Thursday, August 26, 2010
Of course, the death of the reviews is part of a much larger story, one we all know. There is the Web. There is cable TV. There was, to an unexamined degree, September 11th. For six months, the media more or less stopped covering literature. The sky didn't fall. Most newspapers realized they could do without it, forever.
The amazing thing, to me, is how book-lovers banded together to fill the gap. First you had sites like Salon, Slate, and Feed. Their idea was to create an alternate world of book reviews online. (Full disclosure: I've occasionally written for Salon and Feed.) The trouble, as we all learned, is that even the smartest book reviews tend to vanish on the Web. You don't go searching for coverage of a book you haven't read. A book review, to be effective, has to stand there like a billboard (or a Kindle ad) and call out for your attention.
Then came the book blogs. These began as fan sites, with everything good and bad that that implies. Some are brilliant. Some not. They work best (they sell the most books, they generate the best discussions) when they address a tight-knit reading community. Readers of sf and fantasy, it should be said, are the envy of the business. They are engaged, informed, loyal, and impossible to dupe. They read a ton. They hold their writers to the highest standards of the genre.