Most newspaper book review sections are parochial and outmoded. If you really want to keep up with the world of books, visit the blogosphereby Jason Cowley / December 16, 2006 / Leave a comment
The comfort of strangers
There is something far too conventional about the way books are reviewed and discussed in our newspapers and cultural magazines. In spite of the power and reach of the internet, including online superstores like Amazon, the process by which books are selected for review and then evaluated remains largely unchanged from 40 years ago. It is extremely unusual for a new book not published in Britain to be sent out to British titles for review, even those American titles that are already so much part of the wider political discourse. Instead we have to wait for the domestic publishing dates to come around, which can mean a very long wait indeed.
With the exception of Michel Houellebecq, whose novels are published in France before they are in Britain or the US, I cannot recall many recent examples of a foreign-language writer being reviewed here in Britain on first publication abroad. (The review in last month’s Prospect of Günter Grass’s memoir Beim Haüten der Zwiebel—Peeling the Onion—is an honourable exception.) As for being kept informed of what is going on in the world of books in other EU countries, let alone the rest of the world, the best place to start is not the established print media, but the blogosphere.
Much has been written about the revolutionary potential of our new age of blogging; about how, as the American journalist Trevor Butterworth put it in the Financial Times, power is “shifting from the gatekeepers of the traditional media to a more open, fluid information society.” The blogosphere is part of that new fluidity. It is estimated that there are as many as 28m bloggers, chattering away, I would guess, largely to themselves. (They even have their own search engine, dedicated to finding out who is blogging about what—www.technorati.com). Too many blogs are simply works of narcissism, as boring to read as they must be to write—think of all those words, all that unpaid labour. It used to be said that everyone has at least one book in them; nowadays, it can seem as if everyone has a blog to write, and blogging at its worst is scarcely different from vanity publishing: listen to me, I need to be heard! To adapt the old Warhol maxim, it seems as if everyone can indeed be famous for 15 “friends” on the internet, where social networking is so…