Saturday, June 13, 2009

"The fanboys can be merciless."

This Times article about the gypsies invading the castle of professional film criticism has a lot of import to the kidlitosphere as well, as amateur (I use the word in a strict sense) and independent critics join the established professional players in reviewing new books for children. I like what A. O. Scott has to say: “the paradox is that the Web has invigorated criticism as an activity while undermining it as a profession.” He means, I think, that as more people are embracing criticism as valuable, the notion that particular people can have expertise (worth paying for) becomes devalued: all opinions become equal.

Here's what worries me more. In the recent dustup about the BEA bloggers panel and subsequent debate about first- and second-generation bloggers, a-list and b-list bloggers, whether blog tours do any good and what constitutes pay and payola in the book-reviewing blog world, I kept thinking about my favorite Nora Ephron crack, which I will have to paraphrase as I can't find my copy of Crazy Salad. Writing about her experience with a 70s feminist consciousness-raising group, Ephron noted that in its waning days the conversation had devolved into a discussion about how each woman was going to stuff her turkey that Thanksgiving, and that none of the members was even particularly interested in hearing what the other women had to say, they were just impatient for their turn to talk. (Or as Fran Leibowitz put it, "conversation is not the art of listening. It is the art of waiting.") I worry that Internet 2.0 is turning us all into better talkers than listeners--that's what will kill criticism from wherever its source.

65 comments:

Franki said...

I feel like it is harder with Internet 2.0 to actually follow the conversation and to know when someone is listening, what impacts their thinking, etc. I do a LOT of "listening" and processing others' tweets and blog posts but they don't always show up in my writing. They just become part of my thinking and show up later a little more subtly. Maybe it is a different kind of conversation? Something definitely worth thinking about.

Anonymous said...

just because someone has an opinion and an internet connection does not mean that he or she has to blog. 90% of the kidlitosphere is utter garbage (sturgeon's law).

Mitali Perkins said...

For those who feel voiceless and invisible on the margins, web 2.0 and now 3.0 can be an empowering new way to be heard and seen.

We have to develop a new skill for this emerging media -- discerning which opiners (vs. whiners) have done the research, reading, and reflection required to become a trusted voice.

Roger Sutton said...

What's 3.0, Mitali, in a nutshell? (the other thing about the Internet is that it can make us feel old and out of touch so quickly!)

Liz B said...

I think there is a difference between a "review" and discussions. Some online posts are one or the other; sometimes a bit of each. But I wouldn't call every plot synopsis followed by an "I liked/loved/hated it" a review.

That the Internet gives a forum for people to discuss what they love? Excellent. Was the world really so much better when people thought they were alone in their interests?

Ideally, traditional media should recognize that the online community shows that people do want more bookish news -- reviews, analysis, discussion, interviews -- insted of thinking, somehow, that the online discourse is replacing reviews.

Mitali Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitali Perkins said...

Web 3.0 is really what you're requesting with this post, Roger.

It's a way to streamline and tailor the massive amount of verbiage on the web so that trusted experts can recommend and review products just for you, according to your tastes. Here's one attempt at a definition.

The folks at Adaptive Blue / Glue (who designed the widget on my site) have an opinion on this, too.

In fact, the geeks and nerds just held an entire conference on the subject.

Those who are more right-brained need to wait a bit. They'll need those skills soon enough, and once the geeks get web 3.0, the talent of excellent reviewing and writing will be recognized and rewarded.

Roger Sutton said...

Actually, Mitali, it sounds like the opposite of what I mean, because it increases the self-involvement of the user. (And at this point, anyway, it's reductive: I once bought an opera cd from Amazon and the next time I signed on it had recommended "just for you" a biography of a gay porn star!)

Amy said...

Well, I don't know if criticism is lying on its deathbed, but I have actually found the recent discussions to be very helpful. Once you look past all the emotions, there are some interesting things being said. I don't and hope never feel that I'm past learning.

I hear what you're saying...too much talking. Everyone has an opinion and no one is listening to anyone else. I don't think that's really new though, I think that's as old as mankind, it's just that more and different people are doing it now.

Sara Z. said...

I'm with Roger, here, and it goes to the Fran L. quote. Though I get the joke of it, it's also true that when forced to wait, it's more likely better (or at least some) listening will take place. With all the ways and means now to say one's piece, no one has to wait, and it seems safe to conclude that causes the quality of contemplation and therefore the quality of the conversation to suffer.

How many times have I had an immediate reaction to something only to see that reaction change a few days later when I've had time to give it some deeper thought? A lot. How often do I wait a few days before running off to my blog to post an immediate reaction? Um, not so much. Multiply my behavior across the o'sphere. The nature of traditional journalism at least forces a waiting period during which a different depth and quality of thought can happen.

