Thursday, June 28, 2007

Best American Essays

I like making lists. I like keeping track. I like having too many things on my plate. I read Dr. Crazy’s lists of accomplishments and hoped-for accomplishments avidly and I’ve been reading Sandra’s slog through The Artist’s Way with equal interest. I have my own lists--of deadlines and of dreams--and then, too, there are the lists of prizes, the volumes of bests that, perhaps, some day, I might find my own name in. (A girl can dream, can’t she?)

Those annual volumes of The Best American Essays edited by the essayist of the moment under Robert Atwan’s direction have been floating around the house a lot lately. My husband’s reading essays for a couple of his projects, so these books keep showing up wherever he’s been reading. Each time I see them, self-flagellating narcissist that I am, I remember with some pain, that I’m not in there.

Well, of course, Anne, because you didn’t publish an essay…or write one…

I’d really like to write essays. I plan to. But that’s the problem--I plan to every day. Do I? Can I? A year ago, a friend asked me to contribute an essay to his journal. Sure. And, though I’ve written a couple thousand words, it’s awful and needs to be scrapped.

I have some hope that I can start over during my travels to family over the next five weeks.

I’m not upset about this. Just interested.

So many of us want to write. So much of the challenge lies in actually setting pen to paper, and then, once that’s done, in crafting it into something worthy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

James Baldwin’s Another Country

When I read Another Country in high school, it changed my life. I had never read a book before that depicted the world I wanted to live in, hoped to live in, thought I lived in. It’s a vast soap opera set in New York--mostly the Village--in the late-50s. The characters are mostly artists, black and white, gay and straight, and they love each other, hate each other, sleep with each other, and try to write books and make music. For all the--many--failings they exhibit, they are all trying desperately to live authentically and to figure out how to cross barriers in order to make connections.

When I read it a second time and a third time, I was disappointed in the prose. I remembered the books emotional impact but all I could see were the moments of laziness, sloppiness. I was disappointed.

But I remembered that it was a book that changed my life, so I kept believing in its power without feeling it.

Summer school ends tomorrow and we finished with Baldwin. I felt, once again, the book’s amazing power. Why?

It’s partly the power of reading a New York novel in New York, of knowing the city better than I did the first few times through. It’s partly being older and having a fuller perspective on the failings of art and love. It’s partly watching my students’ engagement with the book. And, most of all, it’s largely having the Woolf book behind me.

In the midst of writing on Woolf, it’s hard not to insist that every sentence be as crafted as a Woolfian sentence. But that’s not the only way to write. And it’s a relief to be enough out of her thrall to see the passion of Baldwin.

And he’s been in the news all week: Maud links to the TLS plea to release Baldwin’s letters; Dwight Garner joins his voice to the plea; Randall Kenan, author of The Fire This Time is on WNYC. And, if you can, check out the DVD, The Fire Next Time for amazing archival footage of Baldwin and moving tributes by Baraka, Styron, Angelou and more--we watched it in class and I was fighting back tears.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Alice Sebold Interview

I interviewed Alice Sebold author of The Lovely Bones, Lucky and the forthcoming The Almost Moon (October 2007). She was in New York for BookExpo America in early June and I met her in the lobby of her hotel. The chance to interview her just fell into my lap. I seized it immediately. She was lovely, polite, and smart--very generous with her time. Somehow, while I got the chance to interview her, I didn’t get an advance copy of the book. Afterwards and since BEA, I learned that the galleys to The Almost Moon were one of the conventions hot giveaways. I didn’t get one--though mine is in the mail, I think--so, in retrospect, I feel sorry that I must have seemed unprepared. Still, looking back on our conversation three weeks ago, that immediate pang of self-criticism has waned and what emerges most vividly to me, in writing this up is her generosity and her intelligence.

Fernham: Tell me about your new book.

Alice Sebold: Well, it’s about a woman who kills her mother.

She paused to let that sink in and continued.

