Friday, June 22, 2007


"Like a chain of hyper-haikus from the sinisterly dumb future": new fictions from Steve Augustine.

Conversational Reading's Reading the World.

The Big Ugly does the big body.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dan Green -- The Reading Experience.

Dan Green -- lit-blogger, critical essayist at The Reading Experience:

1. Literature is in trouble -- that is, more trouble than usual. Why do you think this is? The increasing prevalence of TV? The distractions of narcotic subcultures such as video games? Sept. 11? Or is talk of the "death of literature" simple exaggeration?

It’s not just exaggeration, it’s wrong. More good poetry and fiction are being published—or at least being written—than ever before. What is in trouble is the notion of Literature as the acme of culture, as the cultural repository where all good things lie. No one believes this anymore, and they shouldn’t. It’s an abstraction that self-designated cultural gatekeepers believe in because it gives them something to do: urge the great unwashed to expose themselves to it and become cleansed in the way the gatekeeper in question prefers. Those who peddle the “death of literature” line find works of literature praiseworthy if they seem accessible to the masses, contemptible if they seem directed at “merely literary” people. That serious literature is going to be “accessible” to the masses in any form is an illusion.

2. And what is literature, anyway? Should the traditional novel be considered the prime example of it?

No. If I were to pick any form as the “prime example” it would be poetry, since it is concerned in the most concentrated way with making verbal art out of the common language. I guess that’s how I would define literature—verbal art. However, I don’t really work with any abstract notion of “Literature.” I use the word frequently enough, but mostly as a convenience. Otherwise, I’m looking for individual poems, novels, or stories that aspire to a degree of seriousness of purpose.

3. Prizes and awards are playing an increasing role in determining an author's career-trajectory. In short, winning a major literary prize can win a writer a large audience overnight (not to mention, considerable fame and financial remuneration). But, as British critic Jason Cowley has observed, what is lost is the ability for readers to think in a critically complex fashion.

Are literary prizes dangerous in this regard? Do they convey to the public the message that "this book is worth reading and all these others aren't"?

It’s not that they convey the message you cite but that they turn writing into a competition. It seems to me a quintessentially American stupidity, but unfortunately the rest of the world seems to have picked it up from us. Generally, I pay no attention to awards and prizes at all, although the Book Critics Circle award and the National Book Award do provide us with some blog fodder.

The “prizes” awarded by literary journals—those that ask for an “entry fee”--do seem to me an active menace. They take advantage of aspiring writers in all the obvious ways, they trivialize literature, and the prize itself is meaningless. It’s a way for some literary journals to stay afloat. If you want to help out these journals, subscribe or make a contribution. Don’t play the prize game.

4. You've posted several times on the importance of avoiding "print sniffing" -- that is, valorizing what is in print over what is online simply *because* the former is in printed form. Agreeing that good writing is good writing no matter what medium it appears in, isn't it nevertheless the case that what appears in print has a greater potential for longevity and receiving widespread critical attention? In other words, isn't the de facto reality of canon formation that it is the *book* that must come into existence before the text contained in the book can be immortalized? Or is this attitude simply passe, and even dangerous, in a time when book publishing is on the ropes?

I don’t think it has a greater potential for longevity, if only because print, words on paper, doesn’t have a long life ahead of it. (I’m referring specifically to what gets printed in newspapers and magazines. Books are going to continue in their current form because there doesn’t seem to be an acceptable electronic alternative on the horizon.) I don’t know about the “widespread critical attention” part. Most short fiction is published in literary journals with tiny circulations. Most of it doesn’t get and “critical attention” at all. Book publishing is on the ropes not because publishers are hesitant to move to electronic publishing but because most of what they publish is really bad.

5. The lit-blogosphere is chock full of commentary. But, proportionately, it doesn't contain much creative work -- that is, it's extremely difficult to find blog sites (as opposed to online magazines) primarily devoted to original fiction. What's up with that? Is the internet doomed to be a venue of commentary rather than art?

