by Hugh Gilmore
Although it’s said that young people don’t read printed books or newspapers anymore, they certainly still do read. A profusion of well-designed, hip websites touting good literature has emerged on the Internet in recent years. Most are free, a few request donations and some require a subscription. Even the subscription-based publications offer enough samples to make a visit worthwhile.
By the way, some of these websites are quite frank and blunt (especially the ones run by women!) and probably not suitable for your grandmother. Wait, I take that back. The majority of today’s grandmothers grew up in the Woodstock generation and have been through enough weirdness they probably would not be shocked. I guess they don’t make grannies like they used to, eh? We’re going to need a new metaphor when we want to refer to the-generation-that-blushes-first. Maybe “columnist.” As in, “Good movie, I guess, but you wouldn’t want to watch it with your columnist.”
By now nearly everyone, even the Local’s readership, has become familiar with the term “blog”: (the word itself, obviously, a clever composite of the words website and log/diary). Blogs were originally established by persons who wanted to express their opinions or enthusiasms or feelings about something. That topic might be as small as snails, as narrow as barbed wire, or as broad as a politician’s smile.
People often “blogged” about travels they’d taken, or movies they’d seen. A kind of fame and halo got cast about parents who wrote about parenting. A world of “mommie-bloggers” arose out of the Internet to connect an entire generation of new mothers in a way that the old Dr. Spock books never did. Some persons created blogs that were so well-written, or curiosity-provoking, or annoying, that they became famous.
A few blogs even became books, and some of those became movies or TV specials. Probably best known to Local readers would be “Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously,” the best-selling blog-to-book (2005) that became a hit movie among foodies in 2009.
A “litblog” is a website dedicated to blogging about literature. Unfortunately, the word “blogging” in this context sounds suggestive of blabbing. That’s too bad. When people blog about politics, it sounds as though they’re doing something timely and important. When they blog about literature, it suggests they’re merely nattering. That isn’t necessarily the case, not by a long shot. Content might include book reviews, literary criticism, reading diaries, suggested reading lists, covering fiction, nonfiction, poetry and anything else that uses words. As with everything in our wide-open culture, eventually the best and the most popular (not the same thing) will catch an audience and have staying power.
Anyone who likes to read and doesn’t read book club books or best-sellers, knows the loneliness of the long-distance reader. If you read an offbeat or out-of-print book the chances are very small that you’ll ever run into another person who has also read it. If you eat dinner with friends, the only conversational topic of current interest is first-run movies. “Have you seen ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel'”? is the one I’ve heard most often lately. Litblogs can help fill that sad, empty space in your heart by helping you connect with other people who’ve read what you’ve read.
Most litblogs are run by one person, some others are collaborative. Most are written by amateurs, some by professional literary critics. Some bloggers write only about what they’ve recently read, wanting to share their reactions and also learn what others think. Some sites are dedicated to a single genre such as science fiction, or mysteries. The key here is that blog writing is usually much more personal and informal and, often more interesting, than printed magazine and newspaper reviewing.
As for the other term: a “webzine” is simply a website magazine. Its distinguishing feature is usually that it operates with some kind of editorial control over submissions. Many “web-magazines” are simply the online versions of long-established print magazines, e.g., the New Yorker. Others however, began as Web magazines – Slate, for example – and gone on to become quite established and prestigious.
That said, some of our readers might want to browse, as an example, a site called “bookslut.com.” Started by a young woman from Kansas named Jessa Crispin back in 2002, this captivating webzine began as a litblog and is now an almost mainstream website for book lovers.
Crispin began by writing book reviews on her personal blog. She describes herself as “an omnivorous reader” whose tastes “ran across the board.” Though not trained as a critic, she wrote in an erudite manner with a fresh and breezy style. Her talent (plus the catchy site name) drew her an average of 1,500 unique site visits a day. After moving to Chicago in 2003, she decided to try going full-time with the blog and funded it by accepting ads. That same year Time.com praised her “smart book reviews and commentary” and called the site “a highly readable blog that will keep you in the literary loop,” while naming it as one of the 50 Best Websites. Eventually the site expanded to include 40 to 50 additional reviewers and commentators. Crispin also became a cultural commentator for NPR.org and TheSmartSet.com (published by Drexel University).
Bookslut.com is but one of a wide array of literary websites that might appeal to dedicated readers who like to read about books. It’s certainly a welcome relief from the serviceable but blandly corporate New York Times Book Review. In the meantime, don’t despair at the notion that young people don’t read good literature anymore. They do. Try a few of these “litblog” sites and see for yourself.