(Also I agree with Liz B.-there's a place for all the different levels of thought, as long as we don't mistake them for each other.)

Franki said...

I don't know if we are giving enough credit to the readers. I think any reader knows that a Hornbook review means more than any other, but it is always nice to hear what others have to say on a subject--for a variety of reasons. I think the reader is the one who has to figure out who they are going to trust in this new arena. Figuring out who has the real expertise. I don't consider anything I do a "review", more like LIz states--a discussion from my perspective as an elementary teacher who reads lots, uses books all day and has read and used reviews for 20 years. To me, the blog is just like workshops I run--what kind of kid might I hand a book like this to? how might this be used in the classroom.

Amy said...

Well, on the one hand, I can see there's room for mob mentality. Like Amazonfail. On the other hand, those sorts of things HAVE ALWAYS HAPPENED. Salem Witch Trials, etc.

I think this is just a new forum in which the old things that trip us up as humans are showcasing themselves.

I agree with Franki...it's the readers who will decide. And sure sometimes readers choose things that baffle me personally. But I'd rather make room for more voices, let myself be offended, and know that people are finding an engagement around books they'd never had before than go back to a few voices having all the room.

I say what I write are reviews, but truly they are what I call reader reviews. I like writing them, some other people like reading them, and I don't really see why that bothers people.

melanie hope greenberg said...

Hi, I was opposed to blogging for a long time due to inane non conversations and back slapping. I am trying to have an intelligent blog by ONLY discussing my books and book process and interview people directly involved with my books or my publishing lifestyle. I've included the booksellers to participate and some have. I am no renaissance woman. There is just no time to do everything well and would never presume to be anything else but a picture book author and illustrator. I have no plans to review someone else's work on my blog. I spend so much time trying to keep my own books alive and out of the mid list dump heap with enormous data crunching for marketing to the detriment of new creative ventures.

This parallels my frustration that any Tom (movie star), Dick (rock star), or Harry (sports star.... add em on), those with well paying jobs already can take away jobs from people who wish to only do good work as a writer or artist, epsecially so in the picture book world. Truly, I can't compete with those same people in their fields. I don't even want to.

BTW, I just did my first contest and I do not think it's worth the efforts. Hardly anyone participated. Out of 2000 emails and other blog plugs less than 10 responses. My own friends did not show up for my huge exhibition that was free at Brooklyn Central Library, an important show that was up for three months. I do not know what to do anymore since there seems to be this problem with information overload. I think people are mostly tuned out.

Listening is an act of self effort, we live in times when people expect everything is done "for" them.

Debbie Reese said...

In print format, I would never be able to compete with Horn Book. Blogging, though, lets me write about books with American Indian content, unedited. I value the relationships I have with Roger and others in the reviewing field, but doing my own thing... Can't be beat! The work I do still doesn't hold much of a candle to what Horn Book and SLJ, Kirkus, etc. do, but it is does, I think, make a difference.

John Proctor said...

Amy writes: "Well, on the one hand, I can see there's room for mob mentality. Like Amazonfail. On the other hand, those sorts of things HAVE ALWAYS HAPPENED. Salem Witch Trials, etc."

Is this meant to be reassuring?

Amy said...

John...lol! Not reassuring so much as simply pointing out that the idea that the internet has made people less prone to listen to each other and be less patient doesn't ring true to me. It's a condition of mandkind, not something newly evolving.

Debbie Reese said...

Has anyone blogged "the dustup about the BEA bloggers panel" --- I'd like to know more about it.

Anonymous said...

I find the blogs to be good for "buzz" on books that I then may want to consider further--often by going to the traditional professional reviews.

Most bloggers have a "day job," and it shows, for better and for worse. Their perspectives are useful, but in no way devalue the considered opinions from groups of seasoned veterans who are able to work with more depth and perspective.

People know that all reviews are not created equal. What you do at Horn Book is being supplemented, not superseded.

...and if you're worried about listening vs. waiting to speak, maybe it is possible to check the ratio of hits to blogs vs. the number of children's literature bloggers. That sort of info. is available, isn't it? I'm betting there's more reading than writing going on. One could also check how many people subscribe to say, the childlit listserve versus the number who regularly post. I'm betting there's way more lurking than posting going on. Those numbers wouldn't give a complete picture, but would give some perspective. Maybe there's a graduate paper in there for somebody...

Hoping to communicate clearly through my Sunday morning fog...
ifahren

Brigid said...

I agree that readers can sort the wheat from the chaff. Good reviewers will rise to the top and get links, respect, and citations.

I do a lot of writing about comics, and in that field there really is a place for reviewers who give a plot summary followed by "I liked it," because people are keeping abreast of episodic series. That audience was not really served before.