AS: It’s about mental illness and it’s about how you always have your mother. How she’s always with you even when she’s gone. It’s something the character has to figure out. I was interested in strained relationships with mothers. You can let it pass or work it out, but it’s there. I just took a dramatic leap and wrote about someone who kills her mother. Of course, she doesn’t escape her. You never escape your mother even in death. My mother was kind of owned by her mother until my grandmother died at 96. My mother was 70. And I watched a certain part of her spirit unable to be free while her mother was alive. And now, it can be. My mother is an amazing being--I mean, I have my side of the story about my mother, too--but she’s an amazing being and it’s been amazing to have her feel that freedom for herself.

F: Has your mom read the new book?

AS: Yes. I just sent it to her last week. I wanted her to read it before BEA. Then, I could go to BEA knowing--well, either it was going to be o.k. or… She called and told me “You’ve written a wonderful book. And, unlike some people, I am able to identify the difference between fiction and fact.”

F: That’s a grand reply.

AS: Oh, my mother is quite grand. She’s wonderful. You know, she’s always had an idea of herself as a writer. That’s was a burden to me when I was younger, but now it’s a gift. My father read it, too. He left me the longest phone message I’ve ever gotten from him about it. He’s retired now; he was a professor and I think he read it as a kind of assignment. Anyway, he took it very seriously and had a lot--for him--to say about it. I think that I came into existence for my father after attention from the world.

F: Tell me about your teachers--what they’ve meant to you and what you learned from your teachers. I particularly want to hear about Tess Gallagher--I so vividly remember seeing her give a poetry reading when I was in high school.

AS: Well, I feel so lucky to have intersected with so many great teachers who inspired me with their work, their teaching, their person. Along the way, I’ve had the chance to meet certain people. I mean, watching Ray Carver at a party and seeing that he was not so great at a party and recognizing that that doesn’t have to do with writing, that was a gift.

I remember Toby Wolff said that the former students you hear from are never the ones you hope to hear from. And I worked myself up for years and years to ask for a recommendation from him and when I finally did, he said of course he would write for me.

But with Tess, it was her work, her teaching, and her person.

F: I remember at that reading, sitting myself behind William Stafford on purpose in hopes of overhearing the elder statesman of Washington State poetry make an aside about Tess Gallagher. She walked in and Stafford said, “That Tess, she always wears such funny hats.” I was so disappointed: I thought it was a terrible, dumb thing to overhear. But now I think it’s kind of great.

AS: Maybe my noncompetitive clause on dress dates from Tess.

F: Tell me about yourself as a teacher.

AS: Well, I’m not teaching full-time now, but when I do workshops--a week here or there. I’m tough. I never lie. A lot of people find different ways of lying when they teach. But I’m not about being tough and mean. I try to suss out what writing means to people at the very beginning. People usually telegraph that pretty quickly. The goal for the old man who just wants to write the story of his life and bind it in leather for his grandchildren is different from that of the woman with six hair colors who’s written three pages in six months and frenetically insists that “it sucks and doesn’t have a plot.” With her, you want to find the four good images in those pages and show them to her and get her to work with that.

I taught at Hunter College for ten years when I lived in New York and toward the end, I got to teach a few fiction workshops. Who knows why they let me do that. I hadn’t published anything yet. But one of the things that was really frustrating then, that I had to learn to just let go of, was what to do with the occasional student who’s a fabulous writer but doesn’t want to do anything with it. You have to overcome the impulse to push him into writing and recognize that he’s fine; he’s a happy person; he’s going to go on and get a good job designing video games or whatever and maybe that’s better.

F: Tell me about the reading you do. Does your reading change when you’re deeply immersed in writing from when you’re between projects?

AS: Well, when I’m really really writing, I read poetry the way you pick up a pretty piece of stone on the beach. For something beautiful, specific and hard. For this last book, there were two poets. Philip Larkin. There’s a sadness in him. So many poems that seem hostile to the world also describe a desire to belong, to be a part of things. That was a real touchstone for me. You know, it’s funny, somehow two collections of his work came out at about the same time--one is chronological and one is by themes. You should get the Penguin one. That’s the one I used, that’s the one. And--I’m embarrassed to try to pronounce her name--the Polish woman. Szymborska. She was the other poet for me.

