In the face of a cranky attack on blogging that appeared in the resolutely print journal n+1 (and which is excerpted here), Fuse #8 this morning offers a defense of review-blogging that, I think, misses a big part of the point. I agree with her about the general cluelessness about the argument, but I don't think the biggest problem the online reviewing of children's books faces is its "out-and-out unapologetic fire and verve." Would that it were. It's more a problem of, to take a leaf from the old Spy magazine, "[b]logrolling in our time." The fact that librarians, teachers, enthusiasts, reviewers, parents, publishers and authors are conversing in the same corner of cyberspace has created a community of interested parties heretofore unknown in the children's book world. (Children themselves are still among the missing). In the old days, public librarians and school librarians barely spoke and both groups complained about teachers. All three groups interacted with authors via publishers and usually discretely.
That the brave new world has all-of-the-above kind of people in't, communicating as peers rather than through hierarchy and intermediation, is in most ways cause for celebration. But I'm not sure it has lead to better reviewing: can we truly "all be in this together" at the same time some of us are judging the work of others? Authors active in the blogosphere get treated differently there from their out-of-the-loop compatriots: they get more and kinder attention. It's hard not to be nice to someone, author or editor, whose own site may appear on your blogroll, or who regularly drops by your place to comment.
I recognize that I speak as someone invested in the system of book reviewers as putatively disinterested experts. But authors: reviewers are not your friends. This is not to say that we are out to get you, either--merely that we don't have your interests at heart. I watch with a sinking heart the "blog tours" of writers; recalling my favorite Law & Order mantra, any subsequent review from any of these blogs becomes "fruit from the poisoned tree." (Likewise, Fuse, with that Little, Brown promotion.) It isn't a bad thing at all that publishers are doing their best to use blogs as marketing tools. That's their job. But it's a reviewer's job to ignore the publisher and the author, and to instead focus on the book and its potential audience. Coziness has its price.