Book Bloggers Still Ruining Everything


I should know better by now than to concern myself with old-school culture pundits moaning about “the blogosphere,” because frankly that battle’s over, but a fellow book blogger sent me a link to a recent conversation between Charles McGrath and Daniel Mendelsohn that included roughly 15 minutes of blog-panic that revealed to me just how little that line of attack has done to substantiate itself in the last half-decade.

I mean, really: McGrath is still trotting out lines like bloggers are a bunch of resentniks who “didn’t have the patience or… the connections to become a reviewer for The New York Times, to hook up with The Atlantic or The New Yorker, [and] all of a sudden they have a pulpit.” And Mendelsohn is privileging his professional criticism because “I’m not just saying what I think—I am saying something to the people who read The New York Review of Books. It’s a public function… It’s not just me sitting in my underwear at three in the morning being pissed off because I didn’t like a movie.” (How, one wonders, would Mendelsohn react if he ever discovered a NYRB contributor wrote his or her essays underwear-shod at 3:00 A.M.?)

Really, guys? Is that the best you can do? That and lamentations that “snark is, I think, the lingua franca of the blogosphere,” and that you’re “concerned about… a kind of critical discourse by people who are rich enough or crazy enough to write for nothing”? Even as the majority of mainstream media outlets have begun to incorporate the rhetoric and infrastructure of blogging into their reportage and their cultural criticism, you’re still trotting out those tired clichés? That’s just sad.

Oh, I suppose I should be grateful Mendelsohn acknowledges (as he has in the past) that there’s some good discussion of literature to be found buried beneath the “unchecked effusion” of most book bloggers, or pleased by McGrath’s indication of “signs that the blogosphere is growing up.” And, in all honesty, by dint of perseverance over the years I’ve probably worked myself onto the shortlist of bloggers they don’t think suck, for what that’s worth. It doesn’t make this kind of insecure hostility on their part towards the changing world any less annoying, though. I like to think I’ve given people good cause to take blogs seriously, and though I know there are other bloggers who give people like McGrath and Mendelsohn plenty of ammunition, I think there’s something to be said for judging a medium’s potential by its best performers rather than its worst, so it’s rather aggravating to see people who claim to hate snark dismiss an entire class of writers with dismissive comments about what they like to think those writers are wearing. Especially since I know that both of them are capable of better.

22 September 2010 | theory |