I have a thing about pronunciation. It’s because I’m so poorly educated.

F: (I protested this fervently, but she was on a roll and persisted.)

AS: I just finished doing the audio of The Lovely Bones and there’s a character in that book named Hamish. I’d been pronouncing it hammish in my head [with a soft a] and the recording engineer pointed out to me that it’s usually pronounced hame-ish [with a long a]. I was so embarrassed. And so disappointed. Why can’t it be hammish? I want his name to be hammish. And for years I mispronounced Simone de Bouvier because I think my mom must have had de Beauvoir in the house but we talked about Jackie de Bouvier so I just thought Beauvoir was pronounced that way.

F: I still stumble over “sword” and “monastery” from reading historical novels as a girl.

AS: I never really bonded with well-educated writers because of that kind of one-upsmanship. Now, I’m happy to have avoided that and that moment of theory, deconstruction and all that. It was intimidating. Years after the fact, I bonded with my father over that, about our both missing that heavily theorized deconstructionist boat. It’s funny, because we never spoke about it to each other at the time, but I was in college and he was a Spanish professor and we were both really alienated from the prevailing theoretical mood. Then, he retired at 70 from teaching and we had this conversation about how we had both felt out of sync.

F: Do you read memoirs?

AS: Not lately. There’s a biography of Colette that came out ten years ago. You should read that. You know, I was just talking about her with the woman who photographed me for this new book. She was wonderful! Anyway, we talked about how Cheri and The Last of Cheri are the Colette novels for young women, but My Mother’s House and Sido, that’s what to read now. That’s Colette for middle-aged women. [Sebold and I are both in our early 40s; though it goes against the grain of common parlance, we are, I think, technically middle-aged.]

F: I’ve never read Colette. But so many of the people I like most who write about Woolf also love her, so I know I would love her.

AS: I think I avoided Colette for a long time because I was put off by the very things in her that drew me to Woolf. That is, Colette had a make-up line, she wrote all about sex, she was frightening.

F: Tell me about what you like about Woolf.

AS: I was assigned Woolf in college and I didn’t like it. I came to her late. After liking Henry James and Edith Wharton, then I could come to Woolf and like her. But the thing that made me a Woolf fanatic was A Writer’s Diary. Before I was published, I would read an entry every morning as a way to get me started writing. I did that again this time reading bits of Woolf to get started. I remember when I was starting out, reading her sniping and complaining and wanting to say, “But don’t you see, you’re Virginia Woolf!” But it sounds different now. I understand her better.

F: So much of your memoir Lucky is about before and after--before and after the rape and the way the rape ended an era of your life. But it seems to me like, since The Lovely Bones, you’ve been living in a new after. Does it feel that way to you, too?

AS: You know, I think life is lived in eras and I’ve had a lot of them. Some eras are the result of marriage or a job. But with this one, it’s weird to create an era by the result of work you’ve done.

F: Thank you so much for your time!

AS: Thank you.

Friday, June 22, 2007

O-P-I-E, Opie

I was reading Mother Goose to the older daughter (4 1/2) last night. I closed the book and was picking up her room when she said “O-PEE-AH…O-PEE-AH…That has some of the letters of my name.”


She showed me the spine of her book: Opie/Wells, the editor and illustrator of this collection, and pointed at Opie: “See, mama, o-pee-ah.”

“You just read that. You read a word!”

She jumped up, her arms shot in the air, fists clenched, like Stallone in Rocky. “I did it! I read a word!” It’s funny--she didn’t even notice she had read it until I told her--she just sounded it out and the word made sense to her. But when I told her, her sense of thrill was electric. I picked her up and gave her a big hug. We went and told her father. When I tucked her in a few minutes later, she looked up at me and said, “Oh Mama, I read a word. I’m going to remember this day for the rest of my life. Are you going to remember it for the rest of your life?”

Monday, June 18, 2007

NYC Event: Kenny Fries Reading, 6/20

I'll be there...