Well, but there are quite a few online magazines. I have a relatively long list of them on a “literary journal” blogroll, and I’m sure there are many more I haven’t run across yet. For the moment, the blog probably is more well-suited to commentary. I would guess that if more bloggers were to turn to “creative” works, these would be included on some sort of side-site. (I have one of those myself.)

6. In a recent post entitled "Notated" (May 8. 07), you comment on an article in the LA Times about Granta's newest best young novelist list. You remark:

The view of fiction implicit in this article's discussion of the newest and the latest is that it is a forum for "expression." Writers "express" themselves, and through them their ethnic or class heritage gets expressed. Taken as whole, the writers included in the Granta anthology express the concerns and preoccupations of their generational cohort. Why exactly such writers would choose the indirect and rhetorically impure mode of fiction--which unavoidably is going to disperse and obscure your "themes" unless you run them diligently roughshod--in order to give "expression" to such things is never made clear.

This is an interesting passage which sums up the argument you've made in several posts. But are you really being fair to the writers in question? Are they themselves aiming to "express" "themes" that are largely sociological (by which I take you to mean tendentious) in nature?

My criticism was directed at the way these writers were being discussed. I haven’t read many of the writers included in that volume. For all I know, I might find that many don’t view writing as “expression” and are plenty concerned with what I generally call “aesthetics.” If this is so, you wouldn’t know it by the kind of talk typified in that article. It seems the only way some people have to discuss literature at all.

7. In the same LA Times piece, Ian Jack states: "To go through this process of creative writing schools, now, to become a budding novelist, more and more means you need a certain amount of ancestral wealth. I hate to sound like a Marxist, but economics does govern a lot of life, especially cultural life." Whether this is accurate or not (and please comment on whether you think it is), the implication is that what is happening in literature is what has happened in contemporary visual art: one need not be rich to make it, but one needs the attention and beneficence of the rich ... who might in this case be defined as powerful publishers and agents.

Is there not some truth to what Jack is saying? Given mass culture's usual tendency to paper over the economic difficulties of life, isn't there an argument for showing this aspect of existence a little more frequently than it has been of late in contemporary literary art? In short, if writers don't show what it's like to struggle to make a living, who in our celebrity-and-rich-folk-obsessed culture will?

How many people really need to know what its like to struggle to make a living? Other rich people? Dont the people doing the struggling already know its a struggle? Frankly, this notion could be called the documentary view of literature. Fiction exists to document the lives of these people or those people. I dont have much use for that, either.

I’m not really sure I understand Jack’s point. Only “privileged” people are now becoming writers? Only kiss-asses? Maybe such kinds of students are now going through certain creative writing schools, but “writer” and “MFA-recipient” aren’t the same thing.

8. As a critic, you place a lot of emphasis on close readings of texts for their aesthetic qualities. However, the impression I often get from your posts is that you see the aesthetic as somewhat removed from the emotional qualities of a work of fiction; that is, you seem more interested in the formal qualities of a work's aesthetic rather than its emotive ones (which as I'm imagining them here also arise from the aesthetic).

Is the above a fair characterization of your temperament as a critic? Or do you define the aesthetic differently?

That is a fair enough characterization. I don’t deny the “emotive” qualites of art. I just thank the aesthetic comes first. Too many people—too many critics—leap ahead immediately to the emotive without first considering how the emotive is mediated by the aesthetic.

9. You taught within academe. Now, so to speak, you teach outside it (that is, your blog posts are often carefully written enough to be considered mini-essays). What is your ultimate hope as a critic: to develop (or re-invigorate) a school of criticism? To be a gadfly of academic pretension? Or is the very idea of an overarching critical "goal" one reason you left academe?

I do sort of see some of my posts as having a kind of teaching function. It’s the part of academe I haven’t left. If I could “reinvigorate” a school of criticism, the school of close reading for aesthetic purposes, I would be very happy. I’m not deluded enough to think I can do that.