But for those interested in more mainstream reviews, don't discount the importance of portals and gatekeepers. I do a lot of linkblogging, and part of what I do is sift through the reviews and highlight the better writers. Thoughtful reviews will get a link; rants and summaries won't. In addition, by gathering most of what is being written about a specific type of book in a single place, I save the reader a lot of clicking around and bring more readers to lesser-known sites.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, Brigid. I haven't seen real signs that cream rises. Sometimes, I think I see it, but it's an illusion. I understand from a post on Chasing Ray, by Colleen Mondor, that she was unhappy with the BEA panel discussion about bloggers, partly because she didn't recognize any of them, and they didn't seem to know her. Can there be two huge non-overlapping communities of book bloggers? Maybe. Every time I begin to think I have an idea of the hierarchy of the web-- the web turns out to be a whole lot bigger than I thought it was. I find that I have been overvaluing the fish in what turns out to be a small pond.

Colleen said...

I never said I expected to be recognized by anyone on the panel or elsewhere. My complaint was always with how the panel was advertised and how I do not think any single panel could ever be representative of the lit blogosphere in general - it's just too big. That's what I wrote and that's what I reiterated repeatedly in the conversation that followed my post.

Tasses said...

For me, blogging began as a way to chronicle the books I was reading and search for my place within my profession. I've 'met' many great Kidlitosphere folks that I'd have otherwise never heard of (even though my feed reader moans at the thought). Thus, I've actually become both more a writer (talker) and a reader (listener) since I began blogging about my love of books.

Anonymous said...

Colleen, I didn't meant to push your buttons. My point was not too different from yours. I would have thought that any panel organized to talk about blogging books would have heard of you, and yet-- there appeared to be a whole community of people who hadn't-- and hadn't heard of other people that I think of as big names.

I get the impression that we poke around on the internet like blind men, or like early fossil hunters collecting interesting specimens and we arrange them around ourselves and order them by importance to ourselves. We make our blogrolls and we think "this is the internet, here on my dining room table." I find it easy to forget how ego-centric it is. I fool myself, first by organizing things around me, and then by thinking I am the center of the universe. Do you see what I mean?

I'd like a non-ego-centric way to approach the web, a more objective way to have information sorted. As an explorer paddling around in the shallows of the info ocean, I'm looking for how to map things.

unkpinsh

Roger Sutton said...

It also may be that print and blog reviewing might be speaking to different audiences, especially in children's books. The audience for the Horn Book, SLJ, etc., has always been institutions--people who buy books for children not their own. I am not sure that the blog reviews have captured parents--the coverage by the blogs and the needs of individual parents are too random to meet more than coincidentally--but they do reach adult fans in a way that the institutional reviews do not. But are those adult fans in the main other bloggers? I don't know--somebody needs to study the lurkers!

Anonymous said...

I think bloggers absolutely reach parents -- a lot of the kidlit bloggers ARE parents: smart stay-at-home moms who have strong opinions about the books their kids are reading.

As for Horn Book reviews being more valuable than blog reviews, that's nonsense. I'm much more likely to pay attention to reviews by Betsy Bird and Debbie Reese, for example, than I am some a print source for four reasons: (1) they're easily accessible; (2) they're CURRENT (Betsy reviews faster than anyone else); (3) I feel like I "know" the bloggers and understand where they're coming from. They have clear points of view -- and in Debbie's case, it's a point of view I don't see anywhere else; and (4) they're CRITICAL. They actually express opinions. Most print reviews today are sterile plot descriptions.

When are the print review journals going to start reviewing through blogs? You can still sell advertising space and would probably get many more readers as a result.

Roger Sutton said...

Who said the Horn Book reviews are more valuable? In the sense that they generate income, sure, but that's the only claim I would make in contrasting print v. pixels.

The problem with blog reviews serving parents is that you never know what blog is going to review what when. (There is little advantage to a parent reading a review of, say, Catching Fire, now, as the book won't be available until the fall.) If, for example, a parent wants to purchase a book as a gift for a five-year-old in time for a party later the same week, blogs are going to be the least efficient source of reviews. The blogs that review a book a day often provide thoughtful reviews but they are kind of floating untethered, random information that may or may not be seen by the person who needs it.

Anonymous said...

Roger,
As a parent, I'm with you. The blogs are very little help in finding new reads for my kids. As you say, the books reviewed in blogs aren't out yet, and by the time they appear in the library--where we get our books--I've forgotten the titles. Occasionally, some lovely librarian faces out a book and I remember that I saw it reviewed last year on bookshelvesofdoom, but that's rare. I keep meaning to approach the web more efficiently and keep a TBR, update it regularly, and remember to cross-reference with the library catalog, but I never do. I just enjoy the chatter.