My friend and former colleague Kenny Fries will read from and sign his new book, The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory, on Wednesday, June 20, 7pm, at Barnes and Noble, 675 Sixth Avenue at W. 22nd Street in New York City.

Kenny is really smart and very, very funny: a wicked sense of humor and a great laugh. Oh, woe to me when Kenny would stop by my office--no work would get done for an hour--and woe to me when Kenny would not stop by--for where would the fun of the day be then? So, I haven't seen Kenny in a million years (Japan, and now Calgary, have been between us) so I'm excited for Wednesday. The babysitter is secured. I'm good to go.

Here's some stuff from the press release:
Booklist has called Kenny Fries "an unusual historian, wearing the story of his life on his feet in specially constructed orthopedic shoes....Few are the writers who can so deftly weave science into personal reflections, compellingly reminding readers ofthe still unfathomable mystery of one terrestrial species." National Book Award winning-author Andrea Barrett was "delighted by the perfectly apt conjunctions, by the grace and economy of which the episodes from Darwin's life and key concepts of his work are transposed into a 'natural history' of the self with a poet's sense of telling detail." And best-selling author and anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas finds the book "beautifully written, fascinating, incredibly says saomething about the human race that is truly profound. I don't know when I have read anything more pertinent or exciting."

In The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory Kenny Fries tells two stories: the development of the theory of “survival of the fittest," as articulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace; and the history of his ever-changing, made-to-order, orthopedic shoes. The famously important first story, as told by Kenny Fries, is a condensed and colorful account of the race between Darwin and Wallace to formulate their groundbreaking theories. At the same time, Fries tells a deeply personal story of the evolving consciousness of his own "adaptations," represented by his shoes.

Although only the “fittest” may survive, Fries learns that adaptation and variation are critical to survival. What is deemed normal, or even perfect, are passing phases of the ever-changing embodiment of nature in our world. In the end, Darwin and Wallace’s discoveries resonate with Fries' own story, inextricably leading us into a new world where variety and difference are not only “normal,” but the ingenious origins of survival itself.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

BEA Treasure Trove

The stack has been on my desk for a couple weeks. It’s getting to be time to put the books away. But there is something so luxurious in a nice list. These are the books (advance copies and already published) that I snagged at BEA, in ascending order of size:
  1. an NYC moleskine for being a speaker
  2. a bunch of brochures from the PEN Center
  3. Lara Santoro’s Mercy about a European journalist based in Kenya came in the mail, as promised, from Other Press
  4. The Fire This Time, Randall Kenan’s homage to James Baldwin and attack on the Katrina aftermath and, following it, also from Hoboken’s own Melville House, my longed for copy of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog
  5. Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader a novella about what might happen if Queen Elizabeth II became an avid reader
  6. Two Lives, a joint biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas by Janet Malcolm
  7. Robert Bolano’s Amulet which, I’m told, is the best one…
  8. David Leavitt’s forthcoming The Indian Clerk which I sought on Mark Sarvas’ recommendation and then, having snagged it, ran into Mark at the Bloomsbury booth,
  9. and, finally, out of character with the rest but very exciting in its own way America’s Best Lost Recipes from the Cook’s Magazine people.
Now, if only these generous publishers and publicists could find me a 25th hour in the day to get started on my reading…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Intelligence and Navel-Gazing

I really want to feel, when I’m reading a book, that I’m in the company of an intelligent person. I do get a kick out of books with literary allusions in them. But it’s so very, very dull to read books about self-conscious English majors who are fond of making literary allusions. The occasional tumble into some postmodern rabbit hole is fine, but I like my novels to inhabit a more diverse world.

All of which is a preamble to praise for Gayle Brandeis’ compulsively readable, moving, and intelligent book, Self Storage. She gives her main character a genuine love of Walt Whitman--a love inherited from her beloved and dead mother--and not much else. We believe in her love of Whitman in spite of everything because she’s a smart young woman who still hungers for more education; we believe in her love of Whitman because the Whitman she quotes is always just exactly right for the moment. She doesn’t just quote the high points, the old chestnuts, the anthology pieces. She gets deep into Leaves of Grass and pulls out tiny little nuggets.

