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Book Review: The Bookaholics’ Guide to Book Blogs by Rebecca Gillieron and Catheryn Kilgarriff

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While the rest of the world blogs about what they had for breakfast, book lovers have other fish to fry. Covering everything from crime to horror, Henry James to Harry Potter, bibliophiles are producing some of the most stimulating and entertaining work on the web. Not incidentally, they're at the forefront of the forces revolutionising the publishing industry. From Web sites to Weblogs, podcasting to social networking, book lovers have shown there's more to the internet than a dancing dog on YouTube.

This book celebrates the individuals who have taken their shared love of literature into cyberspace. Authors, booksellers, publishers and reviewers are feted, while the big corporations seeking control of the written word are confronted. Little-reported issues are addressed, such as the radical writers, disillusioned with mainstream publishing, who have found outlets for their work on the web. There's also an absorbing piece on the brewing civil war between newspaper critics and book bloggers. The book's upbeat, informal style captures the spirit of these exciting times.

Sadly, the message is obscured by the medium. Throughout the book, typographical errors keep stubbornly appearing. It's nothing dramatic, but just enough to irritate. Even the final sentence can't escape a distracting typo.

Misplaced letters aren't the only problem. Rebecca Gillieron's sixty, seventy, and (in a couple of horrific instances) ninety-word sentences make some passages heavy going. The book’s usefulness as a reference work is limited by an inconsistent use of web addresses and the absence of an index.

What rescues the book are the extracts from literary blogs themselves. Knowledgeable, witty and wordy-wise, book bloggers are clearly a talented bunch. Some may be brutally honest, but most are as ready to shower roses on writers they like as they are to deliver raspberries to those they don't. I especially enjoyed the plain-speaking Dovegreyreader  and the entertaining book/daddy, but all of the bloggers featured in the book deserve to be there.

Voices from the web are welcome distractions from this book's shortcomings. Yet even here, the authors can't help meddling. A Finnish blogger's exuberant post about one of his favourite horror authors is reproduced. His enthusiasm is infectious, even for those who may not be fans of the genre. Why the authors feel the need to reprint part of his blog in the original Finnish is one of this book's enduring mysteries, another is the decision to reprint nine consecutive pages from Toby Litt's blog. I'm all for giving readers a taste of the author, but this takes spoon feeding a ladle too far.

Why make so much of so little? What's a misplaced letter here, an elongated sentence there? Perhaps it's the old "if a job's worth doing…" mentality. But more than that, the authors of this book should know better. The opening page trumpets their credentials as industry insiders, as experienced in editing as they are in typesetting. And if attention to detail does justice to a book's subject and signals respect for its readers, the opposite is also true.

The publishing house which produced this book is a small, independent press, and it gives me no pleasure to decry their work. If it weren't for the flaws, I'd have no hesitation in recommending it. As it is, the best investment of any revenue generated by this project would be the employment of a sharp-eyed proof reader for the next one.

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  • Thanks for a great review. There are some excellent book blogs out there that really tap into cultural as well as literary issues. I definitely want to read this book and see how many book bloggers they’ve compiled.

  • I think part of the problem with this book is also the medium. In less than a year, a significant portion of the book may become irrelevant. The author would do better to create an annotated bibliography that lives on a website than to waste readers’ time and money on a dead tree version that will quickly become useless.

  • Thank you for all your comments. I felt the timing of the book was unique, precisely because I knew the bloggers would change very soon. It was a very precious new time, when the internet became a haven for book lovers to exchange their views, and create an online community which was not motivated by money or the large and powerful media – both book companies and newspaper.

    So, it the book represents a moment, before the blogging world changed and became more corporate. Watch this space – it is really happening.