However, as little use I get from the blog reviews, that's more than I ever got from print reviews. I don't subscribe to the Horn Book and didn't read the reviews in any papers when they had them. Too much noise to signal. I don't need your broad spectrum of reviews, I just need books for my thirteen year old and he's already read most of the ones you recommended anyway. Too broad, not deep enough for my needs--that's my frustrated experience of reviewing so far.

Reviews lead me to books for myself, not for my kids.

unkpinsh

Roger Sutton said...

Much as we would love every book-loving parent in America to subscribe to the HB, unkpinsh is right--in order to serve the needs of our primary audience (librarians with an academic as well as professional background in children's lit) we provide both TMI and NEI for general readers. We do have this new e-newsletter (Notes from the Horn Book) which is directed at nonprofessionals about new books for kids; it has been very successful even as I'm not sure just with what audience.

Anonymous said...

one problem with blogging (which presumably does not bother anyone who is reading this): the slovenly and ungrammatical language. HB and other periodicals have PROOFREADERS and their reviewers have experienced the strictures of book publication and learned how to express themselves clearly and gracefully. Bloggers just sound off, confident that their opinions deserve attention since they (the opinions) are THEIRS.

Also the bloggers are longwinded - as am I

Anonymous said...

Me, I think that the proliferation of blogs speeds up the "X minutes of fame" process for a book. A lot of good, quiet books get lost because everyone is raving about the sequel to THE HUNGER GAMES or whatever the Hot New Thing is. There are also too many Teapot Tempests, which is the nature of the internet.

I take print journals more seriously (in their print and online iterations) because I know that those reviews have gone through a serious vetting process.
I am not as apt to turn to some "smart stay-at-home moms who have strong opinions about the books their kids are reading." (Unless those moms are professional reviewers, as above.) All a blogger has to do is hit the "publish" button.

And how can I trust said blogger to be objective? How do I know that this person isn't friends with the author? Or is afraid of offending them?

KATE COOMBS said...

As a fairly new self-appointed children's book reviewer, I find this discussion really applicable, both fascinating and mildly troubling. Let it be known that I do take the Horn Book Magazine! What I've found out about blogging and the specific group, Kidlitosphere, is that blogging is a LOT of work. I can just manage to post once a week, write my own books, and keep up with my day job. My point being, the people blogging about children's books that I've encountered (1) are really in love with children's books and (2) are quite serious about this as a group, or they wouldn't go to so much trouble. Many of them are librarians. Like me, they've read hundreds and even thousands of children's books over the years--which means they are often less amateurish than one might think. I suspect the Horn Book and other professional reviewers are ultimately derived from the same talent pool. (And in the Kidlitosphere Yahoo group, we have long discussions about issues such as negative reviews and posting disclaimers if we know an author personally.)

melanie hope greenberg said...

Take it from someone who meets lots of kids and their parents in the schools and at book signings, besides the publishing parents, most parents hardly have a clue that our books even get reviewed. Many inner city kids' homes are without internet. So, for a book to fall into a child's hands takes a teacher, librarian or some other adult to buy them the book. The mommy blogs are helpful to getting your book known by the paying audience. Truthfully, on my budget I am using the library. I need the hardback retail book price to eat and try to create new book projects. Author to author blogs may educate us but the mommies are buying the books.

Re marketing EG if Nike sneakers are advertised 24/7 that is what the parent will buy because it is drummed into their heads. They also think that is what's only available. Do you think they are out exploring New Balance or some lesser known better brand? Hardly.

Anonymous said...

I haven't fully read the Times piece yet but I suspect that it gets at a certain anti-intellectualism at work in this country that's exacerbated in the children's book world. Anyone with an advanced degree after his or her name and/or (gasp!) doesn't have children of their own invariably has to go up against "Well, my daughter loved it."

Little Suzy and Johnny's opinions tend to trump all in the blogging world. They're our equivalent of the fanboys.

Anonymous said...

"My point being, the people blogging about children's books that I've encountered (1) are really in love with children's books and (2) are quite serious about this as a group, or they wouldn't go to so much trouble."

Yes, maybe, and/or they are serious about liking the idea of an audience for their opinion. Ego and a love of the sound of one's own voice can be the engine of great effort, with or without love or seriousness of purpose.

Tasses said...

Oh, I'll be the first to admit that my blogs are somewhat an ego boosting effort, but I'm also trying to put forth my best face.

If it's a BUNCH of noise, and I'm shouting along with every other kid lit lover/professional, I'll still be stopping for an occasional listen to the noise.

