December 27, 2007

Post About Books=Lackluster Response?

In his reflections on "The Best and Worst of Intellectual Blogs 2007," Joseph Kugelmass remarks "the consistently lackluster response to posts about books." I've noticed something similar in my expeditions around the 'blogosphere,' on both academic sites and litblogs, regretted it and wondered why blogging, which seems ideally set up for informal but thoughtful back-and-forth of the kind that so many readers value, does not seem to generate it. Anyone out there have any thoughts on the reasons for that "lacklustre response"? And are there any blogs at which you have seen rich conversations develop about books?

I've also seen and regretted the phenomenon that Kugelmass seems to see as a positive development, namely that in response to the apparent lack of enthusiasm for book chat, "most intellectual bloggers turned towards politics and professional matters with increasing frequency." I've regretted it partly, as I noted in my previous posts, because by "politics" they usually mean "American politics," partly because the political stuff often seems to lower the level of discourse (i.e. people become meaner and ruder, and discussion gets polarized and predictable), and partly because I went online to avoid some of the more confining aspects of professionalism. (It's true, mind you, that one side-effect of my own blogging experiences has been to make me more appreciative of some features of professionalism in literary studies, including expertise and civility--though it's precisely the spread of civility in the blogosphere that Kugelmass points to as a problem as he sees it leading to a kind of deadening blandness. He also sees "polish" as antithetical to the spirit of blogging, but given how fast and how publicly you can be taken to task for what you post--maybe rightly, maybe not, depending on the post and the context--there seems more chance of a high quality of debate if you slow down.)


Unknown said...

It's simple math/statistics. The book market is very fragmented. THere are 200000 new books published every year. That spreads the reading out quite a bit. So when I post about a book, the chances that someone else has read it and is reading my blog and has actual comments on it are low. By the time someone gets around to reading that book, they aren't going to go back and post a comment on an old blog entry.

I do see discussions of books get going, but it occurs mostly between bloggers.

And one other place I see discussions take place is on authors blogs themselves. I think that's because it's a place for readers of that author to congregate, so there's more chance that the folks have read something.

NigelBeale said...

I've seen some fairly interesting exchanges at a number of the blogs that you link to. But I've been to many more where 0 comments accompany most posts.

Not sure I have an answer,but I was really taken by what I saw at Bloglines' Top 1000 sites recently: at least five of the top 30 blogs were book related: several librarian run blogs, the NY Times Book Review was 16th, Washington book review was 30th, Slate magazine, Salon, both of which cover books quite there's no shortage of interest...perhaps book blog readers are just too...bookish to want to comment.

Amardeep Singh said...

Blogging is most effective when you can send your readers links to the source materials you're referring to.

With books (especially, say, literary criticism/theory), that is generally harder to do, and the posts that are most likely to get O comments are long analyses of books that no one else has read. The Valve had success earlier with "Book Events" that were organized on a largish scale, and announced in advance. People actually got the books, and read them.

With more conventional kinds of literary analysis, blogging might still be effective if we take advantage of Project Gutenberg, and either link to their E-books, or past long excerpts on our own blogs so readers have access. But this works best with books that are out of copyright.

I am thinking of announcing a "collective close reading" project on the Valve for the spring, where a particular e-text is posted and analyzed by readers and bloggers in sections (say ~ 30 pages at a time). This is sort of roughly along the lines of the "Pepys Diary" project, which is one of the most enduring and successful blog/lit studies hybrids ever. (In my case, I am thinking of an overlooked, but broadly interesting, Victorian text... any suggestions?)

Rohan Maitzen said...

Amardeep: that's an intriguing idea. I actually posted a comment over at the Valve just short time ago (I don't think it has 'passed' moderation yet) suggesting that the problem may be that we haven't found the right model for 'textual blogging.' Yours might work, as it would ease the mathematical challenge King Rat points to above--somehow you need to get people to read the same thing at the same time. And not just any people, but, as Nigel suggests, people who are willing to come out and say something (I think you may be right, Nigel, that bookish people are often introverts--including academics, odd though that may sound).

But what to read? Hmmm. You'd want something that would stand up to that kind of scrutiny and yet that would seem relatively fresh to enough readers. One problem is that 'overlooked' depends a lot on who's looking!

NigelBeale said...

Several years ago a close friend of mine left Ottawa to teach at a university in the Maritimes; his departure left a void. We had been meeting monthly, on and off, for about ten years. Mostly we met, usually with one or two others, to discuss the plays of Shakespeare. I miss those rich encounters. One of the reasons I set up my blog was to share my love of books and literature with others...can't say that this has been terribly successful. Seems that the only time there's any real interest from outside is when there's controversy...or when a troll shows up. I have been thinking of setting up a sort of book club on my site...Shakespeare is great because you can read a play in about three hours, and I don't think there's anything else in literature that packs so much in to so few words. One play a month. Anyone interested? As for Victorian Amardeep, sorry, I'm pretty clueless...unless there's a 19th century Shakespeare hiding out there somewhere...