The Critics’ War on Bloggers

Dissing Allies: The Critics’ War on Bloggers – Britannica Blog.

At the Britannica Blog link above, Frank Wilson writes about the recent book reviewer "controversy", providing links to the main positions, which are on the one hand that the reduction in the number of stand-alone book-review sections in the mainstream newspapers is no bad thing, because bloggers are filling the gap; and on the other that bloggers are an undisciplined rabble who can’t string together a couple of coherent sentences without ranting, who don’t research their arguments.

Well, there is something to be said for both views 😉

Frank in his piece focuses on the pros and cons of standalone book-review sections in newspapers. He is better placed than anyone else I know to comment, as he is a superb, long-established book-review editor (of the Philadelphia Inquirer) and well-known blogger (of Books, Inq.)

I won’t, therefore, summarise Frank’s points, becuase he puts them better than I could, so you can read them yourself.  But my twopennorth on the general question raised, rather than the aspect Frank highlights, is that;

  • Book review sections in newspapers are nice for readers. You can learn a lot without having to read all the books you would never have time to read, or think to read, with very little effort.
  • Book review sections in newspapers are limited in space and in resources (good reviewers and good editors). The blogosphere fills a need, in reviewing niche, specialist, small-press and other books that don’t get covered in the newspapers.
  • Book reviews on blogs are usually not as well written, researched or edited as they are in an edited publication, but sometimes they are.
  • Book reviews on blogs are freely accessible to all and can be searched for using keywords, so it is very easy to find reviews of books in your own area of specialist interest.
  • Blogging is a conversation. Although newspapers are increasingly opening up their content for comments, so far the blogosphere is the place for free and frank discussion, and of fast, efficient recommendations to fellow bloggers for good books to read (for example, as we do in our little crime fiction community of readers, bloggers and reviewers).
  • Bloggers tend to review a book that they have read recently and liked. The book doesn’t have to be newly published or commercial. Newspaper book review sections are, in effect, part of the publishers’ marketing of new products. Neither is bad (unless the reviewer hasn’t actually read the book being reviewed).

I will end with a thoughtful and striking quote from a blog post by Glenn of International Noir Fiction:

There was recently a comment about blogging quoted by Richard Schickel in the L.A. Times, in his article about blogging versus criticism. He quotes D.J. Waldie as saying that blogging is a form of speech, not of writing. I agree with that comment, based on reading lots of blogs and "writing" this one. Others may disagree–what do you think? The distinction doesn’t have to be seen as a criticism of blog-criticism: but a blog doesn’t go through an editorial process, isn’t solicited by a publisher, and is usually more immediate for those and other reasons. So what we get (or give) in a blog is a discussion, a conversation, rather than formal writing (no matter how immediate a good writer can be in that form). And in fact that’s what I find attractive about the better blogs–they’re a way to talk about something, with a circle of people who might be interested in the same topic, however geographically dispersed they may be. The blogosphere is like a huge bar, with multiple overlapping discussions, and with your own selection of beverage rather than some bar owner’s offerings.

Print is dead!

"Print is dead!". How often have I heard this assertion? I’ve just heard it again, confidently emerging from the mouth of Howard Ramis, on being asked if he likes reading books. I am sitting at my computer while the girls are watching a DVD: Ghostbusters. Date of release? 1984.

Well, print has staggered on quite happily in the intervening 23 years. I trust it will continue to do so.

Authors talking on video at Google

Authors@Google is advertised as a place where authors can share their ideas and talk about books, stories, research and more. Ryan Sands in the Google Librarian newsletter introduces a dedicated website for the collection of taped talks in Google Video. He writes that the site contains the full (and growing) set of videos from the authors who have visited Google offices in Mountain View and Santa Monica, CA, New York City, Ann Arbor MI, Kirkland WA, Boulder CO, London and Dublin. Since Ryan’s last update, Jonathan Lethem, Strobe Talbott, Bob & Lee Woodruff, Tom Bissell, Allan Brandt, Don Tapscott, Senator Hillary Clinton, Eve Ensler, Jeff Cohen, and Carly Fiorina and others have visited Google to share their thoughts and talk about their books. Ryan would be delighted to share these events with you, so do bookmark our page and visit often, he says.

The most recent addition was on 4 May, in which "author" John McCain visits Google’s Mountain View headquarters for a talk with Eric Schmidt (Google CEO). Here’s the link to the video (I watched only 30 seconds of the introduction so can’t offer an opinion on author or interviewer).