And this, with apologies, is what makes Mr. Sutton's worry a non-worry. Lots of fish, lots of fishermen. Bad analogy, but I'm late with four reviews!

Anonymous said...

I think my comment got eaten. I was agreeing with Anon 11:04 who said that everything seems to have a briefer and briefer moment in the sun. And you would think that the World Wide Web would have plenty of room for everything, but all the reviewers seem to review the same five books.

I can't work up any anxiety however, about payola, though I have heard concerns raised elsewhere about reviewers who might sell their integrity for shiny ARCs. Print reviews come few and far between, so their reviewers take months, or years, to build a reputation, or they have to make their reputation with every review. Bloggers post every day and I can scan back through their posts any time I like. I can see whether they consistently recommend books that I have liked . . . or not. If they have, I don't care if they are in HarperCollins pocket, or even on their payroll. It's true that if a blogger has been squeeing for weeks about a meeting with Shannon Hale or Holly Black and then reviews one of their books, I might cross-reference to any one of the three hundred reviews on the same subject. That's what nice about bloggers . . . you know what to take with a grain of salt.

unkpinsh

Anonymous said...

I think that the current wave of "Just Like Me"-ism that underscored the rise of Sarah Palin ("I'm voting for her because she's just like me! I can relate to her!") is also at work here, in the backlash against professional criticism.

Anyone who comes from a highly informed background (years of study or professional status, advanced degree), in essence, has the power to make the masses feel bad for their taste. Don't like the latest wildly popular, crappily illustrated picture book best seller? You're "elitist."

But not "Mom Blogger" -- she's just like you!

Without knowing who exactly reads which blogs, this may be going to far (and certainly some mom bloggers have good taste).

However, I do believe that more and more the masses are looking for some sort of personal mirroring in their "critics" rather than being thankful that, well, someone with a lot of knowledge combed through hundreds of books (or movies or CDs) a year, each year, so that they could provide you with the best information possible.

The most hilarious example of "Just Like Me"-ism I saw recently was a letter to the editor in a running magazine in which the author complained about the use of top American marathoner Kara Goucher as a cover model because she "couldn't relate to her." Bring out the tubby 5:30 marathoners!

Cheryl said...

Jeez, Anonymous @ 3:12 p.m.:

>> Ego and a love of the sound of one's own voice can be the engine of great effort, with or without love or seriousness of purpose. <<

Even driving one to leave anonymous comments on blogs, perhaps? Which don't require much time or any responsibility?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I dunno Cheryl, I like to hear from Anonymous Curmudgeon every once in a while. I even like the occasional visit from her brother, Anonymous Spelling Troll. They keep it real.

unkpinsh

Franki said...

I think that the one thing missing in this conversation is the idea of writing as an act of reflection and learning. For me, writing helps me be a more reflective teacher and hearing others' responses to my writing pushes my thinking. It isn't really about audience or credibility but writing as a thinking process. Blogs provide a good forum for people who write as part of their daily lives.

Anonymous said...

The other thing about blogging that deserves mention: if you don't like it, no one is making you read it.

What I also find interesting -- and this is off topic -- are the many authors who are now told flat-out that they should blog. What if they don't have anything they want to say? What if they would rather reserve their creative energy for their actual writing?

I would rather read a new book from an author I admire than some blog about what s/he ate or is reading or watching on TV, or his/her advice on writing, or whatever.

jimmyprell said...

Great discussion. Roger has a gift for stirring the pot, a natural-born blogger. Given the scope of this conversation, just a buckshot approach:

* A lot has been said recently about the integrity of bloggers, the "payola" factor, but hasn't that been going on with print media for decades? Publishers are called upon to BUY advertising. And with the advertising they hope to reap the reward of getting books reviewed. To not purchase expensive advertising is seen as a risk. From what I know: Even if a publisher would like to tell, say, Kirkus to take a walk, they are too frightened to do it. So they buy the advertising and play the game.

* Franki is correct -- almost always, as a rule -- about giving readers more credit. Even on Amazon, there's that deal where you check whether the review was helpful or not. We, as readers, have to consider the source.

* I don't think anyone can legitimately make wide, sweeping comments about "bloggers" or the "kidlitosphere," a phrase I dislike. One issue that I touched upon today in a blog: Can an author "review" another author's book? In the sense that a cynical reading could see it all as back-slapping, sycophantical BS. Again, the answer: Consider the source.

* The future of the information age, I think, will show a greater emphasis on gatekeepers, processors, trusted editors who help readers find "the good stuff." That is, we'll need more filters. As just like the idealism we need every time we start a book, we all have to believe that quality work will be rewarded. And I still believe that, very much, though the definition of "rewarded" is open-ended.

Thanks for listening.

James Preller

Anonymous said...

