I love me a catfight on a cold Thursday morning. Steve Almond has written an article all about Mark Sarvas aka TEV and his hatred supposed hatred for Almond. Now, before people start jumping into the comments here and tearing me a new asshole, I am not taking sides in what is clearly a personal fight. I like Mark and his blog. I’ve met him in person and found him perfectly amiable. I’ve also met Almond, as he’s local to these parts. He’s been perfectly nice to me. Of course some are going to rally around Mark.
I do however object to Almond’s dismissal of litblogs, but praising them in an article attacking one wouldn’t have served his purpose I suppose. Not everything he says is wrong. I do read lots of other litblogs and I imagine any audience I have beyond my family is other litbloggers. So what? I like books, I work in books, I like to read about books. I disagree with the statement “few of these lit blogs actually discuss literature in a meaningful way”. I think he’s totally wrong. I read many blogs with “meaningful” discussions about literature. Sure, some days its all poking fun of an author, or hashing out some news. But some days you get in depth analysis of a book or an author. Where else should we go to talk about books? The major reviews all discuss the same books. All the major bookstores seem to be closing, so that’s out. You could take a class, but who has the money! Bookclubs I suppose are one answer. Blogs however are a great forum for this type of discussion. I’ve read some mind-opening essays and dialogues online about books. Maybe Almond is looking in the wrong places (and no, I am certainly not suggesting he look here). Where do you go to talk about books?
I just discovered I was ungenerously mentioned in publicist Steve Almond’s juvenile press release at Salon (which I didn’t know still existed). Almond has made the same mistake FDR’s attacker’s made in the heat of the ’44 campaign attacking the President’s Scotty, Fala:
Birnbaum: If I get wind of you dissing my junk ever again, I’m gonna track down your mutt and see how she like my chocolate bone.
Cuz that b how real authors do they bidness.
This follows press flack Almond’s unflattering portrait of me, “not a young, African-American blogger from Compton who goes by the street handle OGB (Original Gangsta Blogga). He is a paunchy middle-aged Jew who conducts long interviews with writers for his lit blog, often mentioning himself and his dog Rosie.”
Unlike FDR, I do care that the extremely Caucasian Almond also attacked me. As far as I can make out his beef has to do with my off-handed dismissal of his 2nd (or was it his 3rd ?) review of Jonathan Foer’s latest novel, which I took to be a disingenuous and contrived recantation. Almond e mailed me, asking of I had read Foer’s book (I took this to be rhetorical since I had just publicized my 2nd conversation with Foer) and to chide me for giving Foer press. He ended his emissive by expressing pity for me for, I guess, my bad judgement. Oh yeah, he requested I refrain from emailing him my updates (“take me off your [non- existent] mailing list”) and blah blah blah. I emailed Steve a response, which he chose to ignore. So it goes.
For the record (whatever that is): Whatever my work is, it does not fall under the rubric of publicity. Identitytheory is not a literary blog and I am not a blogger. And, I am not “a paunchy middle aged Jew…”, I am an elderly (58) paunchy Jew from Chicago, who is not nearly as self-effacing as Almond is and whose constant companion is my Labrador, Rosie. Also, being compared to Regis Phibin really hurts. But I’m sure Almond, who has hones his sliming and scatological abilities in various sophomoric haunts, knew that. Speaking for my Rosie, I don’t think she is interested in his “chocolate bone.”
Don’t think I condone or agree with what Almond says in his article. I don’t. The comparison to Regis Philbin was also a low blow. And attacking your dog just seems as bad as, well, kicking a dog. He and Mark have their beefs and I want no part in that (I don’t need angry comments. But I don’t like that he seems to be attacking all litbloggers. I know your work is not a litblog. You’re a journalist and your just happens to be online, no matter that your work is some of the best of its kind out there.
Wow. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but being a bookseller wasn’t nearly so much fun when blogs weren’t around. I’m puzzled that Steve doesn’t see them as an emerging part of book culture, especially as they aren’t under the same cost pressures as other spots for book coverage. Small publishers like his are advertising on blogs because that’s where people who might buy Steve’s book are spending more of their time. Of course, one has to take the good and bad on blogs, but t’was ever thus. As for Sarvas, there’s been about ten great books that he got onto very early, that I’d likely not have read and sold the hell out of. That’s good for the industry of which Steve is a part.
I agree with you Dave. I get requests from both pubslishers and authors wanting me to review their books because even if only other litbloggers read my site, they know that there’s still a chance they might buy the book. Sarvas has championed several books that lots of people have bought based on his recomemndation, so Almond should beware biting the hand and all that.
First off, I admire you for not getting involved in the catfight. Geez, the lit world is so small and endangered, that it seems silly to bash each other.
Your question at the end of your post was, “Where do you go to talk about books?” I go to litblogs for sure. I was thrilled to find out about them about six months ago. I think I first heard about them in either the NYT or LAT Book Review.
Since I read about 3 books a week, I am always aching to find people who read as much as I do who want to talk about what they are reading. I am a member of four local Reading Groups. Sometimes I am dismayed at the lack of literary sophistication in these groups, but I still find it fascinating to find out how many different ways the same book can be perceived by different readers. If I was an author (I wish), I would attend some book group discussions just to learn about this phenomenon. It is surely more relevant to a writer’s purpose to find out what her actual readers get from her books than to read book reviews.
I also talk to my mom, who reads. She doesn’t like her books quite so dark as I do, but some authors we agree on. I got my little sister reading and my husband. Also I am a teacher and love to hear what my students have to say about books they are reading. In the private school where I teach, the students are required to read at least an hour a day.
I like your blog because you write often about the books you are reading. That is what interests me most about the blogs and I wish I could find more blogs that were just booktalk, without all the gossip, etc. Do you know of any?
Drop by my blog if you like. I don’t get to post everyday, though I tell myself I will, but almost all I talk about is the books I have read.