This is the first time I’ve really regretted not spending more time with Whitman. I loved the Whitman she led me to.

I grabbed the book off my shelf for some light reading on the plane to L.A. a couple weeks back. It’s got a picture of a red bra in a jar on the cover. Lauren sent it to me. I expected to be diverted. I was not entirely prepared for such a happy, happy read: it’s just a great combination of a fun, fun, happy book and a smart one that makes you think and care. It goes down easy--which is nice--but it doesn’t disappear.

So. Self Storage is about a young mother, trapped in a depressing faculty housing ghetto in Riverside. She has two grimy, sweet, demanding little kids and her husband is depressed and is so stalled on his dissertation that the topic has become off limits. To relieve all of this, she begins going to the auctions of abandoned self-storage units and selling the junk on eBay and at garage sales. At the same time, she becomes obsessed with (and then, entangled with) the Afghani woman down the block (who doesn’t speak to her and wears a full burkha). Scenes of her in a hospital when a child is ailing cut me to the quick: like the protagonist I, too, failed my daughter in her hour of need (a broken arm only) and it’s a humbling feeling.

It’s a fun premise. She manages the plot--which is compelling and apt--really well and the ending is redemptive and cool. I really liked this book: it seemed to me to solve that problem with which I began. Brandeis is book-smart in ways her characters are not, but some literature matters to some of them and she is never condescending to any of her characters, even that lout of a husband!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cecil Woolf and Memory

Post-BEA life has been a whirlwind. I flew into Dayton on Thursday for the 17th annual Virginia Woolf Conference. As I’ve written here before, I’ve attended most of these--12 of the 17 (although two of those I only attended briefly).

One of the highlights this year was a pre-banquet speech by Cecil Woolf, the 80 year-old nephew of Leonard. He would have been 13 or 14 when Virginia Woolf died, so most of his talk was not so much about her as about his uncle. It was moving and charming and very long. Slated to talk for twenty minutes before dinner, he charmed us for nearly an hour. We were hungry and a little soused by the time the little paillettes of banquet chicken emerged. And those undergraduates at the Miami U. pour a generous glass…

I had heard a version of this talk three years ago in London but it was still a treat. He remembered Woolf as always being in hat and gloves (!); the Woolves as the only aunt and uncle whom he was allowed to call simply Leonard and Virginia, no uncle or aunt. (That made me, Auntie Anne to three boys, feel a little stiff.) He remembered showing Virginia Woolf an ancient ruin near his Lincolnshire home, holding her hand down to the spot, and demonstrating the echo with her by calling out each others’ names.

His resemblance to Leonard Woolf is so uncanny and that makes the experience of listening all the more riveting. I referred to him as Leonard throughout the weekend.

He told me, when I spoke to him one on one, that he was particularly delighted at this invitation because, though he’d been to the States many times, he’d never been to the country and he was “a countryman.”

But he didn’t tell my favorite story from London. Hearing him, and hearing him talk about his uncle’s “overdeveloped sense of economy” (Leonard discovered a London shop that sold pajama bottoms and tops separately so that if one wore out, you could simply replace it.) reminded me.

When Cecil was in the army, he went to visit his Uncle Lenny (Little Uncle Lenny was the family name, apparently) on a leave. Leonard had a housekeeper who, at the end of the day, left dinner for him to warm. When Cecil arrived, Leonard generously divided his very small, old-man’s dinner in two. Starving, Cecil crept to the pub in Rodmell for sustenance afterwards. He asked the publican if the kitchen was still open.

“Staying with Mr. Woolf, are you?”

Monday, June 04, 2007

BEA: The Blogging Panel, 2

Well, people are talking about that standing-room only panel that Bud organized. It was very exciting to talk blogs in such a spot: about 80 people and about a dozen serious cameras. It’s been fun--in a Rashomon kind of way--to read the reports from hither and yon about what was said and who was wittiest (that seems to be of great interest).

