Literacy Is Important, and Book Bloggers Are Integral to the Cause

Normally, I simply review books here and provide interviews, guest posts, and giveaways, along with local Washington, D.C., event information and recaps.  However, yesterday, I saw an article, which read more like a blog post or opinion piece, about Book Expo America 2011 and the Book Blogger Convention. Before I get to the generalizations made about book bloggers, I want to address some of the author’s other points about the publishing industry.

The author of the article decried the demise of literary fiction and the rise of electronic reading devices and children’s books.  First, we are living in an increasingly digital world, and books were bound to be caught up in it or be lost forever.  Stories, once told orally during the time of Homer, were eventually adapted to written documents that were passed down in libraries and eventually bookstores.  As more of us carry smartphones and have laptops, it makes sense that readers would need books to come in forms read by those devices, especially since many of us are constantly on the go.  While some of us, including myself, are still attached to printed books and prefer not to read them on digital devices, other generations will not be as beholden to printed books.

Secondly, why shouldn’t Book Expo America dedicate nearly 33 percent of its floor space (if this is even accurate) to children’s books and the publishers that issue those books?  Shouldn’t our children and future generations have their own favorite books, like I adore E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic? Between 1992 and 2003, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy did not find a significant change in prose literacy levels among adults, with 14 percent unable to perform basic prose literacy tasks and 29 percent able to perform just basic tasks.  For more on literacy rates, please go here.  As more kids fail standardized tests on reading and drop out of school, I think we should be encouraging children to read.  As the wife of a man who has trouble reading, I can tell you first hand how he struggles with daily tasks, deals with daily ribbing from co-workers when he misspells words or can’t quite articulate what he means, or simply gives up reading after a paragraph or a page because it’s taking too long.

Onto the comments about book bloggers, I remember the term  “mommy bloggers” being coined in reference to those mothers who blogged about parenthood.  I never considered myself a “mommy blogger” because I was not a mother.  Now that I am a mother, my blog remains as always a book blog — my space for discussing the books I read, enjoy, and want to share with my readers and much of that has been poetry collections.  Why?  Because I write poetry, read it, and love it and believe that it is under-served by the so-called “professional” book reviewers.  I wanted to make sure that poetry didn’t disappear from readers’ minds, especially since many haven’t read a book of poetry, let alone a single poem, since high school or college!

“So, in a paradoxical way, this subculture is even more limited in its interests than the mainstream media. Though, in theory, the Internet is a space of infinite diversity, in practice many communities reproduce the patterns that exist outside cyberspace. The main difference between the new book bloggers and the old book reviewers is that the former don’t have any literary ‘prejudices.'”

A subculture, limited in interests?  Some book bloggers have created a niche for their readers, but I bet many of them read outside those niches, much like Pam, who reviews mostly young adult fiction on her blog, or Anna, who reviews quite a bit of WWII fiction and Jane Austen-related fiction.  I don’t restrain my reviews to just poetry, though it is my favorite genre.  The book blogging community the article refers to and suggests is repeating the limiting patterns of mainstream media is simply false.  As an avid reader of newspaper reviews, prior to becoming a blogger, I can attest to the large number of pretentious novels that were reviewed and the irony of the bestseller’s lists that often listed “popular” titles, like the mystery/thrillers of James Patterson.  I wanted more poetry, more diversity from these reviewers.  They reviewed literary fiction, but it was obvious that those were not popular among customers — hence the disconnect between the books reviewed and those on the bestseller’s list.  And if book bloggers don’t have “literary prejudices,” isn’t that beneficial to the literary community and readers in general because they are exposed to a greater variety of books?

Finally, “Their electronic chatter will soon cover whatever is left of book reviewing” is simply an insulting statement to intelligent men and women who share their love of reading and books with their readers.  It is more than “chatter” that these blogs are releasing into the Internet wilderness; they are contributing to the larger fight against illiteracy, to the conversation of book clubs across the globe, and to the expansion of humanity’s evolution via a medium that the author clearly is unable to adapt to or understand.


  1. Jennifer says

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything that you have said here. I am still relatively new to blogging and am amazed by what the book blogging community produces. I believe that it has certainly affected me in a profoundly positive way and am astounded to hear someone try to bash it in such an uninformed, insensitive way.