I get most of my book lists from blogs because a lot of "professional" review places tend to be very snotty and snarky now, and the reviews are becoming more emotional than informative. (I read several SLJ reviews in the last year that didn't actually review the book at all, and instead pushed a personal agenda about "bad" language or "inappropriate" content in YA lit. I feel these reviews ruin the objective good name of their publication.) I know many who no longer trust anonymous review standards. Kirkus, for example, has become a joke, now. If I see more censorship-agenda reviews in SLJ, I will also stop trusting them.

That said, I also find a lot of lazy & emotional reviewing on many blogs. But it's a good way to weed out the fluff. Whenever I see an expectation-whiny review ("My expectations were high or different...and so, I was disappointed") I stop visiting that blog, because I feel those sorts of reviewers lack the maturity to review a book well.

Now, I read maybe five book blogs to get my reading/ordering lists, and so far, they have not let me down.

King Rat said...

All the naysayers have convinced me! I now realize that my lack of training, lack of paid gigs, lack of professionalism, lack of following prescribed format, and lack of editor are all reasons that I should just shut up and never write anything on the internet about books again without approval from my betters. I'm just harming all the hardworking authors and reviewers who didn't sign up to have me play in their playground.

Anonymous said...

I perceive your sarcasm and know nothing of your blog, King Rat, so don't take it personally ... but lack of professionalism is reason enough not to blog about someone else's (professional) work, never mind all the others you name.

Anonymous 3:12 said...

That response was a touch ad hominem, don’t you think? And I thought I was being self-effacing in my anonymity, not irresponsible, but take it as you will. Anyway, my point was just that at some level ego (mine too, sure) is part of the desire to be published, online or elsewhere, and that just because someone makes the time and effort to do something, that doesn’t automatically make the results rewarding. By all means everyone has a right to blog, and more power to them, but the rest of us have a right to read critically.

King Rat said...

Ah, but here we get to the crux of the matter: who defines professionalism? is there a perfect form of a mythical professionalism object in the plane of forms that we all imitate? I doubt it, though I'm no great philosopher.

If a professional (an author) creates something for a non-professional (a reader), why is it so illegitimate for the non-professional to have an opinion about what was ostensibly created for them? I agreed to no contract whatsoever when I bought and read this book. So of course I'm going to talk about it even if my work doesn't meet someone else's definition of professionalism. Particularly if the work doesn't meet my standards of professionalism.

As to the second anon comment after mine on quality: sure there are different levels of quality. Readers should discriminate based on whatever merits they find important. Personally, I think a lot of book blogs are fawning messes of junk. They don't work for me. But... lots of people really like what those blogs are doing, particularly the bloggers themselves. I say more power to them (even though I'll pick apart the things that don't work for me because I'm a cranky guy on the internet).

The problem with these discussions is that inevitably the groupmind of commenters turns to trying to figure out what the plane of forms version of a legitimate/professional/whatever review is. And then the 2 to 34 sides of the polygon get to talking past each other trying to impose their view of what the ONE TRUE method of reviewing should be.

There is no one ring.

This is the same argument as the religious argument over what sins are right/wrong according to which religion. And who has picked the right god and who has picked the wrong one. When the discussion is framed the way this discussion (I don't mean this post, but instead the whole post-BEA flame war thing) has been framed, the results are exactly the same as such religious discussions go.

Anonymous said...

"If a professional (an author) creates something for a non-professional (a reader), why is it so illegitimate for the non-professional to have an opinion about what was ostensibly created for them?"

You're setting up straw men and knocking them down, K. Rat. There's plenty to gripe about regarding the blogosphere, but nobody's saying it's illegitimate for you to have an opinion. Breathe easy!

Anonymous said...

Professionalism is very easily defined in print journalism -- and criticism in particular. Almost all of the national and local critics' societies for film, books, etc. uphold rigorous standards for acceptance. Potential members submit work sometimes multiple times to get in.

Funny, because children's books are more ruled by the librarians, we don't have such a thing. (Grown-up book critics have several organizations.) I don't know much about the Cybils -- are they voted on by a select committee of bloggers deemed more "professional" than others? Or does anyone with a blog weigh in?

Tell me this, King Rat, were there a "National Society for Children's Book Critics," would you apply? Would you feel your work is good enough?

Likewise, if there were no Internet at all, do you think that you'd be reviewing for the Horn Book or the New York Times Book Review instead? Why not apply now? Do you think someone would pay you for your insight into children's books and your ability to articulate it?

Oh, I know, you review because you want a "community" and like "expressing yourself."

