Posted by Lizzie on 01/28/09
As one of the eldest books bloggers, a critic who abandoned print for the web for (of late) the kaffee-klatch kozery of Facebook, as someone drunk on my status update and one drug tweak from Twitter, as someone who has written TWO COUNT ‘EM TWO PRIVATELY PUBLISHED ESSAYS ON THE WEB TODAAAAAAY, I am almost uniquely unjustified in objecting to this all this “buck up” pushback to anyone lamenting the loss of the Book World in print.
But, you know what? I lament!
Moreover, I validate and affirm all such lamentations.
As I just wrote to a friend, print book coverage has a lot of advantages over online. You can leave it in attractive stacks in the bathroom for visitors so everyone knows how smart you are. You can drip buttery toast on it at the kitchen table. You can clip it and send it in a letter to someone with whom you’ve had an awkward parting so they know you’re well-informed and want them to be too. You can secretly withold the better sections from incompetent lovers and then bring up whatever you know they missed at your next dinner party.
You can read it on the subway and make the section very visible to someone across from you, or even give it away as an excuse to get your message across (“Did you want this? I’m done”=easy), or you can just leave it behind for strangers, to be nice. In short, when you’re done, you can leave it behind.
The web gets a lot of credit for sharing, but that’s because the people who invented the web have to find creative ways to make it sound amazing. But when you send someone an email with an article you think they should read, you might as well have interrupted their morning meeting in person, waving it around frantically with half a mouthful of donut. But leave your favorite pieces in your bathroom, and you have a captive audience who’s probably grateful to look at Luke Menand’s latest so you two can have something to talk about for ten minutes before moving on to Wife Swap.
I think, regarding longer informations than “Finished lasagna. Pinot?”, what we’re calling sharing is a lot more like the stack of boxes recently retrieved from storage, now sitting in your hall, filled with items of dubious value that some friend shrilly held up and made you buy two and a half years ago at some street fair. The web does not share. The web lingers, a bunch of junk unconsciously accumulated — but strangely persistent, mysterious junk that only the strong-willed can bear to throw, unseen, away.
Book World in print might be defunct, but my friends, it is not junk. It’s nice to know that the web can expand exponentially to provide 28 podcasts and 16 Q&A’s and 14 excerpts around a single work, but what am I, made of eyeballs? It’s nice to know everyone can weigh in, but you know what I don’t care about? You, weighing in. A section can be valuable for what it includes but also for what it has taken away. Reviewers–come clean: what work of yours has ever been made WORSE by needing to lose those 16 words? What truly great piece of yours ever got killed for space? What’s lost when they stop curating and start aggregating? There’s a reason they call a print column “justified.”*
I’ve already made my spill-on, read-on argument for print work and I think it’s strong (although the bathroom cuts into my sharing angle somewhat). It’s possible you could find a way to use this essay to punish a lover. (Read it through the bathroom door?). But you better believe what I’m telling you — this essay, in online form, is NEVER going to help you pick up ANYONE on the subway.
Think about it.
* Not really. But shouldn’t there be?
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