Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press
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Dan: This is a very thoughtful postmortem. You're particularly spot on with the idea that litbloggers are less collaborative these days and more interested in their own projects. Perhaps the early seeds of this fragmentation were sowed during the LBC's final year. Litbloggers wrote novels, founded publishing companies, contributed reviews to newspapers, and redesigned their sites to accommodate Google search results and advertising. In short, they began to take themselves more seriously, perhaps too seriously. Whether this will translate into a terrain as ossified and competitive as newspapers is subject to one's degree of pessimism. I have faith, but I also remain troubled by this online atmosphere, in which litbloggers are now as fragmented and thus as disparate as the left.

Which isn't entirely a bad thing, but is certainly a sign that the DIY punk rock ethos is nowhere nearly as pronounced among the litblogosphere as it was even three years ago. I mourn for this. Many of the progenitors -- including me when I am snowed under with deadlines -- have forgotten that we all started out relatively communal.

Nevertheless, this will sort itself out. The possibilities of extended discourse are indeed quite exciting.

I am ambitious for motley

any chance you could list the "solo" projects of the litbloggers? Who got published? By who? In what mags/journals?

Also as a seperate question, but related: could you list perhaps 5 or 10 litblogs that have acquired a lot of attention? Like who is the e-equal of the old prestegious New York Times Book Review (and who is the *new* New York Review of Books)? &c &c. (The only one I can think of, other than this one, is Maud Newton, but I dont read 'teh int0rnetz' much).


Dan Green

I'd suggest you go to the LBC website and look at the membership list (including the emeritus members). If you go to their blogs, I'm sure you'll discover what the "solo" projects are. (Mark Sarvas's about-to-be-published novel, for example, or Ed Champion's reviews and literary journalism, or Dan Wickett's new publishing company. Among others.)


The flaws I see are largely different ones, though you make some good points. I'm not sure about your last point though, because the (terribly nicknamed) "kidlitosphere" has made tremendous strides in accomplishing that kind of credibility around certain books with its Cybil Awards (and also with Colleen Mondor's huge interview tours). The awards are a huge undertaking, involving tons of volunteers, and nominations can be made by anyone. This is only the second year, but because of the organized way they've been run, people in that sphere of publishing are starting to notice them, and because many parents and librarians (and booksellers) are involved, they have a good shot at increasing that exposure.

I think the same kind of thing is possible in the larger litblog world, possibly through an entirely different mechanism. It just hasn't been organized yet.


Aw, I'm so sorry to hear this -- especially as I was one of those bloggers who pulled out of the LBC in the past year to pursue other ventures, but I hoped it would always be around. I think perhaps, as Dan suggests, the LBC was primarily a victim of its own members' success -- as people found their voice and community in the literary world as bloggers, they found opportunities to do more and different things. Blogging was more of a springboard than an end goal, for many -- I know for me starting The Written Nerd led to many other roles in the bookselling world, which have ultimately taken time away from blogging but which are absolutely how I want to be spending my time.

But my thought was always that what the LBC needed was some kind of leader -- maybe someone who didn't have a separate blog, for whom the LBC was the primary project. While all of us probably enjoyed actually reading and writing about books, the endless work of organization, scheduling, voting, posting, etc. was a bit too much to be done on a volunteer basis by a sort of loose (if "clubbish")committee. There were both too many cooks in the kitchen, and too few members to take advantage of the wisdom of crowds. If the LBC were to succeed, I think it would need someone willing to take on the organizational role so that bloggers could do what they do best: think in print about books. I'm sorry the LBC won't be bringing great new fiction to our attention anymore. But we're lucky we still have all of the members blazing away with brilliant new literary projects, on the web and elsewhere.

Anna Clark

Thanks for such a fully considered reflection on the LBC's sad fate. I wasn't part of it, except as a reader, but your thoughts on what went awry and how web lit culture has evolved since its early days ring true.

But I don't agree with your assessment that the LBC's closure signifies "that probably there will be no online version of the National Book Critics Circle" or other significant online literary collaborative. This was only one experiment, after all. You pointed out that the litblogging community is very different now than it was when the LBC opened shop, and that LBC's model isn't adapted to the new context. I think that rather implies that a new model might just be.

You're right--online literary communities will probably only increase in influence and popularity. It's only a matter of time until someone else initiates a collaborative litblogging project--maybe with different aims, certainly with a different structure. I look forward to it.

My thanks to all the LBC vets.

Dan Green

A "collaborative litblogging project" is one thing. A group of bloggers or critics who get together to hand out awards is something else. I don't believe I'd want to be part of the latter.


Count me as one of the members who never really understood the difference between bestowing a "read this" label on one of four books as _not_ giving an award. I also think that "best" is a limiting conception -- one of the reasons the Cybils are interesting is that they seek to fill a void perceived by the bloggers involved in the "bests" of the children's literature world. I'm sorry, Dan, if awards offend your sensibilities intrinsically (a view I'm not wholly unsympathetic to); that said, they very much are a "collaborative litblogging project." Don't narrow the scope of what's possible based on one, now deceased, effort.

