BEA: The Blogging Panel, 2

Well, people are talking about that standing-room only panel that Bud organized. It was very exciting to talk blogs in such a spot: about 80 people and about a dozen serious cameras. It’s been fun--in a Rashomon kind of way--to read the reports from hither and yon about what was said and who was wittiest (that seems to be of great interest).

As I noted earlier, I typed out my remarks (and you can read them her-just scroll down). When appearing on a panel with Dwight Garner (of the Times--and the delicious and witty “TBR: Inside the List” column), Lizzie Skurnick (the Old Hag herself), and James Marcus (who put in his time at amazon and now presides in the House of Mirth), one must be prepared. I thought a lot about what I might have to offer. I am not a regular freelancer or an editor of any repute, but I do know about the history of it, so I focused there.

You can read a lovely, fair, generous, and thorough account of the panel at Ed’s place (with pictures!). Dan mentions it. And Bud has his own diffident take on the proceedings he hosted, too. Carrie has some nice thoughts to add (plus a bonus picture of a bear!) and Tara, whom I met after my panel, adds her two cents.

The print media continues its skepticism. So, over at library journal there is a curmudgeonly wish that the bloggers had been scrappier, that the journalist (Garner) had been more hostile to blogs. And New York magazine opines that Garner had all the best zingers.

I won’t dispute that. I loved what Garner said about imagining the blogs of various beloved critics down through the years. It is amusing to imagine Orwell’s blog--or Mencken’s--or Pauline Kael’s (I miss her!). And I thought that Lizzie was utterly spot on about the blessings of looseness in blogs and how that differs from the tone one puts on in writing for a broader audience, for an audience that is reading a review in The Atlantic, say, rather than coming to The Old Hag to hear something funny. But Lizzie Skurnick is very, very funny. By the end of the hour, I had an uncomfortable professorial feeling. During Q&A, Dwight Garner would get a big laugh, we’d turn to Lizzie, who’d get another. I’d pipe in with a nerdy bit of context--well, in the twenties…well, in London…--and then James Marcus would use what I’d said to gain the last laugh of all. Talk about straight man--that was totally me!

Bud was a terrific moderator. It’s no small task in a roomful of egos to keep folks on track and on task, but he did it with grace and aplomb. Still, it’s a touchy subject that none of us panelists was particularly spoiling to fight about. Bud tried to re-engage us on the free books controversy (are reviewers’ opinions swayed by free books?) but no one bit. Instead, we groused about the deeply small fees freelancers get. Tara invoked the chick lit debate; Lizzie pronounced boredom. Jessica asked who the real enemy was--a good and interesting question--but no one could really get mad at corporate publishing.

In fact, all I could think at Jessica’s question was something Dwight Garner said from the start: wouldn’t it be great if the Sunday Times Book Review was but one of six or seven full-fledged weekly book magazines with national distribution, as in London?

I am not a complainer by nature. I think that if we’re going to improve the quality of the conversation, we have to stop talking about the conversation itself and start talking about books in a way that makes it clear to others how deeply engaging such talk can be.

More on BEA to come…for now, enjoy Lauren's pics of the LBC fete!