shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass


saturday morning throat clearing

I've been catching up on my blog reading this weekend. When busy, even blogs I think I've read somehow have posts that slip by unseen and so this morning was the first I noticed the little conversations going on about clubbyness, friend pimping and aspersions on Kevin Brockmeier's judging of the Iowa fiction prize this year. To tell you the truth, I find it all very depressing and kind of wish I'd remained blissfully unaware. I mostly glaze over when the blogosphere tries to deconstruct itself -- it's impossible to make a valid generalization when you're dealing with so many personal sites. Motives vary wildly (mine is to have fun and call attention to things I think worthy of it) and it's only natural that social networks build up over time. The best discussion of the network phenomenon that I've heard was Bookninja's George Murray's on the book blog panel C-Span ran--and I'll be paraphrasing because I don't remember exactly--which was essentially that every blog is part of a slightly different circle, that each blog opens out with its own cast of characters and friends in the way of other blogs. You start at Bookninja, go to Maud Newton, from there to Tingle Alley or Return of the Reluctant and maybe you end up here or at Syntax of Things or any one of a dozen other sites. Depending on where you start, you'll end up someplace different. And of course, it should be pointed out that sites like this one (and most of my favorites actually) are not actually "book blogs" per se, not necessarily concerned with news.

This part of Nathalie at GalleyCat's post is what's most bugging me:

While I've always thought the MSM's response to blogs -- of all things! -- linking to each other, and treating each others' best posts with the same respect they'd show pieces in the NYT -- was absurd, I'm beginning to wonder if the letter's accusation of "hypocritical clubbiness," in relation to blogs' product-plugging, isn't so off-target. While blogs treat most books like they would celebrities -- at least, in the sense, that they feel free to openly critique them -- the more casual atmosphere of blogs (versus, say, newspapers' book reviews) has two obvious results: 1) bloggers feel comfortable encouraging readers to check out their friends' books, and 2) other bloggers have begun to count as friends -- i.e., people who can be publicly plugged, but not publicly critiqued. If blogs are moving -- as the suspiciously trend-hungry media occasionally suggests -- to the center of our literary culture, it's easy to wonder if they, even more so than traditional media, will fall prey to a "hypocritical clubbiness" -- one that's clear to everyone but them.

Now I'm a small fish in a tiny pond, so I have no illusions that this is really talking about anything other than the handful of top literary sites. But I think there are universal accusations in here that are worth responding to -- or that I just feel like responding to this morning. (My overall reaction is similar to Ron's.)

On point the first, yes, I often urge people to check out the work of my friends. I expect most of the people that come here know that and have made whatever peace they need to with it. But I stand by those recommendations, because, you know what? My friends are fucking talented and I believe you should be checking out their work. I make no apologies for that. So I will repeatedly bang, bang, bang the drum for friends' work. Not only because their work is worth it, but because it matters to me that it gets read, because it's deserving. (There's the circle jerk, because, because, because.) I see nothing wrong with this. It's a big part of my motivation for being here (see above) and spending time on this and I am never coy about it. Intentionally, anyway. And I'll beat the same drum for works I love that are not by friends (though perhaps not with the same repeated vigor).

On point the second, where other bloggers count as friends. Yeah, of course they do. Some of these are people I interact with as or more frequently than any of my other friends. Some are going to stay forever in the realm of acquaintances. Or even strangers with opinions.

I will not be trashing my friends' work here, ever, period. Most work I won't trash at all, unless, as Terry has said (paraphrasing again because I couldn't find it in the archives), the person/entity is in a position to withstand the criticism. I'm not here to bad-mouth people or their work. I'm just not. Period. Writers and artists do find this stuff. They do. So I will not be saying anything I would not say to someone's face, which means occasionally not saying something I'd say in a private conversation with a friend. That's because this site isn't private. If I don't like something, it's far more likely that I won't mention it at all (and that I won't read/watch/listen to it).

This all reminds me a little bit of the uproar when Amazon's anonymous reviews were suddenly tagged with real names and it turned out that people were posting reviews of their friends' novels. Frankly, I do think they should probably have used their own names to begin with, but I was never sure what the hub-bub was about. OF COURSE, people leave favorable reviews on Amazon for their friends and family members' books (well except for Stephen Elliott's dad). Of course, they do. Hell, if they're smart, they do it like a synchronized hit squad and wait until some really bad, stupid, pointless review is at the top and then go in with the rave. There is no law that says that just because you know someone your opinion of their work is invalid or hopelessly biased.

Which ties into the Kevin Brockmeier thing, about which I'll just say: I hope there's nothing there. I like to think that even if he did recognize the stories, he gave the writers the prizes because he truly believed their work was the best. Maybe I'm naive. If so, I'm in good company.

Here endeth the pointless blahblahblahing which is likely meaningful only to me in clarifying my own thoughts. Less navel next post, promise.


  • At 7:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I agree completely. It's not like those friendships aren't completely in the open. These are blogs. Unpaid blogs done for the love of it.

    Okay, turns out I have nothing to add. What Gwenda said.


  • At 12:48 AM , Blogger Jenny D said...

    That's a great post. (Actually, you've slightly shamed me, I definitely make negative comments about books that I wouldn't make to their authors' faces. But I've anguished about this before & decided that since I'm basically using my blog to keep a record of every novel I read, I will usually write a sentence or two to jog my memory later on as to how I felt about it.) I think the part about the GOOD reasons to plug friends' work is especially important.

  • At 10:41 AM , Blogger gwenda said...

    I don't want to make anyone feel guilty about openly talking about books they don't like. (From time to time, I do it too, but I so rarely finish a book I don't like...) Mainly, what I meant is that I'm not a critic in any sense of the word here, so I'm not going to be critical very often. And that the "saying things I wouldn't say to someone's face" is to me one of the great weaknesses people fall prety to on the 'net, so I try and avoid it whenever possible... but then there's a lot of stuff I will say to people's faces.

    I appreciate both your comments,ladies. Go buy a book by someone you know! (wink)

  • At 2:02 PM , Anonymous Bookdwarf said...

    I hear your song. In fact, I am your chorus. I'm like you I think, in that I just blog for fun. I am not a writer. I just think sharing opinons on books is a good time. I like to read what you and the Rake and Carrie have to say about stuff we are reading. I'm not out to sell stuff. And of course, I will point out friends' work. I probably wouldn't be friends with them if I thought they stuff sucked.
    Anyway, sorry for the rant. I too hate it when the blogging world gets all apologetic and deconstruction-y (yes, too much Buffy). You've said what I've been thinking but was unable to put into words. So thanks!


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