Dan Green

The LBC itself actually moved away from construing the RT selection as an award. In our latter days, we spent as much time and space discussing the other nominees as the "winner." I don't know if this was ultimately the right move or not, but I remain more comfortable with the idea a recommendation or a spotlight, or whatever you want to call it, than with an "award." An award implies "best," however limiting a conception it indeed is, and it's finally just a way for the entity bestowing the award to call attention to itself, rather than an effort to steer people to good books or good movies or what have you.


Ooh - don't know that I can agree with your one conclusion in this case Dan: "it's finally just a way for the entity bestowing the award to call attention to itself, rather than an effort to steer people to good books or good movies or what have you."

I am not part of the Cybils - not because of a problem with the awards but because of the time commitment involved. But one major difference between the Cybils and other awards is that it is not from an organization that exists to promote itself. The bloggers who judge the awards change every year and the Cybils web site largely goes dormant outside of the nomination process and award announcements. (It stays up merely to list the winners and update on occasional news from past winners or finalists.) There are not officers or board members as you would expect - just bloggers who fulfill certain requirements as set out by the founders who then volunteer their efforts to weed through nominations from the public. Once the awards are announced (and they are in muliple genres and age groups many overlooked by the main stream) the bloggers go back to their own sites and interests. In fact the bloggers/judges themselves are the least noteworthy (or noticed) part of this process.

I think part of the success of this award is that it does not actively exist throughout the year nor does it seek publicity or popularity for anything other than the books. So while I certainly can understand your points about awards, in this case I don't think they are valid.


As a reader who goes to litblogs (in part) for good book recommendations, I find this very sad. Perhaps I just don't understand the amount of work involved in the Co-op's organization, but I don't quite see why other litbloggers who have the time and motivation to read and recommend new books cannot continue to do so on the site. You delineated the reasons very well--but I suppose I wonder why the project's scope couldn't be scaled down to simply recommending new books on a periodic basis. Perhaps each member could recommend one book (on, say, a bi-monthly basis) and those who had the time and inclination could chime in on a discussion. That way, it wouldn't be necessary for all members to read and vote on a list of potential candidates.

Another thing that should be pointed out is the archival nature of litblogs and the subsequent book discussion. It's very important that the site be left up so that readers can continue to access the wealth of information and insight that the site generated. For example, I didn't read Kirstin Allio's Garner until this past February and found the Co-op's discussion invaluable in sorting through my own thoughts about it. (I'd also like to think that the Co-op should be given a small part of the credit for the international success of Sam Savage's Firmin.)

The Co-op should be left up because litbloggers in general should be (more?) aware of the myth of internet "immediacy." As books are the focus of our blogging, they are perpetually present works of art that shouldn't be affected by any sort of timeline or "buzz." I think most would agree that the fact that a reader picks up a book much later than most others does not invalidate that reader's opinion on said book. I realize this is an obvious statement, but I believe one of the challenges that litblogs present is in not letting the "good stuff" to get buried in the amount of content created. Many have addressed this problem in various ways (tags, a "best of" link list, etc.), but the issue shouldn't be forgotten completely. Another example--when I formulate a post on a given book, I use the Google search tool at the MetaxuCafé to see what others have had to say about it. This is as close as we have gotten to a central storehouse of litblog postings (as far as I know).

Anyway, forgive the rambling. It's just important that litblogs continue to discuss and recommend good books--in "anyevery" way possible.


I always thought Snoop would keep the LBC forever rollin', but what do I know?

It seems that the two ideas most prominent, most salient here (even in dissension over particulars) are that litbloggers read certain books and write about them in a way they are not written about in other places. The second is that without some sort of map, the wilds of the Internet are too capricious for readers to stumble across these writings (blogs and books, natch) in a cohesive, structured sort of way.

The first part, that litbloggers occupy necessary territory, is without question, going to continue without the LBC or any organizing effort. The ongoing debate between print/blog that Dan's been writing about recently reveals the depth of commitment many people have to writing about what they've read.

The lack of structure, however, is semi-problematic. Dan's concern about people beknighting books through awards versus writing about otherwise-easily-overlooked books is valid. What I like is knowing that there's a network of minds reading and writing, and as a reader I can share in that. I don't want ten or twenty people recommending me the same two or three books.

I want to read good books, but I mostly miss out on fiction because I have painted myself into a corner, tastewise. There aren't a lot of prominent trustworthy outlets which can bring books to my attention. I skim hundreds of magazines and websites to find just one novel. The only reason I bother is that the same skimming turns up dozens of interesting nonfiction titles. So, my reading is 95-5 non-to-fiction.

What is the answer? Damned if I know. But I am fully in favor of extended discourse on single topics rather than link o-the day blogs.

Terry Pitts

Dan, Thanks for a great post. Your well-written comments on the use of cultural studies as a methodology for literary criticism prompted me to say something over at Vertigo on this subject.

Fred Ramey

This is a turning point, I think. And I, too, have been led to speak to it.


I have to say agree with one of your points: about the first selection chosen by LBC. After a certain amount of build-up about the stated mission, the choice was a massive turn-off for me. I lost interest immediately and have only checked back with the site a couple of times since. Nonetheless, I think the mission remains worthwhile.

Eric C

To avoid confusion, I'd post this on the LBC page itself. I was confused when I saw that it just stopped posting.

Anyways, I discovered "The Further Shore" via LBC, and I'm bummed to see it go. I'm going to try to find other blogs dedicated to the original mission. But cheers.

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