Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Review: The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs by Rebecca Gillieron and Catheryn Kilgarriff

I have to say I'm a bit puzzled as to why Marion Boyars offered me this book for review. Its single brief and slightly damning reference to this blog appears early on in a discussion of the online persona: ...some might be put off ... by the self-proclaimed 'Bookslut' or 'Fiction Bitch'. Since this is not a blog the authors recommend it would seem they share this view, and what seems to emerge from this book is a chariness of the kind of critical irreverence and impartiality which this blog is intended to stand for.

But since the Bitch does indeed always endeavour to be impartial, she will begin by agreeing with A Stevens that it has to be a good thing that lit-blogging has become such a force that publishers - as these authors are - are embracing it. It's just... well, you know the Bitch, bitchily suspicious as ever: she can't help seeing those little flies in the ointment. Like the spirit and the motives with which they are embracing it.

Of course it's only sensible for publishers to recognize the explosion of blog book-reviewing as a whole new potential marketing opportunity - it is after all their job to look out for marketing opportunities - and I should say right away that there is a genuine air of enthusiasm about this book which goes way beyond such simple pragmatism: you feel that the authors really do like the blogs they recommend.


Let's look again at some of that early chapter in which the authors discuss 'the online persona' and the names of blogs/bloggers.
Ms Baroque in Hackney suggests a perky, fun and modern if slightly flamboyant type of girl... it's clear she has a positive outlook on life and this welcome air of enthusiasm pervades all the postings on her blog ... Bookfox is another sassy-sounding young woman whose wit and cunning might just match up to her name.
Well, me, if I hadn't immediately detected in that title, 'Baroque in Hackney', a certain oxymoronic irony, I should never have clicked on and discovered precisely what I had hoped for: an incisive and sometimes politically angry mind amidst her love of beautiful things and her extremely fine prose - an aspect of her blog which I love most and find the authors skip over. And here they are on others:
There are some names which just don't sound appealing... Bibliophile Bullpen 'The Whiff of Old Books With Your Coffee' does little for the appetite. Calling yourself Checkhov's Mistress online doesn't exactly set a person up as a barrel of fun...
That phrase 'barrel of fun' and the earlier, describing Ms Baroque's 'welcome air of enthusiasm', are key, I think. For what publisher wouldn't want their books discussed on an instantly attractive and amenable platform? And this is how the book concludes: There has to be a way of encouraging the reading of books which is more democratic, fair and not full of intellectual concerns that put people off (My bolds). Democracy and fairness are set up in opposition to the intellectual - thus unwittingly endorsing the view of those critical of litblogs - and it is not intellectual engagement for which blogs should be valued, it seems.

The authors aren't unaware that bloggers are suspicious of publishers trying to co-opt their independent enthusiasm for marketing purposes: they quote a post by Susan Hill in which she wags her finger at any publishers getting hold of that notion. But in the very same post Susan says this: If we like [books] we say so. If we don't we ignore them, which in itself is amenable to publishers. Who when trying to sell books wouldn't embrace a platform where you could be sure not to get a negative press? And there's a chapter on publisher-led virtual book tours (around blogs) for which the authors show undiluted enthusiasm.

Well, I guess I've bucked the trend, then, by being critical here, and I may as well add a few more caveats. This book has clearly been brought out quickly, which may account for the typos and a more than occasional lack of clarity resulting from the chatty tone. This casual tone is intended I suspect to reflect the flavour of blogs, but if so does them no favours with such nonsensical sentences as this: It's difficult to imagine readers in their thousands rushing for the next instalment of Today in Literature or Reading Experience; though I'm sure they do.

The book may have been rushed out, but it's inevitably out of date already: the web moves faster than printing. Struggling Author, for instance, is listed as a bookseller blogger, but it's a long time now since Marie Phillips was a bookseller, and a while since her blog went private and became unavailable to the public. There's no index, which is a real irritation - if there's one thing a book can do better than a blog it's provide an index. Which leads me to my most fundamental question: what or who is this book for? Isn't the best place to find out about blogs the, er... blogosphere? The authors say that they want to capture a moment in blogging, that the book is a 'book blog keepsake.' But then it's only their moment: disarmingly they admit that the book blog sites that we refer to throughout this book are often written by people we know in the trade and have met at the many social events we attend.

