job of harming literature all by themselves, dear.

2.1.3.1.1 They are using spaces of criticism as a support to the industry rather than as a forum for throwing a critical light at it.

2.1.3.1.1.1 “Now that [the author] has sixty reviews where in the nineteenth century he had perhaps six,” Virginia Woolf wrote in Reviewing, “he finds that there is no such thing as ‘an opinion’ of his work. Praise cancels blame; and blame praise. Soon he comes to discount both praise and blame; they are equally worthless. He values the review only for its effect upon his reputation and for its effect upon his sales.”

2.1.3.1.1.2 You can google it:

How to blog

How to start a blog

How to blog and make money

2.1.3.3 “There is not much space any longer for old-fashioned, argued criticism.” Stothard

2.1.3.3.1 The blog is

The blog is right

The blog is found

The blog is dead

2.1.3.3.2 Literary criticism has always been welcomed among the zombies, dear, and now we are all exiles of the good ol’ days. There is enough space left here. Come, sit and drink a cup of tea with us, will you?

2.1.3.3.3 However, if by space you really mean money, then you will have to buy your coffee elsewhere.

2.1.3.3.3.1 We are sticking to our tea anyway.

2.1.3.3.3.1.1 How to be

How to be happy

How to be rich

How to be a hero

How to be invisible

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2.1.3.3.3.2 Related to items you viewed: “One reason blogging aroused such hostility, I proposed, was that it exposed the artifice of this model, and indeed of any idea of literary criticism as a series of edicts issued from on high, leaving critics themselves exposed, not as frauds, but as less authoritative than they pretended to be. As Mendelsohn says in his review of Scott, “the advent of the Internet” has “rais[ed] still further questions about authority, expertise and professionalism”; I argued that it has done so by breaking down monologic forms and exposing the inherently dialogic nature of both critical judgments and critical authority. (…) If critical authority is not something you simply have but something you have to earn and maintain by your own participation in a dialogue — if it is best understood not so much as a top-down assertion of superiority (“the critic’s job,” Mendelsohn proposes in his recent review, “is to be more educated, articulate, stylish, and tasteful … than her readers have the time or inclination to be”) but as a process of establishing yourself as someone whose input into an ongoing conversation is sought and valued — that helps explain why “expertise” is such a tricky thing to define for a critic.  (…) That so many of us read Mendelsohn’s criticism with interest and attention no matter what he writes about is a sign that we have come to trust him, not as the last word on these subjects, but as someone who will have something interesting (“meaningful,” to use one of his key terms) to say about them. If we disagree with him, we are not challenging his authority but continuing the conversation — and in fact one thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is how little disagreement really matters to this kind of critical authority. If what we go to criticism for is a good conversation, then engaged disagreement can be seen as a sign of authority — a sign that you care enough about the critic’s perspective to tussle with it, if you like. I can think of a number of critics in venues from personal blogs to the New Yorker whose views I would not defer to, but which I want to know because they provoke me to keep thinking about my own readings — which (however definitive the rhetoric I too adopt in my more formal reviewing) I always understand to be provisional, statements of how something looked to me in that moment, knowing what I knew then, caring about what I cared about then.” Maitzen

2.1.3.3.3.3 You may also like: “It wasn’t that these people were Ph.D.’s, that the expertise and authority evident on every page of their writing derived from a diploma hanging on an office wall. (…) If anything, you felt that their immense knowledge derived above all from their great love for the subject. I was raised by a scientist and a schoolteacher, and it was salutary for me to be reminded that authority could derive from passion, not pieces of paper. (…) More largely, and ultimately more importantly, the glimpses these writers gave you of their tastes and passions revealed what art and culture are supposed to do for a person. (…) By dramatizing their own thinking on the page, by revealing the basis of their judgments and letting you glimpse the mechanisms by which they exercised their (individual, personal, quirky) taste, all these critics were, necessarily, implying that you could arrive at your own, quite different judgments—that a given work could operate on your own sensibility in a different way. What I was really learning from those critics each week was how to think. How to think (we use the term so often that we barely realize what we’re saying) critically—which is to say, how to think like a critic, how to judge things for myself.” Mendelsohn

2.1.3.3.3.4 Or this: “The upshot, however, is this: snark is a reflexive disorder, whether those who employ it realize it or not; the pointlessness of fiction only comes back to suggest the pointlessness of its commentator.” Julavits

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  1. Now everyone has a TinyLetter instead of a blog. As soon as the first writer got a book deal for a TinyLetter, everyone’s TinyLetter just became book-deal bait, written the same way. This weird conformity just takes over as soon as the possibility of money or access or respectability comes up.” Crispin

3.1 Is there any meaningful way to intervene in the public literary debate?

3.1.1 “Up on the mountainous hill

behind the confusing house

where I lived (…)

there
the wind sounded exactly like

Stravinsky I first recognised art

as wildness and it seemed right

 I mean rite, to me (…)” – Frank O’Hara

3.1.2 Or is this public space just a marketplace in disguise?

3.1.2.1 “It has come to seem to me recently that this present moment must be to language something like what the industrial revolution was to textiles. A writer who works on the old system of production can spend days crafting a sentence, putting what feels like a worthy idea into language, only to find, once finished, that the internet has already produced countless sentences that are more or less just like it, even if these lack the same artisanal origin story that we imagine gives writing its soul. There is, it seems to me, no more place for writers and thinkers in our future than, since the 19th century, there has been for weavers. (…) Human subjects are vanishingly small beneath the tsunami of likes, views, clicks, and other metrics that is currently transforming selves into financialised vectors of data. This financialization is complete, one might suppose, when the algorithms make the leap from machines originally meant only to assist human subjects, into the way these human subjects constitute themselves and think about themselves, their tastes and values, and their relations with others.” Smith

