I’ve noticed a trend over the past several years, one that is simultaneously understandable and saddening. Canadian literary blogs are going the way of the dodo. They’re disappearing quietly every month—one here, one there. But where are they all going?
Now I know that reviews as such still exist in any number of magazines and journals around the country. The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Quill & Quire, Canadian Literature and such are all important sources for criticism. Newspapers, too—particularly the larger Toronto papers who still sometimes run “Books” sections—usually have a couple of reviews here and there.
But it’s not the same.
These bigger publications are inundated with books. The chance of any given midlist or debut author getting their work reviewed in, say, the Globe and Mail is pretty darn slim (though to be fair, it does happen on occasion). Chances with magazines are better, but they have their own quirks when it comes to genres reviewed, regional preferences, and so on. All of them have pretty strict rules about deadlines and submissions, and it can be tricky to figure out exactly whom you need to contact and where to follow up. Time and experience can help publicists and authors and agents to navigate these murky waters but do little to alleviate the feeling of being a very small fish in a very large pond.
In comes the humble lit-blog. The everyperson reviewer who writes for fun rather than a paychecque. The person who is appreciative of a quick email and a book that is still hot off the press. The unique voice with developing reading tastes, built up over countless blog posts. A good book reviewer is like a literary Ann Landers, answering the questions of legions of trusting fans, begging for help. Please, tell us Bookish-Ann, amid this overwhelming pile of new books, which are worthy of my time?
But Canadian literary blogs are stagnating. Outside of corporate publishing blogs or multi-author sites like 49thShelf and Open Book where does one go nowadays to read about books? Where does one get personality and humour and actual, honest-to-goodness opinions beyond love-it-or-hate-it verdicts or tepid plot summaries? Beyond a very few continuing gems and some fairly active communities for genre fiction, where’s a porcupette to go?
From a purely practical point of view, I understand why blogging has dropped off. It is a time-consuming endeavor, requiring diligence, patience and sometimes money to keep the whole thing afloat. Bloggers do what they do for little or no remuneration. Indeed, book bloggers can rarely boast more than free review copies here and there. I am sure many of them buy their own copies in order to review them for their blog. Then figure the mental fortitude it takes to read books, digest them, come up with something interesting and important to say about them. Consider the heartbreak when the comments section of that blog is a silent wasteland, when the disheartened book blogger assumes that no one cares. Is it any wonder that book bloggers, some after spending years writing intelligent and compelling reviews, close up shop?
Indeed, book reviewing seems to be a thankless task, for the most part … but doesn’t someone have to do it?
Maybe this dearth of personal opinion is indicative of our growing dependence on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to mediate short, easy online encounters. Maybe it’s our shortened attention spans or digital fatigue or just plain apathy. Or—if we’re going to be optimistic—maybe it is a good thing. Maybe it means that there are plenty of newspapers and magazines and online journals out there hiring book reviewers to write their two cents’ worth.
P.S. If you’ve got a CanLit blog, or know of any good ones I can follow, drop me a line. I’d be interested in filling this literary gap in my life with some fresh content, decided opinions and entertaining writing.