by Patrick Kurp
What are the non-electronic precursors of book blogging?
Essays, reviews, feuilletons, maxims, commonplace books, journals, letters, bull sessions, reveries, mental rambles. Some of us were born bloggers and waited for the technology to catch up. Posts are digital editions of words and thoughts that would otherwise evaporate, and the internet permits us to inflict them on others.
Who do you look toward for inspiration and models?
Good writers of any sort, even if they write only one good sentence or phrase. I claim a modest place in a tradition of irregulars that starts with Montaigne and includes Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Henry David Thoreau (his journals), Hubert Butler, A.J. Liebling, Zbigniew Herbert, Whitney Balliett, Cynthia Ozick, Guy Davenport and Theodore Dalrymple.
How does book blogging differ from print counterparts such as book reviews?
It doesn’t, necessarily. Look at Ron Slate, a poet and one of the best bloggers around, whose posts consist almost exclusively of reviews. A book blogger, however, need not be a critic or reviewer. I know: I’m neither in any dedicated sense, though you could argue that attention paid to any text is an implicit act of criticism. I make things clear on the masthead: “A blog about the intersection of books and life.” Some of the most memorable blog posts I've read describe a reader’s experience with or memory of a book. Evaluation is implicit.
How do you respond to this statement?: Blogging is just another hobby, like stamp collecting or hockey.
It would be easy to get defensive about this question (I did, and I wrote it). Some of us take blogging seriously but must be reminded not to take ourselves seriously. David Ferry writes in his poem “Rereading Old Writing,” “writing / Is a way of being happy.” Remember too that “hobby,” meaning a small horse, entered the language in the 13th century. In less than three centuries it morphed into a child’s toy horse. By the 17th century it meant a pastime or avocation, the connection being that both signify activities going nowhere.
How has the experience of blogging changed the way you write?
I’ve spent 30 years writing professionally, mostly for newspapers. This has instilled a fairly strict work ethic: meet deadlines, don’t wait for “inspiration,” write tight, humor editors but don’t encourage them, value clarity and precision, don’t mistake quantity for quality (and vice versa). When I reread early posts they seem wordy and vague. Blogging has moved me to reapply my own standards more rigorously. A blogger is a writer and a writer’s only obligation is to write well.
What about the sometimes vicious nature of the beast?--the ad hominem attacks, and the widespread tendency to confuse harsh disagreement with such ad hominem attacks.
Some of us never leave kindergarten. Others never make it that far. It’s remarkable how unbookish – in the sense of inarticulate and immature – some readers behave, but as Terry Teachout reminds us, “If you can’t stand the flames, log off.”
Some say the golden age of blogging has already passed, that blogging has failed to fulfill its early promise; and the evidence which is given is that no one becomes famous from blogging any longer. Do you agree?
There are no golden ages, only golden moments. I once worked with a newspaper editor who said something like this: “You pay your dollar and read the paper. If you find one story that amuses you or teaches you something new, you got your money’s worth.” To read a blog costs nothing. Peruse the blog roll at Anecdotal Evidence. If you can’t find something there that moves or enlightens you, or drives you pleasingly irate, go check your pulse.
In a recent blog column, the technology writer Michael S. Malone suggests that a handful of bloggers have "earned huge audiences, while millions of others have not," because readers have learned to trust the more popular bloggers "to either consistently entertain us, or we trust their judgment in selecting interesting items for us to read, or we trust that their world view is just like our own and their ability to enunciate those views even better." Do you agree? Does this explain why no book blogger has earned a huge audience?
I’ll leave this one to Liebling, who writes in The Honest Rainmaker: “The Colonel has always believed that fortune swims, not with the main stream of letters, but in the shallows where the suckers moon.”
Are book bloggers wise or foolish to include political commentary?
I have no interest in politics and hope Anecdotal Evidence reflects that, but I recognize that the number of comments surges when I address a subject that someone, somewhere judges to be political. I wish readers became as fierce when the matter at hand was literature, an infinitely more interesting subject.