How Blogs Make Me Schizo
One part I like about this digital revolution is that it takes a lot of the pretentiousness out of publishing. One part I dislike about this digital revolution is that it takes a lot of the pretentiousness out of publishing.
I guess you could call that a mixed emotion, but I’m in a uniquely mixed situation, much like many people. In the 20th Century, and more so in centuries before that, writing and publishing weren’t easy to break into. It was even harder to be successful at either. The barriers to entry were enormous, which is why most of the classic literature you read was written by the privileged and well-educated, and why later books were chosen mostly on marketability.
The number of would-be writers and literary elitists increased last century along with the population and better access to education, but that didn’t mean it was any easier to convince a publisher to take a huge financial risk on you.
The journalism world wasn’t much better in terms of barriers. News organizations expected journalists to have been highly trained and educated before getting anywhere near what would be their news desk, and started journalists at a pittance to boot. It was (still is) a huge uphill battle to get noticed and build a lucrative career.
Just like in all of media, there are dues to pay. So I set about paying them by going to college and writing for the university newspaper and then continuing to pay by earning (well, I’m almost there) a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree, which qualifies me to say very elitist and intelligent things about literature at parties, and also very nearly qualifies me to write book reviews.
I say "very nearly" because most publications like you to be a published author – the old-timey kind, you know, actually published on paper in a literary magazine or book with your name on it – in order to even lower their noses in your direction. See, dues man.
It doesn’t help that there are scores out there trying to break down the walls of publishing, just like me. A lot more than there used to be, anyway.
So I can’t help but say both "cool" and "daggone it!" when I see Penguin Classics set up a blog where anybody can post a review of one of their books. Well, not exactly anybody. The selection process is random because they have a limited number of books. But if you win their lottery, type away about how you feel about Virginia Woolf.
This allows Phillip Storry, an IBM Certified Advanced System Administrator for Notes and Domino 6, to tell every one "I hate Chick Lit. Boring, boring, boring," in reference to Woolf’s The Voyage Out, before admitting he kind of dug it by the end.
This causes the democratic, egalitarian side of me to jump for joy that the barriers to entry are effectively demolished. Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a place and a chance for greatness. It’s a utopian dream.
But the other side of me, the side with the pocket from which I’ve paid all these dues, gets a little steamed. I’m not over there critiquing his CSS, am I? Stay out of my ballpark, dude, and take your aversion to "boring Chick Lit" with you.
In actuality, there is value in Storry’s review. It’s not reviewed by the elite. Worse, I like Storry’s from-the-reader’s-perspective review of The Voyage Out a lot more than Publishers Weekly’s review of Kirby Gann’s Our Napoleon In Rags. From atop a pretty tall horse, Publishers Weekly tepidly describes Gann’s fantastic novel as one that "fails to achieve all its goals, but is nonetheless commendable for the valiant effort."
The obvious question is: Whose goals? Kirby’s or Publishers Weekly’s? This is what irks me about the literary world. Everybody knows everything and knows it better than you do. Then they’ll sum up a person’s art in a couple of condescending sentences before moving on to lecture about how things should be done. (Consequently, this contributes to predictability in storytelling, but I’ll shut up about it.)
Disclaimer: I know Kirby Gann as he is a faculty member in the elitist literary graduate program I am fortunate enough to attend. His book rocks. You should read it.
The point is: Storry’s review cuts through the BS even if it might not measure up to certain literary review standards, and that’s a refreshing change in the industry. If you, too, hate "Chick Lit," you’ll know to steer clear of the flawless, elegant prose of Virginia Woolf while I shame you for being a simpleton. 😉
With blogs, the same thing is happening in journalism, and dyed-in-the-wool journalists are getting mighty upset about it. Anybody who’s anybody can just get up there and start typing, no dues, no standards, no background, no training. It’s like giving a master carpenter pointers when you’ve never even picked up a hammer.
Only nobody’s house but the publisher’s is going to fall down because of it. Even non-carpenters know a house without walls can’t stand up. And the beauty of this twisted analogy is that the house doesn’t really need walls. It’s got the multitudes to hold it up, and there’s something wonderful about that.