3.1.1.2 If you liked this, you may also enjoy: Resistance is regarded as the mark of bad citizenship, as inability to have fun, as highbrow insincerity, for what normal person can set himself against such normal music?” Theodor Adorno, “On Popular Music

3.1.1.2.1 Structural standardization aims at standard reactions.

Theodor Adorno

3.1.1.2.1.1 Recently viewed: “I often think of an essay I read a while ago by a prize-winning photojournalist who had tracked down Pol Pot deep in Cambodia, had taken pictures of him, spoken with him, conveyed this historical figure’s own guilty and complicated and monstrous human subjectivity to readers. The essay was about the recent difficulty this journalist had been having paying his bills. He noted that his teenage niece, I believe it was, had racked up many millions more views on Instagram, of a selfie of her doing a duck-face, than his own pictures of Pol Pot would ever get. She was an influencer, poised to receive corporate sponsorship for her selfies, not because any human agent ever deemed that they were good or worthy, but only because their metrics signalled potential for financialization. (…) I am not saying that the photos of Pol Pot are good and the selfies are bad. I am saying that the one reveals a subject and the other reveals an algorithm, and that when everything in our society is driven and sustained in existence by the latter, it is all over.” Smith

3.1.1.2.2 You can insert yourself into the metrics-driven system and it will eat you anyway;

3.1.1.2.2.1 Click on it and own it

3.1.1.2.3 You tame that on which you put a number;

3.1.1.2.3.1 And your creative choices change nothing

3.1.1.2.3.1.1 Your creative choices are of the order of the absurd

3.1.1.2.3.1.1.1 And this is a place where algorithms cannot reach

3.1.1.2.3.1.1.1.1 This post is an example of performative self-contradiction

3.1.1.2.3.1.1.1.2 And your creative choices are a leap of faith.

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3.2 The book blog is not dead.

3.2.1 The book blog is an agora, the book blog is a marketplace.

3.2.1.1 Dead is the illusion that one could ever inhabit both.

3.2.1.1.1 Inspired by your browsing history: “Domsch argues, for instance, that Amazon reviewing ultimately returns us to the most monologic form of criticism: people seek out, or are steered to (by algorithms, ‘like’ buttons and so on) the reviewer whose views and tastes are closest to their own, and once they find their “virtual” critical self, their critical proxy, as it were, they have found their perfect authority, a guarantor of their own well-established tastes. But Amazon is fundamentally about shopping. If you read criticism for some reason other than deciding which book to buy next, you are likely to look for and concede authority to different qualities. (…) The result of accepting, rather than resisting, the challenge blogging poses to old-fashioned critical forms is, I argued, not a catastrophically relativistic criticism of the kind Peter Stothard dreaded but a pluralistic criticism, such as that described by Carl Wilson in Let’s Talk About Love: “a more pluralistic criticism might put less stock in defending its choices and more in depicting its enjoyment, with all its messiness and private soul tremors — to show what it is like for me to like it, and invite you to compare. This kind of exchange takes place sometimes on the internet, and it would be fascinating to have more dialogic criticism: here is my story, what is yours?Maitzen

3.2.1.1.1.1 People also like: “If you only write about what you think people are interested in, you fail your subject—and fail your reader, too, who may in the end find himself happy to encounter something he wouldn’t have chosen for himself.” Mendelsohn

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3.2.2 A Professor recently complained to me that some of his students were unable to recite the first lines of the Odyssey in Greek – something that, he argues, would have been unthinkable during his student years.

3.2.2.1 Ancient Greek is dead, literary criticism is dead, academia is dead, poetry is dead, the novel is dead. Book blogging is dead.

3.2.2.1.1 Take a leap. Break your bubble.

3.2.2.1.1.1 Long live book blogging.


Mary Cassatt, ‘Woman with a red zinnia,”1891

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13 Comments

  1. Great post – I hadn’t read the Vulture article yet. I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve said here, and, there is a difference between being invisible and not existing. The fact that a writer for the Vulture can’t see the book blogging community because it doesn’t exist in her commercial space doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist at all.

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  2. Absolutely – well said! I am not in this for money and never have been – I am here to share the love of books and my thoughts on books (and anything else I feel like writing about). If other people want to look for something else, that’s their issue. I get so sick of these pompous proclamations! 😀

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  3. As long as there are writers (as in people who like to write) (not necessarily authors), there will be book bloggers. Great post, not a review, but I did read every word, fascinating. Not sure I’d even both with the article, this is so good! Vive la book blogger!

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  4. Brilliant, brilliant post. Well said!

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  5. I am wary of becoming too caught up in reading about writing rather than the writing itself. I’ll stick with a few curated lists of great old and good new fiction and spend the vast bulk of my time reading the actual books. This is not to say bloggers shouldn’t write. Noting the dangers of being ‘liked,’ writing is the mechanism through which we can practice converting the ephemeral into the real; therefore it is an end in itself.

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  6. What a great post Juliana. Love it!

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  7. I very much enjoyed your essay! I have seen changes in book blogs, not all for the better, though you have integrity and your creative blog is sui generis. But the greed for the all-too-accessible galleys has changed some bloggers into the book slut Jessa Crispin wasn’t!

    That said, I never thought The Millions was a blog. I haven’t spent much time there. It certainly has been an online magazine, not a blog, for as long as I’ve read it.

    Certainly there are lots of bloggers, but there is a Worm Hole through which many travel!

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    1. Thank you, Kat! I loved this ‘worm hole’ image 🙂

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