The index page of videos is here, but although you get to it via a click on the Authors@Google page, you seem to be returned all "Google talk" videos, not just authors:  sort yourselves out, Google. However, I did spot Cory Doctorow on the front page, added "6 days ago", among assorted celebrities, politicians, "women" (I kid you not), and yes, other genuine authors.

Underneath the bunker

Via email:

A year and a half online – and still at the summit of its game – the rarely-popular European Arts Journal Underneath the Bunker continues to gain readers at the same rate as ostrichs gain awards at science fairs held in Lucerne on the second Thursday of the fourth month in the year in which the moon never shines through the window of an old man in Glasgow. This is despite of the support of much-admired bloggers (Grumpy Old Bookman; That Girl) and its continuing habit of reviewing those books that other critics will simply persist in ignoring (Lucia Raus; Natalie de Roquet). Like true suffering artists, we take immense pleasure from this neglect. You are welcomed, nonetheless, to disappoint us with your interest. May the treacle of culture drip upon your faces.

The current "issue" and the journal’s manifesto can be read here.

Sorry, ladies, says Richard Morrison

Sorry, ladies. After 50,000 years you still don’t know us.

One post I didn’t get around to writing yesterday is this one (probably the only one that will see bloglight). I laughed aloud at Richard Morrison’s layered piece when I read it on the train to work yesterday morning (link above).

Andrew Davies, the man who peps up Jane Austen for the telly, has been explaining why he has inserted lots of groping and grinding into a forthcoming film version of Sense and Sensibility – or Sex and Sexibility as it may have to be retitled. The problem, Davies says, is that Austen had a faulty view of half the human race. “I don’t think she really understood men,” he claims.

Of course she didn’t. She was a woman! But as an 18th-century woman at least she accepted her limitations and focused her novels on the trials and triumphs of being an intelligent woman in a man’s world. The trouble with women today (apart from a lamentable tendency to lynch any man who starts a sentence with those five words) is that they believe their own psychobabble. They think that they finally have men nailed: that, after 50,000 years, the superior female mind has winkled out every foible and fantasy lurking in the murky recesses of what passes for the male brain.

Well, women may well have developed better minds. Odder things have happened. But I don’t think they are any closer to figuring what makes men tick. Don’t believe me? Well, here are ten common female assumptions about men, followed by the correct (ie, male) readings of the situation:

Then follow his ten hilarious examples, which so wittily send up the politically correct genre. Richard Morrison understands women, and indeed men, pretty well, I’d say.

Facebook facing books

I’m getting very distracted by this Facebook enterprise, so probably won’t post tonight. If you want to see what is causing the problem, please take a look here. Have a look around, add in your own books and comments. See you there, maybe. (You need to register at Facebook, but it is free.)
I shall return — but possibly not until tomorrow.

(update: link fixed, thank you, James.)

Facebook takes off

MySpace and Bebo have continued to dominate the UK social networking category in April 2007, with 67% of category visits. But, according to, visits to Facebook have surged since the social networking site opened its doors to the general public last September and added new features, although its market share continues to lag behind that of MySpace. The surge in traffic at Facebook comes amid continued interest in the site from numerous media companies and an on-again off-again rumoured mega Yahoo! buyout.

John Battelle, "king of search" writes: "Facebook gets generally positive reviews after its first developer conference. "The anti-Myspace" seems to be the buzz."

Social bookmarking and networking: how involved are you? asks Problogger, explaining it all at the link. 

Facebook is the Microsoft Office of social apps, writes Tim O’Reilly himself on O’Reilly Radar. From Tim’s post: "So claims Paul Kedrosky. In other words, none of the apps are particularly good — photo sharing, status updates, personal pages, events, groups, etc. — let alone being as good as their standalone counterparts — Flickr, Twittr, Typepad/Wordpress, Google Group, etc. — but most people don’t care. They just want their social software all in one place, all from the same interface, and then they want to move on and get their (social/presence) work done.  It’s easy to dismiss this comment as facile and slightly mean. But I think Paul is onto something, especially when, as he notes, Facebook is moving smartly to create a platform layer to tie all these applications together."

Interesting that I should read all this in the two days following Cathy, age 16, telling me that she has just opened an account on Facebook because it is "much better" than MySpace. Cathy did not put it as persuasively as Tim O’Reilly, but I’m listening.

(And here is a postscript for those with long memories: "Friends Reunited, the once-mighty precursor to social networking for UK school alumni, is finally going to get a further television outing. ITV has exploited the 18 million-member community precious little since it bought it for £175 ($347) million in December 2005 (a TV ad campaign for the site, which also involved sponsoring several ITV shows, looked suspiciously like an easy way to bolster the broadcaster’s ailing ad revenue). Now, though, the website will be joined up with ITV2’s Streetmate dating show, which “will be supported by a dating site developed with Friends Reunited”.")


