Breaking Out the Dread Rubber-Glue Gambit

By Neal Comment

Have you seen Steve Almond’s nuclear assault on blogger Mark Sarvas in Salon yet? Now, it’s true that Sarvas has said “the adulation accorded Steve Almond constitutes one of the blogosphere’s enduring mysteries” and called him “the most self-absorbed writer working today.” Not exactly fan mail, but does it merit Almond referring to his critic as “a learning-disabled Henry James” who “might ejaculate in his pants” if the two ever came face-to-face? Maybe it’s just that I’m not particularly impressed with homophobic banter passed off as rough-and-tumble guy talk, but frankly, though Sarvas couldn’t quite convince me that Almond was self-absorbed, Almond’s 4,300+ words devoted to what it feels like to be resented by the little people just might do the trick.

(Some might say I lack perspective on this, since I’ve been running my own rambling bookblog at Beatrice for nearly two years now, and Sarvas is such a good pal he shows up in the acknowledgments section of my book while I’ve never, until today, read word one from Almond&#8212his stuff just never seemed to command my attention. I’m not sure I could come up with a counterargument that wouldn’t sound forced, so I’m not going to waste your time by trying. Ed Champion has a much harsher reaction.)

Of course, I fully expect that if Almond runs across this, he’ll write it off as just another “Page Six dispatch”—which is fine, although the actual vibe I’m working towards in the long run is probably closer to “Herb Caen meets bite-size bits of David Carr.” Because, you know, Almond does get in a good shot against the blogosphere. I believe he’s wrong when he says “few of these lit blogs actually discuss literature in a meaningful way,” but he’s dead on when he points out “not so many people read them,” and that most of our readership is probably “aspiring writers and publishing folks.” There’s a lot of hype about literary blogs these days, but the reality is they’re a niche product aimed at a niche market, and although Almond’s also right to observe that a lot of authors are probably doing their best to get on the good side of bloggers in order to reach new readers, the evidence of blogs’ impact (if any) on the publishing industry is still anecdotal at best.* Sarvas’ Elegant Variation is doing better than ever this morning what with all the Salon readers clicking through, but even if every one of those new visitors sticks around, its readership won’t even begin to approach that of political bloggers like Andrew Sullivan or Josh Marshall. If book bloggers were desperate for that level of attention, frankly, they wouldn’t be writing about Steve Almond.

*This blog you’re reading right now is, I’d suggest, a special case, as we’re not here to advocate for any form of literature, or even to affect the industry, really, but to report on how the business of books works—for authors, publishers, agents, reviewers and booksellers alike. At least, that’s the mission statement I came up with in my head just before logging on last month…