I’m not so much against “academic pretension” (lots of people would no doubt say I have pretensions of my own). I’m against the direction academe has taken away from studying “literature itself” and toward treating literature as a cultural specimen or symptom.

10. You have also posted against art that has a political message. But is art that has a political aspect necessarily art that has a message? (Again, isn't your real beef against tendentiousness?)

It seems to me this question can be viewed from two angles.

First: the economic mentioned above. Why should a political novel necessarily be explicitly political? In a comment of your own following a post of Dec. 7, 2004, you hint at this: "'Unpoliticized' as in without reference to its ultimate political utility or implications. Such a thing is perfectly possible. All of the dogmatic assertions that everything is political are just malarkey."

To my mind, an example of how this can work is Dreiser's SISTER CARRIE
(I hope this example works for you as well). It is a work with a "message". And it has a few explicitly political passages. Yet it works aesthetically: Dreiser, to my mind, is a superb writer, who is technically adept in a way that you allege another "message writer", Dostoevsky, isn't. At the same, time, SISTER CARRIE works emotionally: Hurstwood's obsessive love for Carrie is palpable, and their affair is deeply involving for the reader. However, despite the novel's focus on romantic desire, it also works as a social novel. The different classes Hurstwood and Carrie come from make their relationship illustrative of social relations.

If one views clear, honest depictions of poverty/class relationships as having at least the potential for being "political" without having an explicit (i.e., tendentious) message, is it not possible to successfully combine the political with the artistic? (Other examples: much mid-20th C. Korean fiction; and, to a certain extent, recent American novels such as THE CORRECTIONS and PREP.) Do you agree that economic "dramas" do not need to be politicized in order for them to have political significance? In other words, is it not true a novel can be "political" without attempting any message?

I agree with you about Sister Carrie. It’s one of the primary challenges to my general view of what fiction should do. Dreiser writes badly, but nevertheless I find myself absorbed by his plots. The bad writing seems suited to the prosaic but inexorable working-out of the fates of his characters. His novels don’t so much seem to be designed to advance a political idea as to truly uncover how American life unfolds. This has an undeniable secondary effect that is “political,” but to me it seems dwarfed by the aesthetic power his novels contain.

If a novel can be political without attempting a message, Sister Carrie would be a good model.

11. Second: Is there not a place in literary fiction for novels set in the world of policy making/intelligence gathering? It seems to me these modes of life, especially the second, have pretty much been left to the genre writers. And so there now exists a deep-seated prejudice against a literary novel that, say, would show the workings of an intelligence agency or state department.

But why should that be? Particularly these days, our mass culture is fixated on dramas of Law and Order, which include dramas of the world of intelligence. But literature seems to feel this is inherently low. Yet literature is where genre fiction's failings -- turgid prose, cardboard characterizations, reactionary presuppositions -- could be avoided. Don't we NEED a literature that tackles these themes, too?

I guess there could be a place for that kind of fiction. I wouldn’t want to read it, myself. Although if you’re referring to “spy fiction,” I’ve read some spy novels I liked. Anyone can write any kind of novel for any reason he/she wants. If you take “policy making” as your ostensible subject but otherwise write an aesthetically interesting book, I’m not going to complain. However, if you take that as your subject because primarily you want to explore matters of policy or you want to profile those who make it and how they do it, you should just admit up front that you’re more interested in policy (or history or politics) than you are in fiction.

12. Finally, like many serious lit-bloggers you work very hard, and work alone on THE READING EXPERIENCE. Is this best for the long run? Have you thought of starting an online magazine?

I have thought about it. I’m still pondering whether I want to review works of experimental fiction as I’m now doing it—serially, by myself—or start up some kind of broader forum for the discussion of such fiction, a forum that would include reviews by others as well. I’m not very good at the logisitics of such things, however.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Scott Esposito -- lit-blogger, essayist (Conversational Reading, The Quarterly Conversation)

Scott Esposito -- lit-blogger at Conversational Reading, critical essayist at The Quarterly Conversation, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Enquirer, and elsewhere:

1. Literature is in trouble -- that is, more trouble than usual. Why do you think this is? The increasing prevalence of TV? The distractions of narcotic subcultures such as video games? Sept. 11? Or is talk of the "death of literature" simple exaggeration?

