Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Great Pioneering Internet Critic Daniel Green quotes a bit of MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE


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The Emiinent Herman Melville scholar Hershel Parker (Herman Melville: A Biography, Melville: The Making of the Poet, Moby-Dick as Doubloon) recently contributed a comment on an older TRE post that, as it turns out, is actually a brief excerpt from his forthcoming book, Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative. Professor Parker has agreed to let me re-post the excerpt here as a free-standing post. It is taken from Chapter 7 of the book (Agenda-Driven Reviewers), and will be of obvious interest to long-standing readers of this blog (as well as literary blogs in general).

As I finish Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative it seems possible that a pack of New York City reviewers can never annihilate any well-researched book as totally as they could do in 2002. The usually innocuous New York Times Book Review survives, in diminished state, as does the often rabid New York Review of Books, and they are read, still. Yet never again will pompous, error-filled articles in the New Yorker or self-serving misrepresentations and outright lies in the Nation or the New York Times or the New York Review of Books or the New Republic hold place on the Internet unchallenged for years.
When John Palattella in the Nation (June 2, 2010) lamented “The Death and Life of the Book Review” (arguing that book review sections should not be judged by whether they turn a profit) “TheBigAl” posted this comment on the Nation website: “You don’t seem aware of the breadth of quality literary blogs on the Internet. As an editor, we find these days that we often have more luck getting attention from persuasive and prestigious blogs than from newspaper book review sections, where editors have their own agendas.” A blogger posted: “Beyond Barnes & Noble Review there are actually a number of websites that provide quality books coverage,” among them “The Complete Review” and “Berfrois.” Daniel Green, one of the heroes of Internet reviewing, quoted Palattella’s claim that although we “are in the throes of another newspaper crisis” nothing has appeared in print or online the way newspaper strikes brought forth the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. On June 3, 2010, Green objected: “This is manifestly not the case. Just two examples: The Quarterly Conversation and Open Letters Monthly. You might have more honestly said, ‘Nothing comparable to the NYRB or the LRB written and edited by recognized, mainstream literary journalists, preferably based in New York, has emerged.’”
Rain Taxi in the Summer 2005 issue (that early) contained Scott Esposito’s survey, “Litblogs Provide a New Alternative for Readers.” A writer on the topic of litblogs was sometimes lucky if a link to a brilliant litblog or personal literary blog outlasted a recommendation. Nevertheless, the situation is stabilizing, Esposito made clear:
One trait shared by virtually all litbloggers is their enthusiasm for defying mainstream opinion, and because of this willingness to offer a countervailing point of view the litblogging community has managed to attract a substantial audience in a relatively short period of time. The highest-trafficked blogs get thousands of hits per day (sometimes tens of thousands if they’re in the news), and the publishing industry has taken note. Many litbloggers regularly get galleys from publishers ranging from Random House to Copper Canyon Press to the Dalkey Archive, and anecdotal evidence indicates that their coverage has helped sell books and prop up emerging authors . . . . Several well-regarded midlist authors . . . have done interviews with litbloggers, and some publicists are beginning to develop lasting relationships with favored litbloggers.
After intelligent reviews of my 2008 Melville: The Making of the Poet appeared in litblogs and individual blogs, I arranged that review copies of The Powell Papers (2011) be sent to some of the bloggers. I expect that presses, more and more, will send review copies to litblogs and pre-tested bloggers (the “veteran” bloggers of the future), where the best reviewers consistently write more intelligently than the average New York Review of Books pontificator.
Of course there is resistence to Internet reviewing. On his Reading Experience 2.0 site (October 23, 2007) Daniel Green hilariously surveys the motives of the blog-bashers: “The disdain for literary blogs and other ‘nontraditional’ sources of literary discussion that drips from the pens of Gail Pool and Richard Schickel and Michael Dirda must rise from a mounting fear that their sense of separation from mere ‘amateurs’ is at risk: If you can’t look down on bloggers, after all, who can you look down on?” The hacks and the occasional admirable mainstream media reviewers will not soon be driven out by “ragtag bloggers” (although newspaper book review sections are dying month by month), but authors may have multiple chances to be heard in the new Internet age. We will see what happens when MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE is ready to be reviewed.


25 years from now, Green will be high in the pantheon of pioneering Internet literary reviewing. Things in the world of book reviewing are changing very fast, and not for the worse. 

I also pay tribute to Green in the Preface: 

With luck Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative can sit at a table alongside like-minded printed cousins such as William M. Murphy’s piece on John Butler Yeats and Mark Holloway’s piece on Norman Douglas in Meyers’s The Craft of Literary Biography, Robert D. Hume’s Reconstructing Contexts: The Aims and Principles of Archaeo-Historicism, and Ray Monk’s “Life Without Theory: Biography as an Exemplar of Philosophical Understanding,” as well as imaginarily seated electronic cousins such as Dan Green’s The Reading Experience 2.0. (Confession: Being in the fourth quarter of my century, I print out pieces by the Internet blogger Green so I can mark them up.)   

P.S. My in-house critic (all belatedly!) points out that I should have said "virtually seated," not "imaginarily seated." I have been behind since leaving school after the 11th grade and am still trying to catch up! 

P.P.S. The editor at Northwestern says she can make the change to "virtually."  I will look less antedeluvian than I am!

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