Well, if we're going to bloggingly admit our interests, I'd just like to say I'm really tickled that they have chosen a cover showing three books by Adele Geras, because she happens to be my friend!!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Fiction Bitch, for that brillant review! I will buy the book for the cover alone of course but your points are very well made as one would expect from such an astute critic!
Proud to be a pal of the Bitch's!

Charles Lambert said...

Hmm. Your assessment of what makes Baroque in Hackney such an excellent blog is far more astute and accurate than the one you quote from this book, so I wouldn't think twice about their failure to appreciate your (inestimable) worth! Bitch on!

Debi said...

Great post, my dear bitch.

Ms Baroque said...

Ohhh, you guys. Elizabeth, I think this is a really interesting review. I've yet to receive my copy, so I can't say anything yet; the index sounds like a sad lack, though.

I think (she goes on, doing exactly what she just said she couldn't) that the slow speed of print is something you can't blame this book for - I work in publication production and lead-in times are simply a sad fact of life.

Who the book is for is a good question. It sounds to me, though, exercising my positive take on things, that it was simply fortuitous that the authors knew a lot of writers and bloggers in the trade. Of course they did; the book trade is riddled with 'em! But I get asked, and often, by tons of people:"how do you find out what blogs are OUT there?? I don't know where to start!" You and I found them, but I know that in my case it took months, and whole weekends spent trawling, because I had an interest in it. And of course I always tell them, "start with my sidebar, and move on to the sidebars of the blogs I link to," but a lot of people don't know even this.

For someone who might be that most amazing creature - the uninvested, casual lay reader (that's casual "lay reader," not - unless one gets very lucky - a "casual lay" reader) - I think a guide, however partial or limited by its static format, can only be a good thing. I think it might lure in a lot of poeple who are slightly scared of the blogosphere.

Before I had a blog, I'd certainly have bought such a book. And I think that, especially with its built-in obsolescence factor, Marion Boyars has been rather daring to publish it.

There. Pollyanna signs out!

Thanks for the lovely things you wrote about me! I like to think they are true, as well as what the book says.

Kate Feld said...

"...not full of intellectual concerns that put people off"

What an insulting thought. Thank God most readers seem to welcome the bracing and at times challenging level of intellectual debate on many literary blogs. If they didn't, they wouldn't read 'em, but I don't even seem to see people complaining about bloggers being "too intellectual."

Thanks for this excellent review!

Pants said...


You and Ms Baroque are both right - of course you both always are!

The shelf life of this book is not really an issue. I'm guessing the publishers might be thinking that it could turn into an annual edition, if enough people buy it. Thinking - book people like to buy books.

With literary blogs, there is bound to be a much higher survival rate than the average for blogs in general. Literary bloggers are working in their own medium, have technical skills (as Ms B says) and have a vested interest - they write to showcase their written work and establish their identity.

The critical value of this book is the important aspect, I think, and the one which will sink/swim it in the market place. FB, you're not impressed with the descriptions of the featured bloggers. I'm looking forward to hearing what Ms B thinks about it. If it's cursory and lazy, it won't be of value to anyone.

How exciting it all is.



Jake Jesson said...

(Got here through David Isaak's page. Hi!)

It's a bit odd to write a book about such an ever-changing and enormous field; even a snapshot of a part of a moment in its time would fall far short of telling the whole story. This reminds me of a book I found in a used bookstore a week or two ago; book filled with links to Star Wars websites. I used to be very 'into' that fandom; out of curiosity, I leafed through the book, looking for old friends. Most sites listed were now defunct.

Though I'm not sure what kind of audience this book might have, I'm sure it will be of great interests to the archaeologists of the Future.