I think that on this question perspective is very important. The NEA report tells us that reading is down in America. This is probably true, but I think it's too early to tell if this is a fluctuation of a trend.

Just the other day I read in a newspaper that, statistically speaking, the average Mexican reads one book per year. In Argentina and Chile the number is three. And these are countries with some of the most esteemed literary traditions in Latin America.

Comparatively, Americans still read a fair amount. The NEA report doesn't say exactly how many books per year, but looking at the report it's clear that it's much more than in these countries. I think we've got a very firm, institutionalized culture of reading, and that's going to be tough to shake.

Also, you might couch the American reading trends in comparison to other trends in America. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam charts 50 years of declining involvement in politics and social activities. His data show that generation-by-generation less and less people are doing things like going to the theater or the symphony. (Incidentally, among a number of other factors, he blames TV mostly.) So if people are reading less, I think this should be considered in combination with the many other cultural activities that appear to be on the decline in America. These are difficult times for the arts in general, not just literature. In a way, it would be more worrisome if other indicators were doing good and reading was the only one to be dropping.

2. And what is literature, anyway? Should the traditional novel be considered the prime example of it?

Not to get all Wittgenstein on you, but what's the prime example of a bird? Of a rock? I would say that at this point most people would equate novels with literature, but novels take on a variety of forms. If I look back at the books I've just read in the last year, there's Michael Martone, a book composed entirely of contributor's guidelines, The Rings of Saturn, an extended meditation during the course of a walk through England, Hopscotch, The Children's Hospital, Mulligan Stew, Wizard of the Crow, Witch Grass. Undoubtedly, this represents only a small sample of the books I could be reading.

But you could look at this from the other direction too. How would a structuralist define a novel? A critic adhering to new criticism? New Historicism? Maybe they could all agree that the novel best represents literature, but could they ever agree on what a novel is?

If you wanted, you could bring the definition of a novel back to something basic like "a collection of words that tells a story" but there's so much that fits into that that I'm temped to say that the definition depends more on the viewer than the viewed. I've read recently that Bakhtin called the novel the form that devours all other forms. Maybe that's the best definition of literature.

3. Prizes and awards are playing an increasing role in determining an author's career-trajectory. In short, winning a major literary prize can win a writer a large audience overnight (not to mention, considerable fame and financial remuneration). But, as British critic Jason Cowley has observed, what is lost is the ability for readers to think in a critically complex fashion.

Are literary prizes dangerous in this regard? Do they convey to the public the message that "this book is worth reading and all these others aren't"?

I think literary prizes are good in the sense that a friend who gives you recommendations on what to read is good. Maybe their best function is to bring attention to lesser-known authors.

But the problem is that the amount of emphasis people now put on prizes is completely out of proportion. There's lots of ways to bring attention to authors—there's my friend, there's a publisher like NYRB (which brings out-of-print classics back into print), there are critics (who can champion authors), there are blogs, there's the LBC, there are bestseller lists, there are book clubs (but TV-based clubs like Oprah's and The Today Show's now seem more like prizes), there are clerks setting up displays at book stores, there's advertising.

All these are legitimate methods to inform you about good books, but book prizes have become, by far, the most prominent. So, I think they're dangerous when they make readers lose sight of the fact that there's lots of other ways to discover books. For one thing, maybe your friend's advice is going to be better than the Booker's this year, and for another, art and culture benefit when there's a multiplicity of voices discussing and championing art. To the extent that we let prizes define what's "good," we're subjecting our literature to unilateral judgment. In other words, it's giving these prizes way too much power, and, as you say, letting these prizes substitute for an individual's responsibility to seek out quality art and make her own judgments.

