My Hat ----> The Ring
To serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle sounds like whatever the exact opposite of a sinecure would be. Lots of work, no tangible reward.
The intangible rewards are enormous, however. Or so it has been said a number of times over the past few months by people trying to get me to consider running.
Now, I became an essayist and critic in order to become fabulously wealthy and powerful (which, for some reason, is not really working out very well) and so would prefer to think that there really are tangible rewards, and that everyone has just been very, very discrete about it.
Even if that turns out to be true, I suspect the swag will consist of free books. And heaven knows we don't have enough books around here.
But after declining when asked for the first time last year -- then dithering for the past few months -- I have submitted the statement necessary for candidates for the board. That decision was a matter of feeling both a kind of debt of gratitude for the Balakian Citation a few years ago and a sense that NBCC has become a national organization representing and acting in the interest of people in this line of work. Perhaps the latter has always been true, in principle. But now thanks largely to Critical Mass and to the initiative of outgoing president John Freeman, NBCC's presence seems much less tied and limited to New York. Where I do not live.
My statement will run in the next NBCC newsletter, and might be boiled down to:
"This is a great organization, but let's face the future by knocking off any posturing about how appearing in newsprint confers upon us a degree of profundity and lasting value that no blogger will ever attain, because come on, that's crap and we all know it; and if we never want to recruit smart young critics, we'll just keep indulging in it."
Not to deny the obvious reality that (1) working with an editor can be good for a writer in a multitude of ways and (2) the internet often seems like one big cultural affirmative-action program for the bellicose, the ignorant, and the deranged. But essentialism doesn't make much sense here. The gatekeeper function does not operate only in print media, nor do the latter automatically preclude malice and stupidity.
I suspect most of the bash-the-bloggers sentiment has reflected a kind of status anxiety (not that some bloggers haven't exhibited plenty of that at times).
And with that in mind, I will launch my bid by quoting (once again) from Wilfred Sheed's essay "The Politics of Reviewing":
No occupation designed for dim younger sons was easier to enter than book reviewing; or, once entered, easier to rise in. You go immediately to the top, it is the least you can ask.... So whatever politics a microscope may turn up in this game can have little to do with upward mobility. Since there is absolutely no way of not reaching the top -- and since the top proves to be so close to the bottom -- the satisfaction must be sought crabwise, foraging side to side, magazine to magazine; passing on the way other reviewers of similar, sometimes almost interchangable sensibility, who are lurching counterclockwise.
And lurching now in ways Sheed could not have imagined at the time.
As for a campaign slogan, I cannot do better than to quote what Kang said when debating Kodos during the 1996 election:
We must move forward... not backwards, not to the side, not forwards, but always whirling, whirling, whirling towards freedom.
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