I wasn't planning to talk about this, but I'm beyond frustrated with Huffington Post right now. They ran a column I found particularly annoying, Will Blogs Save Books, and I really felt moved to comment on it. You have to register with them to post a comment. So I registered. Then I waited. And waited. Two days later, my account was finally activated. (It's like they have a mandatory 48-hour cooling off period.) Now, when I've pared my comment down to the 250 words they'll allow, I still can't post it. (The website says "Trouble with comments? We've released a new system, and we want your feedback." Oh boy, do I have feedback for them!)
So, since I have my own little space here, I have a few things to say about Ms. Warren's column. First of all, she's reading some pretty lousy book blogs. No reviews? Only links to reviews? No discussion of books? Every single one of the sites I read does a much better job than that. Of course, she doesn't mention any of them by name, so she paints us all with that same dirty brush.
Most newspaper book reviewers remind me of those annoying sportscasters - the ones who would rather talk about how the quarterback reminds them of some guy they played against two decades ago (that you've never heard of), instead of talking about the game I'm currently watching. My main interest is not in the author's place in "the genre" - in fact, I am automatically suspicious of anyone who uses phrases like that. I don't want someone teaching an English Lit class. I'm not necessarily interested in a discussion of their previous books - if I've read them, I likely have my own opinion; if not, it's useless to me. I'm interested in the current book, the one I'm thinking about buying. I want to know if it's a good book. I want to know if it had big plot holes, if it held the reviewer's interest, if it was true to the jacket description, if it was funny or exciting or moving or informative. I want an opinion from someone who has read this particular book and thought about it.
I certainly don't need reviews like the NYT's recent review of The Lace Reader, with this marvelous insight: "Women write books that other women will want to sit around and discuss, preferably over tea and cucumber sandwiches." Why would I trust their judgment on any book after a comment like that? (I've talked about that comment elsewhere.)
I don't think we book bloggers believe we're going to replace newspapers. That's certainly not why I'm doing this. We do this because we love books - buying them, reading them and talking about them. What it really comes down to for a publisher is what makes you buy a book? Nothing builds buzz like blogs and internet gossip - ask the folks behind The Blair Witch Project - that's why even books these days have trailers on YouTube. I haven't bought a book based on a newspaper's review in ages, but I've bought dozens based on the reviews of my fellow bloggers. I think that makes blogs a pretty good market for the publishers to cultivate.