jessa crispin of bookslut on book reviews

don’t always agree with her, but i dig jessa crispin a mighty amount. shaaaaarp. honest. plus — see below quip on sam tanenhaus — she makes me chuckle.

I think I was supposed to do a write-up of the Princeton panel I was on about the future of criticism, although if you want a rundown of what actually happened, Peter Stothard’s account is the best place to go.

Whenever these conversations come up, however, I start to wonder about certain words thrown about. “Authority.” “Culture.” “Gatekeepers.” All lovely things, thanks. I am not an anarchist, and yes, the Internet scares me as much as it does you, despite the proliferation of pictures of kittens and ducklings. But I drop out of the conversation when I figure out who is writing the definitions of those words. The New York Times is a gatekeeper, absolutely. And for someone who has so much control over the conversation, you’d think Sam Tanenhaus would be less defensive, and less likely to look like he might leap over the table and rip out the throat of the man who called the Review “middlebrow,” but whatever. If you look at the statistics of what they’re letting inside the gates, though, you see mostly books published by Random House, a very small handful of translated fiction, a disproportionate number of white men. (Yes, Galleycat, call me a kneejerk feminist again, I don’t really care.)

Even now when The Death of Culture is discussed, the definition of “culture” has to be watched. Only certain types of books and publications are counted as “reading,” according to those studies on the downfall of reading. Not that there isn’t a real issue going on — I am quite aware that everyone is in survival mode. Bookslut is kept going now on a month to month basis due to advertising issues and the like. For the first time in my life I have had to think thoughts about the “weakness of the dollar.” But the reason I have a hard time with these conversations about the decline of the review, and the death of authority, is because so many of the contemporary authors I love are often the ones being kept out of the conversation. They’re rarely, if ever, reviewed in the New York Times, they don’t get splashy features written about them and their night out with their friends. It’s hard for me to get worked up about the decline of reviews when I didn’t care much for them to begin with.

I should maybe state that I don’t think of myself as a critic, nor do I have aspirations to become one. As such, I feel free to ignore the wider culture at large, rather than suffer through a William Vollmann book just because his books contribute to the larger cultural conversation. I, and this website, exist outside of all of that, and happily so. I think briefly I thought I might try it on the inside, so I got myself elected to the board of the NBCC. I resigned five months later. Bookslut may have its own value (like I said, it goes month to month) but respectability is not where it is.

I’m not sure why I’m writing this now. It’s something that’s been on my mind the whole year. (And maybe I’ll be a chickenshit and leave this up for about fifteen minutes before deleting it.) I have officially used up all of my sincerity for the day, and the sun is actually out in Berlin today, so that concludes my official write-up of the Princeton panel on the death of criticism.

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