However, if you were a weekend watercolorist (and a so-so one at that), would you expect your work to hang at a local/national/international gallery where you could interact with the art "community" and share your "self-expressions"? Unless you were deluded, probably not. I'm always perplexed at why people think their writing deserves an audience more so than their other artistic pursuits -- all demand practice and craft.

And anyone who thinks that blogging isn't affecting the pay rates of "hardworking" "professional" writers, go check out the rates for online writing in the jobs section of your local Craigslist. Five dollars (or less) for articles of 500 words or more. (National magazines pay $2 a word; newspapers, 25 cents a word and up).

Will it come to a point that, without the "professional" standards of print outlets and a select few online sites and the pay scales that go with them, the only people writing will be those looking to "express themselves" to their "community"?

If that's the case, then I'm retreating to an age-old pastime for expressing myself. You may remember it. It's called "writing in a journal."

KATE COOMBS said...

I'm guessing the truth lies somewhere between shameless intellectual elitism and sheep-like online populism. Face it: some of the bloggers' reviews are excellent, and some are garbage. But let's not kid ourselves that being a professional reviewer means that every word one writes is golden. In any profession, some are better than others. I've read professional reviews that were really solid and some that were truly brilliant, but every so often a professional review falls short of perfection. Even in the Horn Book magazine!

Amy said...

Dear Anon at 3:31,

Huh? Okay I'm admittedly a blogger and there are probably some who have commented that think my blog is a pile of crap. That's fine, don't read.

But I do care about books. And I don't necessarily think that trying to stifle the conversation around books that happens on the internet is the best way to promote them, in favor of paid reviewers and certain standards. It sucks that reviewers are getting paid less, but how cool that people who have other jobs that maybe they don't love as much can have an outlet to talk about something they do love? I have heard over and over that book blogs have increased the amount of time people spend reading, helped them to discover new writers and genres and filled a void for community around books that wasn't there. That's love for books. That's love for reading, that matters.

While I can understand artistic merit and craft, I think that books have more power than that. A beautifully written and well crafted book can fail to move someone, while another book perhaps less favorably reviewed connects with a person at the right time. How often have we heard stores about how books like Twilight and Harry Potter got kids interested in reading? And the internet was powerful in creating strong communities around both of those series.

It's an unpopular viewpoint, but it's one I hold....ultimately a book's value is determined by its reader and the internet has given people a chance to discover and hear about more books than they might have previously. More chances to let books impact their lives.

I respect critical reviews and I'm thankful for them, but please defend your art without disparaging what others are doing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:31 here ...

I'm not saying that no one should blog or talk about books, and we should close the Internet down! All I was doing was responding to King Rat's assertion that there are no definitions of professionalism in criticism. There are, and, for now anyway, they are way more clearly defined in print media. (There are actually even Pulitzer Prizes for Criticism.)

And I'm not saying that all print reviews are superior. If you want someone to rag on SLJ, I'm your girl.

I do agree, though, with the sentiments in the original post that one day soon online critics who know that their writing wouldn't cut it in the New York Times Book Review (as a couple here seem to admit) will likely be given equal standing by publishers because it will be easy and beneficial for the publishers to do so. Is that fair? And will you take it?

Susan said...

Bah! How awful is it to discover a zillion people want books, read books, love books, want to opine about books? It's fabulous! And I would think most people who love books can tell which is a decent review or a I'm best friends with this writer type review. And if not, come ask me - I'm a children's librarian trained to help you - plus I have secret Ninja skills.

Anonymous said...

There is always talk about "the love of books." I'd like to meet the person who loved books so much that they decided that they wouldn't put up yet another blog that talks about the same books in the same way as everyone else's blog and instead decided to use the time to do something else to get kids reading.

Anyone?

Pat

Gregory K. said...

Sigh. My comment a few days ago never posted - consider it a letter to the editor unprinted! However, I wanted to pick up on something Mitali Perkins said - the internet lets the marginalized and previously silenced be heard in a way that was never possible before. So if good criticism is dependent on listening, then the quality of criticism should, in fact, improve as divergent, new voices enter the conversations.

Of course, listening is a choice, and some people don't make it... whether they're in the blogosphere or not.

As for reviews (more specifically than criticism)... trusted sources exist online as much as they do in print. And frankly, when I'm buying books for myself, if there's a reviewer whose opinions tend to match mine over time, I truly don't care if they have a PhD, a Horn Book column, or if they are a chicken farmer in Peru. If they become a trusted source, it's because they've earned it. As EBay has proven, reputation online DOES matter, just as it does off. Readers are smart enough to keep from being fooled time and again.

KATE COOMBS said...

