At the Book Expo's bloggers-versus-critics panel discussion this morning, the audience sentiment was firmly on the side of bloggers. And perhaps that was appropriate, as the only representative of the print media on the panel was the New York Times’ Dwight Garner, whose delightful weekly Book Review column, “Inside the List,” is as close to a blog as the New York Times Book Review gets. When Lizzie Skurnick of the blog Old Hag responded to Garner’s challenge to bloggers — “I sometimes wish the quality of book blogs would improve” — with a defiant, “Well, I sometimes wish the quality of print media would improve!” the crowd applauded happily.
That’s not to suggest the panel was that combative; after all, everyone basically agreed that book blogs serve readers very well and that they do an excellent job not only reviewing books but also, as Garner said, “stirring the muck” — bringing issues to the fore that major print media sometimes didn’t pick up on. The panel wound up serving as something of a showcase for the goateed, quick-witted Garner, who freely admitted that the staff of the Book Review shows up to work every Monday, reads the blogs’ responses to that weekend’s issue, and cringes. “Usually we have more arrows shot through us than St. Sebastian,” he said. “We take more bullets than Bonnie and Clyde.” But he noted that the Book Review's position as “the monolith” of American book criticism made it a worthy target. “This is exactly what book blogs should be doing,” he said. “Could you imagine one of the old-guard reviewers, like Lionel Trilling or someone, with a blog? I couldn’t. On the other hand,” he said, shrugging, “George Orwell, Pauline Kael — I would have loved to read their blogs. They would really have had something to say.”