4. Regarding lit-blogging: first, a simple question -- how do you do it? How do you find the time to read the books necessary to write longer posts, cover the arts journalism and criticism necessary for many of the shorter posts, and also have a life?

Quite simply you make the time, just like anyone else. Not to compare blogging to writing a novel, but how does a novelist (those not fortunate enough to live off their writing, and there's plenty of those) find the time to hold down a job, have a life, and write?

Or let me put it like this—literature is my passion. If I didn't blog, I'd still be reading the same books, journalism, criticism, etc. The actual blogging is kind of like the icing on the cake, or rather, a way that I can share and continue to think about things that I'm naturally interested in. If it felt like an obligation or like a job, I don't think I would have lasted this long.

5. Recently, considerable attention has been paid to the cuts to book review space in newspapers (a trend that started quite a while ago). You have written both reviews for papers and reviews as posts for your lit-blog. Is there any real difference between the two media? When writing for a newspaper and getting feedback from the book page's editor, does this help bring to the fore thoughts you might not otherwise have included in a review? Alternatively, does blogging, with its greater freedom to write about what one wants as long as one wants, lend a critic much-needed room to breathe?

Well, I think there's a lot of difference between a newspaper and a lit-blog, but in both mediums there's a big range in the quality of coverage, so it's hard to generalize. Some reviews I've read on lit-blogs seem exactly like the reviews I read in newspapers, but other times the two are very different. But I think there is usually going to be a difference in the final product when you're writing for yourself, are your own editor, and are writing in a medium that feels ephemeral and (for the moment at least) fringe.

I may be a bad example, but I've gotten very little by way of suggestions from editors I've written for. Most of the time they do a light edit, I approve it, and that's it. This includes newspapers, literary journals, and other blogs.

I do like the idea that blogs give you as much space as you want, but what I like even more is the opportunity to come back to a work again and again. When I review a book I go through it a second and third time so that I have a good understanding of it, but even then there's a lot of stuff that occurs to me after the fact. With my blog, I can come back to a work as often as I like. And if, say, tomorrow, I read a book that really benefits from a comparison to a book that I reviewed, say, six months ago, then I can talk about that on my blog.

I tend to view newspaper reviews as a good first line of criticism, but people make the mistake of thinking that's all there is to be said. No, that's just the first sentence of a long conversation. Blogs are one way to continue the conversation.

6. Despite the decline in readership for literary fiction, publishers keep producing a large number of titles each season. You have written that it would be better if publishers produced fewer books. (If my memory serves correctly, you wrote a post entitled "Less Please" that criticized publishers for producing an excessive number of books in the hope that a few of them would stick.)

But isn't there another way of thinking about the avalanche of work that gets published each season by the total number of large and small publishing houses? Isn't the corollary of "too many books" that books themselves tend to be too long? Especially given the trend over the last decade of new authors carving out reputations by writing 500, 600, and even 700 or more page tomes, is there not an argument for writers producing shorter works? Broadly speaking, shouldn't we have "less please" in terms of novel length?

I don't think you can look at pages in the same way you look at the number of books, and this is why. The thing I said about publishers publishing too many books is this mentality that you have to spread your risk. If you bank on two books, you're exposing yourself to a lot of risk, because both of them could easily flop and then you're screwed. But if you have ten, it's much less likely that all ten will tank, and you're likely to survive to publish another day. It's very good business sense ("diversify your portfolio" is exactly what any investment broker will advise you), but what's good from a business standpoint is rarely good from an art standpoint. Or put another way—this is the mentality that has taken over Hollywood, and if you think Hollywood is at a high point . . .

Actually, New York Magazine just did an article where they mentioned exactly this. They showed how out of every eight books published by Random House, six break even, one's a big success, and one's a big failure. So, overall, if you publish a lot of books, these things even out and you stay in business. Good business sense, but not necessarily what's going to get you the best literature.

