CJR Rejects Fear of a Blog Planet

By Neal Comment

Shortly after the National Book Critics Circle wraps up its four-day self-lovefest, Columbia Journalism Review is sponsoring its own panel on “the future of book reviewing,” spinning out from themes that incoming Truthdig.com literary editor Steve Wasserman will be exploring in an essay for the magazine’s annual book issue. In addition to Wasserman, the September 18 event PublicAffairs founder (and CJR vice-chair) Peter Osnos, FSG vp Elizabeth Sifton, former NBCC president Carlin Romano… and Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation.

Now, we should disclose right off the bat that the regard at GalleyCat for Sarvas is as personal as it is professional, so make of our enthusiasm what you will. He hardly needs us to champion him, though: Read his recent interview with Eight Diagrams and you’ll discover that he’s as thoughtful a commentator on contemporary literary criticism as you’re likely to find anywhere, let alone the blogosphere. So how is it the NBCC (of which he’s a member) couldn’t—or wouldn’t—invite him to come to New York a few days earlier?

I’m not the only person who’s less than impressed with the NBCC’s plans. Over at Bookslut, Jennifer Howard heaves a weary sigh: “I’m just going to creep quietly into some dusty, book-lined corner and kill myself now, before things get any worse,” she wrote when she learned about the panels. “Self-important pontificating is not the solution, IT’S PART OF THE PROBLEM.” Another litblog adopted a much ruder response involving nosepicking, which is exactly the sort of adolescent rhetoric that keeps the print-based folks mad at the blogosphere, helping precisely no one.

But even that’s mild compared to the criticisms from Five Chapters editor Dave Daley. “The NBCC holding a symposium on the future of book reviewing is kind of like Larry Craig chairing a committee looking into proper airport rest-room etiquette,” he emailed in response to yesterday’s item. “They are a bunch of pompous, irrelevant twits. There are people—high in that organization—I wouldn’t hire to write a brief.” Daley, a veteran book review editor in the newspaper and magazine arenas, added that he suspects several prominent NBCC members, including some who freelanced for him, of “skimming the books at best.”

“They dumb the literary culture down to these 12-inch book reports and homogenize it so the same ten people are in every regional paper,” Daley continued. Then, when someone in charge looks at the budgets and… puts a stop to it, certain that the money would be better spent in other ways, [they] complain that daily papers are stifling the book conversation, when really all they are doing is putting an end to the NBCC gravy train.”