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Litblogs worth a bookmark

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It's not only as a confirmed and paid-up member of the Old Media Elite that I have made skeptical noises about blogs. An instinctive resistance to the grander claims of the Internet Triumphant has long led me to look warily at our new electronic means of democratizing culture. Simply put, digital self-expression often looks like talk radio, version 2.0.

In practice, this means one has to hunt for anything good. In perusing the many litblogs, bookblogs and webzines out there (one crime the digital age must answer for is its tender lyricism; every new coinage sounds like an East European curse), I've managed to bookmark a dozen rewarding sites on authors, books or publishing.

It may be whiz-bang and Webby, but a good blog is like any print essay or journal: It needs a sharp writer-editor with a singular voice, a deep curiosity or a critical way of thinking that has readers returning. And it helps if the site isn't visually drab or balky to search. Otherwise, a blog is just lots more mail from a self-involved natterer.

In what follows, I don't include such basic (to me) literary-cultural checkpoints as Arts & Letters Daily ( and Artsjournal ( or a forum like Readerville ( or a review index like Metacritic (a much better organized site than The following sites are valuable because they are more individual. They're often informative but also entertaining, insightful. A reader can get hooked.

One of the weaknesses of litblogs such as Conversational Reading (, is that they're so name-droppingly entre nous, so inside-the-industry, that readers may think they're in code. Literary Saloon ( can get that way but for good reason: It has a bracingly international scope. Its ease in handling Iranian literature (Shahrokh Meskub, anyone?) or Paraguayan (Roa Bastos) is impressive, to say the least. It's a site that gets well beyond our shamelessly America-centric book industry.

The Literary Dick - as in Private Detective ( is actually a reference site: It answers readers' questions about authors (but then maddeningly doesn't index them by topic). Naturally, we readers are very curious about indelicate matters (Samuel Coleridge's constipation), so it helps that Jonathan Ames and researcher Michael Wood happily get explicit. Sexy or not, their research can be fascinating: Did P.G. Wodehouse know Raymond Chandler at Dulwich College? Why are some of Ernest Hemingway's activities in 1942 still held in classified FBI files?

Bookslut ( is a celebrity among litblogs, partly because of the naughty name. It's staunchly anti-censorship and pro-choice, but it's hardly as salacious as `slut' implies. Created by Jessa Crispin, now in Chicago but formerly of Austin, Texas, and run with Michael Schaub, Bookslut is a monthly webzine augmented by a daily blog of quippish, newsy entries. Its hobbyhorses and snippy tone can get wearying, but I keep returning precisely because its tastes (beyond graphic novels and ``The Noonday Demon'') often aren't my own. Crispin keeps intriguing me with fiction writers I've never heard of.

This is the great promise of the Internet, after all - that quirky interests can reach readers without spending a fortune. But for our supposedly brave and uncommercial new medium, the blogosphere still has some sizable holes. There are 14.7 million blogs (including Websites and porn gateways - Technorati, the site that counts these things, doesn't distinguish), yet we don't have sophisticated forums on, say, Latin authors or black literature.


(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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