And besides, I think that many of the long novels we have now are perfectly legit. There's an argument that prodigious fiction—like that of David Foster Wallace and William T. Vollmann—is a response to a world of prodigious information. I think I buy that, and if an author feels she needs a lot of room to render our world as it is, I'll grant her that. Of course, if you want to write a long book you run the risk of boring the reader. I always reserve the right to critique a book for being too long and wasting my time, and with all there is that I want to read, my tolerance is going to be pretty low.

Also, some books that are unduly long could be due to the lack of good editing, which is a symptom of publishing too many books per season. From what I've seen, it’s common for authors (especially young ones) to keep piling on the information. There may be a good book in there, but it’s overwritten, and this is where a good editor will come in. But now major presses do less and less editing, often because they're spread out over too many projects. So it's possible that this is a reason for ballooning books—and another reason to publish less books, so that the ones that are published can have more attention paid to them.

7. The lit-blogosphere is chock full of commentary. But, proportionately, it doesn't contain much creative work -- that is, it's extremely difficult to find blog sites (as opposed to online magazines) primarily devoted to original fiction. What's up with that? Is the internet doomed to be a venue of commentary rather than art?

I think the Internet will one day be a great venue for art, once we've discovered the correct kind of art to do in it. Fiction, though, is not it. Maybe it works to publish stories online as an adjunct to a journal or magazine, but I just don't think blogs are the correct place for fiction. The best stories are made to last, to be complete objects that you take in on their own. Does this sound like a blog to you? Not to me—I see blogs as very transitory, as connected to other stuff by a million tiny tethers; kinda the opposite as how I view a short story. I think that in time people will figure out how to make art via blogs, but it's not going to happen by taking this other, older artform and sticking it in just because both happen to be text-based.

Commentary, by contrast lends itself to the blog form. It's very much dependant on context (hence all the links), and to have good commentary you need to be constantly keeping up to date with what's going on. From this viewpoint, blogs are nearly ideal.

8. During the 1980s and 1990s, it was popular in literary circles to say women read fiction, men don't. Yet since the advent of the lit-blogosphere, a great deal of blogs run by men have emerged -- and, unsurprisingly, they have tended in a general sense to champion the work of male writers.

Do bloggers of one sex have an unspoken obligation to go out of their way to pay attention to the work of the other sex? Is there a bit of a "guys' room vs. girls' room" dynamic currently at work in the lit-blogosphere?

I think bloggers should go out of their way to find fiction by women, but I don't think there's the same obligation to search out fiction by men. Here's why: I read based on what books strike my interest, and somehow that leads to me reading far more men than women. Does that mean there are far more good male authors than female? Of course not. What it means is that via my normal habits I'm not being exposed to fiction by women, so I should go out of my way to find it. I don't think there's a similar obligation to find fiction by men because male fiction is already dominating discourse.

I don't think there's a divide like that in the lit-blogosphere. In terms of audience, there's Maud Newton, who's one of the most popular lit-bloggers around. Bookslut is also blogged (mainly) by a woman. GalleyCat (the only paying lit-blog gig I know of, and also a site with considerable traffic) is 50-50, gender-wise. And in general it seems to me like lots of female bloggers get links and are in the discussion.

9. Online, you both blog at Coversational Reading and write for/edit The Quarterly Conversation. Two questions: First, would you briefly describe the differences between blogging and writing essays for/editing an online journal?

Well, I hate to say it, but for The Quarterly Conversation I'm much more concerned about doing a thorough job. I love blogs, but I'm just going to automatically take writing for a journal (even a tiny online one) much more seriously.

For instance, my Friday Columns—I'll write the whole thing in a draft and then go back over it once or twice more. But, for a review for TQC, maybe I'll go over it a number of times, have someone else look it over and give me suggestions, come back to it, really work it over. And then there's copy-editing and proofreading. And if I do an essay, that could take a while.