As I noted earlier, I typed out my remarks (and you can read them her-just scroll down). When appearing on a panel with Dwight Garner (of the Times--and the delicious and witty “TBR: Inside the List” column), Lizzie Skurnick (the Old Hag herself), and James Marcus (who put in his time at amazon and now presides in the House of Mirth), one must be prepared. I thought a lot about what I might have to offer. I am not a regular freelancer or an editor of any repute, but I do know about the history of it, so I focused there.

You can read a lovely, fair, generous, and thorough account of the panel at Ed’s place (with pictures!). Dan mentions it. And Bud has his own diffident take on the proceedings he hosted, too. Carrie has some nice thoughts to add (plus a bonus picture of a bear!) and Tara, whom I met after my panel, adds her two cents.

The print media continues its skepticism. So, over at library journal there is a curmudgeonly wish that the bloggers had been scrappier, that the journalist (Garner) had been more hostile to blogs. And New York magazine opines that Garner had all the best zingers.

I won’t dispute that. I loved what Garner said about imagining the blogs of various beloved critics down through the years. It is amusing to imagine Orwell’s blog--or Mencken’s--or Pauline Kael’s (I miss her!). And I thought that Lizzie was utterly spot on about the blessings of looseness in blogs and how that differs from the tone one puts on in writing for a broader audience, for an audience that is reading a review in The Atlantic, say, rather than coming to The Old Hag to hear something funny. But Lizzie Skurnick is very, very funny. By the end of the hour, I had an uncomfortable professorial feeling. During Q&A, Dwight Garner would get a big laugh, we’d turn to Lizzie, who’d get another. I’d pipe in with a nerdy bit of context--well, in the twenties…well, in London…--and then James Marcus would use what I’d said to gain the last laugh of all. Talk about straight man--that was totally me!

Bud was a terrific moderator. It’s no small task in a roomful of egos to keep folks on track and on task, but he did it with grace and aplomb. Still, it’s a touchy subject that none of us panelists was particularly spoiling to fight about. Bud tried to re-engage us on the free books controversy (are reviewers’ opinions swayed by free books?) but no one bit. Instead, we groused about the deeply small fees freelancers get. Tara invoked the chick lit debate; Lizzie pronounced boredom. Jessica asked who the real enemy was--a good and interesting question--but no one could really get mad at corporate publishing.

In fact, all I could think at Jessica’s question was something Dwight Garner said from the start: wouldn’t it be great if the Sunday Times Book Review was but one of six or seven full-fledged weekly book magazines with national distribution, as in London?

I am not a complainer by nature. I think that if we’re going to improve the quality of the conversation, we have to stop talking about the conversation itself and start talking about books in a way that makes it clear to others how deeply engaging such talk can be.

More on BEA to come…for now, enjoy Lauren's pics of the LBC fete!

BEA: Blogging Panel--What I said

I was nervous. I'm a teacher. I overprepared. As a result, I have my remarks written out. This is what I said at Friday's panel at BEA:

Where the conversation has been: money
The conversation about blogging and print book reviews has been pretty nasty and pretty limited until recently. It’s also been largely about money. But money is really somewhat lazy shorthand for the broader problem of interest. In short, we hope that a book reviewer is intellectually interested in the book she reviews but we expect that she has no financial interest in the book’s success. But there is no one channel that guarantees ethical writerly behavior.

There’s a long history to this: English aristocrats once argued that only they could write freely for they did not need the profits that publication might bring; in the eighteenth-century, women--often widows or abandoned and abused wives with children to support--began writing best-sellers and their financial success led some men to link writing with prostitution. When Virginia Woolf began publishing, a century ago, anonymous reviewing was thought to be the best guarantee of a disinterested review. So, even though her lead reviews for the TLS were paid double the usual fee (she was the only contributor with this privilege), they were all anonymous publications. At the same time, her real greatness as a novelist began when she left the publishing house run by her half-brother and, with her husband, started her own press. Yet no one would call Woolf an amateur or Mrs. Dalloway a vanity publication.

