introducing readers to writers since 1995

May 26, 2005

Secretly, This Is a Virtual Book Tour Post

by Ron Hogan

So when I get an essay anthology like Bookmark Now, which Kevin Smokler organized to consider "writing in unreaderly times," the first thing I do is look at the resources section in the back of the book to see if he mentions me, especially since I'm still rather bitter about how all my friends' blogs got mentioned in a Telegraph article and I didn't, presumably because the reporter didn't have enough room after wasting an entire paragraph on stuff like Belle Du Jour that has nothing to do with bookblogs whatsoever... But Smokler does mention me, and says he reads the site "every day (or just about)," so clearly this is a good book.

Anyway, having established its credentials, I basically poke around to see if any of my friends are in it, which leads me straight to Tom Bissell and Stephanie Elizondo Griest, and then I look for people I've interviewed, which leads me to a fun piece by Adam Johnson about collaboration, which ends up being next to an essay written by the writing couple Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge, and after a few more of those I move on to the people I've just read, like novelist Michelle Richmond, and from there to the people I've read about, like blogger Pamela Ribon and Nell Freudenberger. (That's right; I haven't gotten around to actually reading Lucky Girls yet, and it's true: I suck.)

So here's the thing: I like what I've read so far (well, except from a "humor" piece on how to write for McSweeney's that's just lame), but frankly I'm not convinced by this whole "writing in unreaderly times" angle, especially since the best pieces don't contain any such alarmism. They're simply honest reflections from writers about the things in their lives that led them to this position. (Plus a bit of reportage about the blogging scene from Elizabeth Spiers.) And there's always room for writers who have compelling stories to tell about being writers, without tacking on some sort of now-ish theme. Should we take last year's NEA reports of "reading at risk" seriously? Probably. But that report has very little if anything to do with why you should take the best writing in Bookmark Now seriously, or (I suspect) why those standout essays were written.

(And, as it turns out, Kevin's guest appearance at The Elegant Variation leads to a discussion of the alleged risk...)

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