Identical twins’ first novel

Identical twins’ first novel is a double vision-Arts & Entertainment-Books-TimesOnline.

From today’s Times (link above): " at the age of 68, the Mulgray twins, who have never been apart for longer than two weeks, created a minor piece of history yesterday when their first novel went on sale in bookshops across Britain. No Suspicious Circumstances, a crime novel set in Edinburgh and featuring an intrepid female investigator from HM Revenue & Customs, is believed to be the first novel published in English by identical twins. The authors, from Joppa, outside Edinburgh, are described on the cover simply as “The Mulgray Twins”. Started more than 14 years ago, it is the result of thousands of hours of painstaking writing and rewriting. Each of its 86,000 words was a joint endeavour." 

From the website of the publisher, Allison and Busby:

"MEET THE WORLD’S MOST UNUSUAL UNDERCOVER TEAM. It can be tough working undercover for HM Revenue & Customs, but DJ Smith has more than a little help from her trained sniffer cat, Gorgonzola, a moth-eaten Persian with gourmet tastes and a mind of her own.  This first investigation finds DJ and Gorgonzola on the trail of a heroin smuggling ring operating in and around Edinburgh. Their first port of call is the White Heather Hotel, owned by the formidable Morag Mackenzie who rules her domain – and her spineless husband – with steely efficiency. And it is in these comfortable surroundings that DJ meets a cast of memorable characters including American golfing fanatic Hiram J Spinks, the glamorous Italian Signora Gina Lombardini, and the not so glamorous self styled gastronome extraordinaire Felicity Lannelle. Beneath the innocent surface of the country house hotel eddies a sinister undercurrent.  One death follows another.  Who among the guests specialises in making murder look like accident?"

If you are tempted, here’s a link to the book’s page on Amazon UK, from which you can click through to it on Amazon USA.

Book news from me, if not to you

A bit of book "news to me" (as opposed to "news") from the blogosphere:

Chris "Long Tail" Anderson’s next book is called Free. These are some of the candidate subtitles from which he’s trying to choose one: (1) FREE: The story of a radical price (zero); (2) FREE: How $0.00 changed the world; (3) FREE: How companies get rich by charging nothing); (4) FREE: The economics of abundance and the marketplace without money; and (5) FREE: The past and future of a radical price.  You can also find out about Chris’s concept here.

Kimbofo of Reading Matters writes a four-star review of The Colombian Mule by Massimo Carlotto. I knew from CrimeScraps that this author is one I should read; now I am doubly sure.

Peter of Detectives Beyond Borders writes about why you don’t need to read Bill James’s Harpur and Iles series in order. I’m pleased about that, because I have a few of these books as-yet unread and certainly out of order.

Of all the miles and miles of cyberspace so far devoted to the Hay festival, Libby Brooks on the Guardian books blog here reports on Ruth Rendell talking about crime, punishment and genre snobbery.

And here are the latest updates to the audio book podcasts listed by Open Culture. This is a useful catalogue of books available for free download onto your MP3 player, if you have one. Jane Austen, the Brontes, Scott Fitzgerald, E. M. Forster and various poetry collections are but a few of the treasures described.

Karen C on Aust Crime has managed to complete her Colin Watson collection. Like Karen, I loved the Flaxborough Chronicles when I read them, more years ago than I care to mention.

And finally, for now, here are the books currently being read over at Mysterious Yarns blog. The socks (and similar) described on this blog are mind-blowing, never mind mysterious.

Soap opera shocks plus thriller chills

Soap opera shocks plus thriller chills | Inquirer | 05/27/2007.

My review of Lying with Strangers by James Grippando is out in the Philadelphia Inquirer (link above), published yesterday (Sunday 27 May).  Thank you, as ever, to the erudite Frank Wilson of Books, Inq, for asking me to review the book. An excerpt from my review:

The book races on at breakneck pace, running through so many themes that my head whirled. Eventually, in a little detective work of my own, I realized that the key to the book is in the main character’s name: Peyton. Yes, I was reading a pastiche soap opera, and the heroine’s name is a homage to the mother of all soaps, Grace Metalious’ 1957 classic Peyton Place.

Read on at the link at the top of this post. It is also worth checking out the whole set of book reviews in this week’s Inquirer section, which you can do via this round-up on Books Inq. In the United States, in particular, book-review sections of newspapers are being cut and/or are under threat. The selection commissioned, edited and published by Frank each week (and a few in between) epitomise what is great about book review sections. Long may this one, and all of them, live on.