The Entirely Unsuitable Guide to Book Blogs

Being something of an involved party on the subject, I’ve finally had a chance to read Rebecca Gillieron and Catheryn Kilgarriff’s The Bookaholics’ Guide to Book Blogs. I’m wondering why such a poorly researched and slipshod book was permitted to come out. (My answer might have something to do with Gillieron and Kilgarriff being the publishers of Marion Boyars, the press that generated this book.) Certainly, litblogs and their ilk deserve this kind of treatment, perhaps not in book form. But Gillieron and Kilgarriff are not the ones to do it.

They identify the motivation behind book blogs as enthusiasm, but that’s as obvious as saying that your motivation for driving into a gas station is to fill up. They choose not to investigate why this enthusiasm exists, much less consider the possibility that enthusiasm only goes so far. They also fail to consider that there are often moments in which blogging is not guided by enthusiasm, that many of us take hiatuses when we cannot offer content that is lively or purposeful, that we sometimes blog when we shouldn’t. Speaking in all candor for myself, many of the posts here arose from a remarkably dull job I once held in a law firm in which it was necessary for me to pretend to be someone who I was not. So I proceeded to amp up a part of me into a twisted persona named “Dr. Mabuse,” who still shows up on these pages out of habit, in an effort to stay sane, giddy, and alive. (I am now far more myself since I went full-time freelance: poorer but happier.) Thus, there is much more here than being one of the “individuals who have no grist or motive other than a love of books and a desire to share their finds with others.”

Why fame or ego should even be a consideration in blogging is a mystery I likewise cannot fathom. I certainly didn’t set into this business for any glory. Bookbloggers simply are. Some of us cannot help but follow the natural rhythm of what we enjoy doing. There isn’t a simpler answer. I’ve achieved a modest notoriety for this site — and even this may be overstating my trifling impact — that I’m often perplexed by. Since moving to New York, I’ve had total strangers come up to me in the street and say, “I’ve just listened to your Jonathan Safran Foer podcast,” which they then point to on their iPods. I’ve received a pair of underwear from a secret admirer in the mail. I’ve been called an egotistical asshole, a hero, a Buddhist (at least twelve times!), a “troubled young man,” and many other things, both pleasant and minatory. I remain baffled that so many people purport to know me based on my words, when they haven’t even had a conversation with me longer than five minutes. Is it egotistical for me to dwell upon this? Well, I suppose so. But I am merely trying to point out that blogging and writing are just what I do and that deriving some great import about who I am misses the point of what this site is about.

There are too many factual errors and oversights in this book for me to take this book seriously. It was certainly news to me to learn that Ron Hogan and Sarah Weinman were married. It is exceedingly frustrating to see Colleen’s quote once again misattributed to me, when it was rectified here and clarified in a correction in the Los Angeles Times. It is quite disgraceful to see someone like Maud Newton get little more than a few sentences.

Simple fact-checking along these lines could have been easily resolved by sending a few emails or making a few phone calls or carefully reading these sites. But Gillieron and Kilgarriff appear incapable of even the most basic journalism. So I have to wonder if their book, containing numerous prevarications and other mistruths, is really worthy of serious consideration. Since every conversation about blogs inevitably ends up back at the same three talking points, was a book along these lines really necessary?

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10 Comments

  1. Damn, I thought my mom had my name sewn in that pair!

  2. So wait, you’re not really a Buddhist?

  3. Sarah’s been secretly married all this time? And this is how we had to find out?

    Soon they’ll be telling us Sarah and Ron have really been living in Terre Haute all these years.

  4. Hey, this is a blog post about a book about blog posts about books!

    I think I’m going to go read.

  5. Point one: (I am now far more myself since I went full-time freelance: poorer but happier.) Good for you. Many people can’t break the habit because they’d rather be richer but sadder.

    Point two: did you pay for the book?

  6. ‘A Life of Modest Notoriety: The Ed Champion Story”

    I’m also relatively new to full-time freelancing, and am happier than I have ever been in my professional life.

    P.S. I sent those undies to Bat Segundo.

  7. OK, I appreciate I don’t have much in the way of objective distance on this one but here goes.

    Book blogging is obviously of interest to the publishing community in the widest possible sense (readers, writers, agents and companies themselves), so it’s a book that was begging to be written, in some senses (ie. there is a market for it at least).

    However, it not only contains factual errors and gross over-simplifications but just *errors*, of numerous kinds. Ones which, as you say, could be cleared up by some basic external oversight (did the manuscript ever leave the Apple Macs of the authors before it was handed over to the printers?). I was contacted by the authors prior to publication, but only for my permission to be quoted. I really could have made a few constructive suggestions that could avoided a few blind alleys being taken. But hey, it’s out now and has largely had an easy ride in the press (who are less likely to have your meticulous eye for the ins and outs of the subject.)

    Given the subject under consideration was always like to increase scrutiny of the book, getting it right was almost as much a priority as the defining the rationale for the book itself.

    (I’m still waiting for the Steve Almond review of it)

  8. Obvious errors such as these make me think that the writers are not regular readers of litblogs. Why write about something you don’t truly care about?

    (Oh, that’s right–money…)

  9. When I saw this book in the fall catalog, my immediate reaction was, what a pointless exercise to write an on-paper book that purports to be a guide to blogs. We still have a couple dogeared and unsold books with titles like “The Complete Guide To Cyberspace,” circa 1995. My gut reaction was that it would be an utter waste of shelf space, and we’re not carrying it.

  10. So does it in fact reveal whether you are married to the WWoP (TM)? ;-)

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