10. Second: taking for granted that good writing is good writing, and what appears online is just as capable of being excellent as what is published, is there nevertheless (at least these days) still a strong argument for publishing a literary journal like The Quarterly Conversation in print? That is, would it not raise the magazine's profile even more if you could do this? Or is this asking too much? Given the obligations lit-bloggers already have, is it unrealistic to ask someone who reviews and lit-blogs to also print his or her journal -- particularly given the price of printing costs and headaches involved with distribution?

I think there's an argument for The Quarterly Conversation being in print. Besides the idea of getting the word out, there's the fact that lit journals are often very nicely designed with quality interior art—just something very pleasing to hold in your hand—and you just can't do that on the web. Another reason—the Internet being great as it is, I think it still feels much better to be in print. I certainly prefer to be published in print than online, and I think most of my contributors do as well.

However, that's not to say that we should do TQC in print immediately. If this is going to be in print, it should be worth printing—worth the expense and effort of making a nice piece of work, worth the $10 or so that we're going to ask someone to pay for it. I mean, look back at Issue 1 of TQC—I'm proud of it for what I was capable of at that point, but I would say that Issue 1 was far from being anything someone would want to print, bind, and purchase. Now I'm on Issue 8, and the end product is undeniably much better. You could say that publishing on the web has been a good way to try out things and make mistakes—to learn how to be a journal editor—without having the burden of 1,000 copies of a journal sitting in my basement.

And I don't think it's an unreasonable request. Sure, I'm busy—everyone I know is busy, by the way—but, you know, there's something to be said for responsibility and not hiding behind "I've got a lot to do." But I should also point out that I'm not the only one putting major time on TQC. Over the past year I've brought on a couple of contributing editors without whom I just couldn't put out TQC in its current form, and if we ever did do a print issue, I'm sure I'd have to find more people to be indebted to.

11.Finally, major media such as The New York Times occasionally mention lit-blogs, but they tend to do this in a very selective -- some might say, arbitrary -- way. This leads to a kind of hierarchy: i.e., you're either one of the lucky ones who gets a Motoko Rich link or you're not.

Given the power that major media still have to "make" someone, what is the lesson for serious lit-bloggers? Should they be trying to max out the number of hits they get? Should they be networking with arts journalists at major media? Or should they form their own media networks, and not worry about whom the Times will bless with its magic wand?

Well, first off, it is arbitrary, and moreover, bloggers keep saying how little newspapers understand about blogs, so I really don't think bloggers should care that much if they happen to be mentioned. I mean, yes, it's a nice little surprise when it happens to you, but I think that's about as far as it should go—if this is giving you a lasting ego boost, then you should probably examine your life.

I'm not so sure about the Times's king-making power, though. I've been linked by them and other major media—you get increased traffic for a day or two, but then everyone forgets and it goes back to normal.

About whose ass to kiss: The Times has discussed and linked to litblogs maybe once or twice in the past two years, so I don't think networking with its journalists is going to do anyone much good until they start discussing us on a regular basis, which I doubt will happen. The most click-throughs I've ever gotten by far was when Andrew Sullivan linked to me (when the Times linked to me I didn't get nearly as many). I think the lesson is clear—when people who are primarily newspaper readers read an article about blogs, a very small percentage of them will click over to you because most of the people reading the article don't know or care about reading a blog. But, when you're mentioned on a major blog, the click-through rate is going to be much, much higher, because the people reading that are ones that are the most familiar with blogs; they're used to clicking-through. So, I guess if you cared about maximizing your hits, go kiss the asses of major bloggers. Alternately, I think if you show a genuine interest in authors' work, participate in the community, and are putting up worthwhile information that people can't get anywhere else, then you will generate traffic.

But, who really cares? Say you get 2,000 hits per day. That's not bad. I mean, it's minuscule when you think of the millions of people online, but it's still a packed auditorium coming to hear you every day. That's cool. Most lit journals do what, 1,000-2,000 copies per issue, and people die to be in them. And also, think about who is reading your blog—I've been very surprised to find out who reads my blog. Hits aren't everything.