1) It’s March which means many people pay a lot of attention to basketball and eventually I remember that the cool people over at The Morning News are holding the annual Tournament of Books. I’m still working my way through the first round but man, this is good stuff.*
2) Which is sort of related (smart writing about books — on the Internet!) to another thing: this recent, incredibly smart piece in Salon, examining Franzen v. Internet (for the record, I’m on the Internet’s team) and giving the best defense I’ve read yet on what the Internet has brought to the world of books and readers. It’s so good I’m going to quote from it at length. But you should still go and read the whole piece. And follow the links in the first excerpt.
The Internet has been amazing for book talk. There is more of it, and at a higher quality, than perhaps at any other moment, certainly in my lifetime. Dinosaurs love to lament the lost space in newspaper book reviews; a few years ago, the National Book Critics Circle fought, what seemed to me, a self-serving campaign to save the book review, by which a handful of people really wanted to save their right to sell the same lame 450-word book report to a handful of regional dailies. You didn’t have to bother reading the book to write many of those reviews, and as a one-time daily books editor myself, who once assigned reviews to some of those active in this debate, it was clear that many critics did not. Now we have the Rumpus and the Awl and the Millions and the Morning News and Maud Newton and Bookslut and the Nervous Breakdown and Full-Stop and the Los Angeles Review of Books and HTMLgiant and you get the idea. Professional freelancers didn’t save the book review – the battle was won by the Internet and people who love reading. The culture is richer for it. Twitter’s a useful tool for keeping track of the idea explosion.
That the online book culture is full of branding and image-burnishing is hard to deny. But it is also a generous place, at its best, and writers who use these social media tools understand this. They retweet, they send out links to positive reviews and articles about other people, they congratulate each other on publication day. Promotional, sure — but if it’s news that a favorite writer has a new story in a small journal I wouldn’t have known about, well, that’s valuable news. Indeed, it’s at least as valuable as the phony and promotional blurb industry which Franzen seems to have no problem being a part of.
Hear, hear! Also, read, read! And write, write!
3) Speaking of writing … if you are a Keys person and you are a writer, aspiring or otherwise, there’s a cool contest this year at The Studios of Key West. It’s called The Writes of Spring and last I heard there were about 10 spots left (they’re only taking 25 registrants total). So get over there (digitally or otherwise) and sign up!
4) Illustration of The Book Reader of the Future, which came from the April 1935 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics, courtesy of the awesome website Retronaut.
* Special thanks — and asterisk/footnote homage — to Citizen Reader both for reminding me about the Tournament of Books in general and for pointing out that this hilarious round in the ToB was judged by Wil Wheaton — a name that sounded vaguely familar when I read it but didn’t remember until I read the CR entry that goddamn, that *is* Wesley Crusher from Star Trek TNG! I’ve read occasional references and links to his blogging but had no idea he was this funny.