Endless Struggle

About the NBCC campaign last spring, Maud Newton says, "The assumption was that print reviews by professionals were, prima facie, superior to any other kind of book discussion, and that their demise signaled the impending doom of book culture."

Were people really saying that? Maybe they were and I wasn't paying attention, or have forgotten in the meantime. And Maud is in New York, which is a better place for hearing such conversations than DC, probably. But in any case, my recollection is different.
The point of the campaign, as I understood it, was that it was a bad thing for newspapers to cut the amount of coverage given to book reviews -- or to wipe out such coverage entirely, as also happens. The trend ought to be resisted as much as possible. And one way to do that was to raise a stink.

These perspectives struck me, at the time, as reasonable. They still do. I don't recall anybody saying that the decline of newspaper review sections would mean the end of literary culture, though surely it is difficult to construe it as a good sign.

But maybe someone did make cataclysmic and/or self-aggrandizing claims? People do say such things, and I'm not saying that nobody did. If so, it was secondary or tertiary to the main points.

Oddly enough, though, it is not only print critics or NBCC members who say absurd things. Strange, but true! (I have now attended one NBCC board meeting. For the record: it is not actually true that they tie you to a chair with your hands bound behind your back and then brainwash you about the need to destroy the literary blogosphere. Unless, like, the whole thing was so traumatic that I just don't recall.)

There has been plenty of blogotriumphalism over the years. No particular group has established a monopoly on claims to offer commentary that is "prima facie, superior to any other kind of book discussion." The total amount of possible nonsense in this matter is not small. It comes from any number of horses' asses. And it is easy to spread around, far and wide, without anything getting usefully fertillized.

What is not easy -- whether for people writing for print publications or for bloggers -- is getting a claim on public attention. The real problem, I suspect, is that nobody else much gives a damn.

It's like that line about academic politics attributed to Henry Kissinger: "The struggle is so vicious because the stakes are so small."

I really thought this kind of thing would burn itself out eventually, but it's starting to look like it will just go on forever.

UPDATE: Just to be explicit -- because you can't ever state the obvious clearly enough -- I don't mean this as a denunciation of literary bloggers as such, let alone Maud in particular. It just seems as if time has come (or ought to have come) for the "us versus them" rhetoric to go. It has become too habitual. It doesn't help.

In that spirit, I'm cheered not only by the news from C. Max Magee at The Millions but its matter-of-factness about the role of literary blogging. 
March 28, 2008 4:57 PM | | Comments (2)



I think this is an example of what she might have in mind:


But, yes, I agree on the larger point. This is no longer so prevalent a point of view and we all need to move on.

Like big old regional department stores, the major dailies have a little bit of everything, pretty good quality, at a good price. This model doesn't seem to be working any more, which is a shame. My local suburban newspaper chain is actually expanding and doing quite well, because they focus only on hard, local news--no national coverage (or book reviews, for that matter).

Maybe if the print editions covered more local stuff--including bookstores, authors, reviews, etc.--and the websites contained more national/international/celebrity coverage it might work, I don't know.

Anyway, good effort to reverse a disturbing trend.

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