A Walk Down Litblog Alley

As Dan Green elegantly announced last week, the Litblog Co-op has decided to disband. I hope I’m not breaking any oath of secrecy if I reveal that the group made this decision peacefully, and with only a few half-hearted attempts to hold together the union. I’m glad we’re going out with resolve and dignity.

(We’re also going out quietly — in fact, we agreed to disband over two months ago, and the fact that it took this long for one of us to announce it shows exactly what was wrong with the group — as a public presence, we had completely lost our pulse.)

I respect the quiet way we operated, though. The Litblog Co-op was not only an organization designed to promote books and blogs — it was also a small community, and as a community I think we always managed to stay polite and retain a democratic process (which is more than I can say for a few other online literary communities I’ve been a part of). I’m proud of us for this — in fact, I’m proud of everything about the Litblog Co-op, and just for the fun of it I’d like to share the story of how I came to join this lovable ragtag outfit in the summer of 2006.

Fourteen months earlier, my site LitKicks.com was stuck, floundering somewhere between blogginess and nowheresville. I’d lost my patience with the frenetic message board/creative writing community that was LitKicks up to 2004, but I wasn’t quite sure where to turn next. Taking cues from smart people I knew with blogs, like Jamelah, Caryn and Christian, I’d moved LitKicks towards a strange hybrid sort of blog/poetry forum, but I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I think this showed.

At this point — we’re talking April 2005 — I still had no idea that good literary blogs existed. I knew that good blogs existed, and I had occasionally Googled my way onto a blog with a literary focus, but I never saw a specifically literary blog that impressed me enough to want to go back again. I read GalleyCat, but that was about it. I guess I could have looked harder, but I didn’t.

At this time, I did not feel generally fond of blogs. In fact I was nurturing my own private version of the same anti-blog resentment that Scott McLemee refers to in a recent related article on the Critical Mass blog. In my case, I resented blogs partly because they were so technically simple. As a Java programmer, I had built LitKicks by hand, and I was having trouble accepting the fact that a sloppy PHP script called WordPress could do everything I could do with Java (and better, much better). I was awed by WordPress, but also jealous of it. I guess you could say I was blinded by my own technological snobbery.

Then one day a “read this” email came from Caryn while I was at work, pointing to a Village Voice article by Joy Press that fairly knocked me off my chair.

Apparently, according to this article, literary blogs were a “scene”. Apparently — this had never happened before — major New York publishers were taking online publicity seriously. And there was now a group, founded by a guy named Mark Sarvas, called the Litblog Co-op.

I knew two of these sites mentioned in the article, Beatrice and Bookslut, but hadn’t realized that Beatrice had morphed into a blog and that Bookslut had one. I noted quite pointedly that this Village Voice article did not mention LitKicks. I started browsing these blogs, expecting to hate them, but I quickly found myself liking what I saw. I surfed Mark Sarvas with his Fowler quote, and Maud Newton with her Courier font and Jackson Pollock background. I read every single blog on the Litblog Coop’s membership list, and was impressed over and over. I was seeing something I hadn’t seen much of before: brains. These people knew books. And they could write.

These people also, apparently, had never heard of LitKicks. I felt uncertain whether or not I could fit in with these bloggers, who seemed to be hipper and seemed to wear more fashionable clothes than me (but than, pretty much everybody in the world is hipper and wears more fashionable clothes than me). At the same time, I was glad to see many of my less common literary enthusiasms reflected in various bloggers: Jeff Bryant read the Beats and Bukowski; Maud Newton shared my interest in dusty old classics; Ed Champion covered the postmodern stylists. I wasn’t sure, but I had a feeling I could become a part of this clique, if I could only figure out how to weasel my way in.

Getting friendly with bloggers can take a while, but in my case it went surprisingly smoothly. Jeff Bryant, Ed Champion, Bookslut and Golden Rule Jones were among the first to hit me up with some helpful linkage, which I appreciated very much. I think it was Jeff who wrangled my admission into the Litblog Co-op, exactly fourteen months after I first read about the organization in the Village Voice. I always felt like a newbie there, but I made several friends and will undoubtedly keep in touch with all.

If we analyze “what went wrong” with the Litblog Co-op, I’d say nothing. We had some internal discussions last year about what forms the group could possibly evolve into, and at one point I proposed that we model ourselves on the National Book Critics Circle: collect dues, stage events, have an annual budget, open up the membership, elect rotating leaders. This idea fell victim to the same problem many of our ideas fell victim to: none of us had the time to do any of them. At one point after I suggested that we elect a leader (which is something we’d never done), somebody asked me if I would be willing to be this leader, and I had to admit that I was too busy. At that point, I saw the folly of my own proposal, and this is why I ultimately think we are making the right move in closing up shop today.

One thing I remember well: we promoted some great books. When it came my turn to nominate a title I went with Triangle by Katharine Weber, which didn’t win the group’s vote. Am I still mad about that? Hell yeah. Some of my favorites among the nominations that did win: Firmin by Sam Savage, Wizard of the Crow by Nguzi Wa Thiong’o, The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck, which goes down in history as the last LBC pick.

3 Responses

  1. It’s funny how it goes. A
    It’s funny how it goes. A group forms to highlight books that aren’t being discussed in the mainstream. Eventually, that group is seen by newer readers & writers as part of the mainstream, so a new group forms to discuss books that the previous group excluded. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just the way vines divide and branch out toward infinity. But you will always know you had some part in watering the garden of worthwhile literature, and that’s a good thing. With a goal like that, you can’t go wrong.

  2. In the end its always like
    In the end its always like the poet once said…
    ‘The Song Remains The Same’

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