Serendipity strikes! Who better than writers to bring deserving writers to the attention of readers? This is the kind of article that encourages me when I’m chewing over the multiple complications of starting a book review site. Recording on Two Tracks
“Writers serving as public-facing readers and avid book promoters have the potential to be the latest points on a continuum begun with the century-old arts-and-crafts movement. But right now literary reviews, blogs, and podcasts produced by writers mostly operate in silos; there does not seem to be anything resembling a cohesive shift in thinking about the writer-as-literary-advocate.”
Well thought-out review sites could be part of such a shift. The article expresses a concern for “literary communities,” whether they still exist and what form they’ll take. Certainly, sites like Goodreads can be considered literary communities, but the crowd-sourced reviews that are the mainstay of these sites don’t always guide readers to the best of what’s available. In fact, because the reader-reviewers are a mixed lot, ranging from professional writers to enthusiastic fans, the reviews can give a discerning reader entirely the wrong impression about a book.
It’s impossible to avoid the subject of gatekeepers. Community sites exist to eliminate the gatekeepers, but often illustrate exactly why gatekeepers are necessary. Developing a review site means that I’m committed to the idea that they are necessary. But I’m also committed to the idea that gatekeepers shouldn’t have power over the entire literary world, which they have, until very recently. That includes Amazon, which is now functioning as a very powerful gatekeeper. “I began to wonder how much authentic choice I really had as a reader, when all I had to choose from were books selected for me by an algorithm.” Of course, that’s a problem only if you depend on Amazon to select possible choices for you, but more and more readers are doing exactly that.
The article quotes Jane Friedman: “ ‘The communities that I see growing in a meaningful way and that deserve the moniker ‘community’ are predominantly online and usually have a niche or genre focus.’ ” That would include review sites that specialize in one or more genres. This is gatekeeping that opens possibilities for writers and readers instead of closing them. By concentrating on, say, science fiction, a review site can support writers who would otherwise struggle to find readers. At the same time, such sites take some of the power from big players such as Amazon and spread it around.
“If the imperative for writers to support other writers became embedded in our way of thinking and talking about books, it’s possible that new institutions would emerge to offset the mainstream culture that marginalizes literature.”