  2. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books says

    Very good point about the evolution of the way we tell/keep stories –> from the oral tradition, to written (then printed!), now to electronic media.

    I haven’t yet seen any response from the “journalist” who wrote that article; she sure did create a stir!

  3. I’m stunned that anyone who claims to love reading would quibble about children’s literature/publishing. Outrageous!

    And I love my book blogger friends — I go to them for recommendations — not a major newspaper that reviews the same pat fiction. I’ve been introduced to so many new small presses and imprints thanks to bloggers; all those big media ‘woe-publishing-is-dying’ columnists haven’t! GRRR — so v annoying!

  4. I couldn’t agree with your points more. I was absolutely outraged by the massive generalized statements that this person made – they are clearly angered by the fact that book bloggers are actually having an impact on the literary world. Ugh, people sometimes!

  5. The one good thing I can say about that piece is that it provided a LOT of points to address in response, and you’ve done an excellent job focusing on the weakness of its “literary” arguments. And I absolutely agree that, rather than limiting the bookish conversation, book blogs have enlarged it by talking about genres that traditional review outlets have ling ignored.
    Great post, Serena – and thanks for pointing out that article in the first place!

    • I’m glad to have pointed it out. Traditional outlets have long ignored poetry, which readers know is my baby and that I review on a consistent basis, and I’ve long had a hard time with the elitist nature of academia, as if the general reading public is “too dumb” to understand poetry, to read poetry, or to review poetry and that it must be done by other poets or academics. I’ve also had similar qualms about literary fiction reviews in the past, as if those books could not possibly be enjoyed by anyone other than those with a Masters degree or PhD.

      Her article rubbed me the wrong way as if Americans should remain “dumb” and “uneducated” because children’s books are too brightly colored, etc. and because those who enjoy reading and talking about it are not talking about literary books or translated works. I’ve read translated works and enjoyed some and disliked others.

  6. Personally, I think not having “literary prejudices” (a nebulous term at best) sounds like a good thing! So, are we being criticized for having open minds and reading a variety of genres? Shame on us!

    I love your response, I love book bloggers, and I thank God for our community. Seriously, sometimes I think we’re the only ones who get it (this love of literature and, of course, poetry).

    • I was wondering what she meant by “literary prejudices.” I’m glad that we all have a variety of reading tastes…more so than traditional reviewers ever portrayed in the mainstream press.

  7. Beth Hoffman says

    Fantastic and intelligent post … BRAVA! I wholeheartedly agree.

  8. That was my thought exactly…if we don’t get our kids interested in books now, they won’t read or buy books when they’re older. And you’re right, reading is so much more important than just enjoying a novel. Everyday tasks become more difficult if you can’t read, so why not get them interested in it with entertaining books?

    As for her book blogger tirade, you already know how I feel about it. Her generalizations were so far off the mark I wonder if she even talked to a single book blogger while she was supposedly at BEA/BBC. She just made us sound like we are all simpletons who don’t know a good book when we read one. She doesn’t realize that a lot of us are educated with full time jobs and wide-ranging interests and tastes in literature. I just wonder why she feels so threatened.

    And I think it’s interesting that she decries technology, yet she discusses the publishing industry on the Internet and in what appears to be a blog post.

    • I find it ironic that she chose to discuss the technology she dislikes through technology and it would seem that she does not see the irony in that.

  9. Very well said! Her article infuriated me and while I only touched on what she said about book bloggers in the comments on Amy’s post on Facebook, I feel that her article was just one big criticism after another. She should have subscribed to the old adage, If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all…or, at least, find a way to be more constructive in her criticism.

    • I cannot tell you how much I hate generalizations and stereotypes, and the article’s use of those things to continue to put down what women do on their blogs because they love to write and to share is just wrong. Secondly, if you want to comment on something, please do your research first — isn’t that what journalists are supposed to do? Back up their statements or criticisms with facts?

      If you want to know the makeup of the book blogger community, take a survey?!

      What’s worse is that she says in one breath that its sad that big publishers are not publishing as much literary fiction, while in the second breath saying that too much space is dedicated to children’s literature! Who does this person think will be buying books and reading them in the future if we don’t get kids interested in something other than texting?! Just boggles my mind

  10. Extremely well said. I too love poetry…

  11. Yes, yes, yes, yes! I agree 100% – excellent post