No reviewer--salaried, freelance, or unpaid--is immune from the accusation that her opinion has been swayed. Each writer’s position--salaried, freelance, or unpaid--is subject to influence. Each responsible one of us works in our own way to guard against unethical reviewing. That means that, in the Times and The New Yorker, notices of books by staff members are treated differently from notices of books by others. And most of us note how a book came to our attention when we blog about it. But that does not mean that there is a level playing field. It helps to be a staff writer at The New Yorker or to be the good friend of an influential blogger. It should help. Don’t get me wrong: I like it when I earn money from my writing. I am not averse to money. And I think that we should try to find ways to make money from what we love to do. This, for me, is partly a feminist issue: as Woolf said, “money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.”

Still, I’d like to shift the conversation from money, interest, and ethics to something else: what can blogging do that is different from other media?

I have a list of six things that I think blogging is particularly well-suited for:

  1. Bloggers can cultivate a niche audience in a way that a newspaper cannot and should not. We can disparage, ignore, or boom whole segments of the book market at will.
  2. Passionate readers are always in search of new voices. There is a very high bar to publishing a book; there is no bar at all to setting up a blog. The bar to journalism lies somewhere in between. Blogging brings us immediate access to new voices before they have to work their way through the fraught path to publication. And blogging can even help persuade a skittish publisher that an unfamiliar voice is, in fact, one that people want to hear.
  3. Blogging adds to the tipping point effect. Partly because the blogs I like have such distinctive voices, a recommendation from a favorite blog carries the weight of a recommendation from a friend. Furthermore, blogging is a new channel for this kind of information. A book that’s been blogged about, reviewed in a paper, noted in a magazine, featured on NPR, and then has a little hand-written tag hanging off it in my local bookstore is one that I just might remember and buy.
  4. Overcoming the problem of time: This is something blogging has not entirely solved. Nonetheless, blogs can return to a novel, can write about something that was published years or centuries ago, and can group novels together. In short, bloggers are not bound by journalistic definitions of news.
    Finally, I’ll mention the two things that blogging most does for me:
  5. Blogs work as notebooks with feedback. As I think about what my next book will be, I use my blog to test out miniature versions of my ideas. Unlike a notebook, where the ideas might remain inchoate for years, blogging forces me to cast notions for an audience from the beginning. Plus, I can judge, by the comments I get--or don’t get--something of what the reaction of future readers might be.
  6. Blogging builds community. I started blogging when I moved to New York three years ago. I’d often regretted not coming to New York and doing the publishing thing in my twenties; I’d often regretted never having lived in New York. Suddenly, in my late-thirties, my husband and I had two jobs in Manhattan. We also had a big dog and a small child. My life, commuting to Columbus Circle from a dingy apartment in Jersey City, just didn’t have that glamour that I had dreamed about. But, somehow, writing a couple entries a week on my blog and trying to include there some notes on the literary world I was in made up for that. Then, too, Projects like 400 Windmills--in which Bud gathered a small group of us to read Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote--or The LitBlog Co-op, have brought me into conversation with dozens of other bloggers and common readers.

Book reviewing and talk about books is not a zero-sum game: I want more of it even as I cannot keep up with what I already know about, have bookmarked, and subscribe to. Bud is the visionary on this issue and you should really ask him for more of his thoughts. Where I want the conversation to go is this: What else might blogging do? How can blogs and newspapers work together to make our talk about books richer and more exciting?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

BEA: My first one!

So, that was a whirlwind day and a half for me. I went to my first BookExpo America Conference. And how could I not? Bud asked me to be on a panel so I even had my credentials all set.

In the next few days, I'll give you posts on the LBC Party, our panel of blogging & the book reviews (plus my comments), walking the floor in search of freebies (and what I ended up taking with me), plus, as a Fernham first, an author interview.

This last--the interview--will be a good one, I promise, with a great writer you've all heard of.

For now, the babe is on the floor with the phone, dialing Moscow no doubt, and the house is all topsy-turvy. While the rest of you continue to enjoy BEA, I'm back in my lovely little world of PlayhouseDisney and a street fair to go to over in Bergen-Lafayette this afternoon....

Stay tuned....