I do that in my day job--I have managed to turn some non-readers into readers, and I have also, for example, taught an illiterate 18-year-old how to read. Key bloggers such as Jen Robinson participate in and spread the word about literacy efforts on a regular basis. So yes, loving books and talking about them can in fact inspire action. I can't help but feel that blogging about books in a society that increasingly devalues literature is a cultural plus! As for "sameness," I've seen a lot of individuality out there in the ways different bloggers discuss books. I'm kind of shaking my head, wondering what the downside is. We should wear the title of bibliophile with pride, and book blogging is just one symptom.

Susan said...

Geez, would blogging about books be the reason those darn kids ain't reading?
Does rhapsodizing or criticizing books on a personal blog make someone a bad guy? Imagine! Not running out there and changing the world but typing their little thoughts on the computer...the nerve! Why we shouldn't even be typing here - or reading this! I am a slacker, a sinner, right this second! I am so ashamed.

Amy said...

Hi Pat!

Since I feel that comment was directed towards me (since I mentioned love of books), let me respond.

I work in adult literacy. 8 hours a day, five days a week. It requires a patience I don't always have and most of the people that surround me day in and day out don't like books.

So for me, yes it's fun (and a lot of work, but a better kind) to have a book blog and while I don't intentionally talk about the same books as everyone else I do read what I WANT to read and so sometimes that might be the same as others.

As far as getting kids to read (by the way, not really a kitlit blogger), well I've been trying to figure out how to work that into my life and my blog more. I do really care about it, very much so after working with adults.

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy,

Actually, no, i wasn't thinking of you in particular. Just that I always see the phrase "love of books" and "community" come up as reason for blogging. I have nothing against it, really, and you and the others who responded are obviously extremely committed.

I just see so many blogs with no comments in the comments section or the same five people responding but then hear people sound very confident on this and other forums of all the good blogs are doing in terms of raising awareness for books and reading. It was curiosity more than anything ...

Maybe I'm reading the wrong ones, but I do see a certain sameness of coverage and opinions yet couched in a variety of voices. I certainly don't think they're doing any harm.

They do seem time-consuming and hard to measure in terms of effectiveness, unlike the work you're doing one on one. I will, however, check out Jen's blog.

Pat

Colleen said...

Pat:

A lot of it is about making connections which then turn around and help real kids or adults in a big way. See the support the Readergirlz have received across the kidlitosphere and the good they have done for teens not only in their monthly projects with their regular teen readers but also through the Teen Book Drop where they spearhead an effort to donate thousands of books a year from pubs to teens in children's hospitals.

Or there's the Book Fair for Boys that I spearheaded with InsideOut Writers in LA County just a couple of months ago. We spread the word across the lit blogosphere through connections I had made solely through blogging and everyone picked it up and thus far we have about 500 books for the boy incarcerated in the LA Country juvenile system - boys who had no library prior to this.

I bet you would find hundreds if not thousands of individual projects among lit/book bloggers to help people read or get books in the hands of those who do not have them. We don't always post about it, but we're doing it and working on more ways to do it better all the time.

It's who we are - and it's a big part of why we are in the lit blogosphere in the first place.

Susan T. said...

After Katrina, Colleen also organized a book drive for children in an after-school program at a temporary shelter. I know many bloggers and others sent along books for the kids.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Roger....and I also think that most reviews in kids lit are further compromised by no one wanting to offend anyone else. This often leads to insincere praise, of blogs and books. Frankly, I find most kids lit blogs boring and poorly written. Authors' blogs are often -- not always, but often -- attempts to promote their own books. Comments are often equally self-serving (other authors commenting hoping people will hear about THEIR books).

As for blog reviews, they seem like a you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours club. I no longer read ANY reviews on blogs. I did at one time, though - and found Fuse8 particularly annoying: full of herself, long-winded, and far too subjective to be helpful.

Roger Sutton said...

And the flip side of self-promotional back-scratching is anonymous back-stabbing. Is that really any different?

Sondra Eklund said...

I think of my reviews' purpose as the same reason I started my e-mail newsletter in 2000 -- to remember to tell my friends about all the great books I was reading.

Over the years, the newsletter has evolved into a blog. I have officially become a children's librarian. I still read and love Horn Book Magazine for giving me notice of great books I should read.

I've never thought that my opinion was especially important. However, for readers who happen to enjoy the same sorts of books as I do, let me tell you about some of the wonderful books I've read lately! The cool part is that I've made some friends over the years simply because we seem to be kindred spirits in what we like to read.

I have to admit that I do enjoy learning that I'm getting more and more readers. I think people find blogs written by people whose opinions they value and writing they like (like Fuse8!) and read those. It's not a substitute for professional journals, but is a nice supplement.

Anonymous said...

(from anonymous 6/29)

There is this difference: I believe what I wrote is true and it's definitely how I feel. That is not always the case when it comes to the back-scratching.