Critical Mass

The Litblog Coop (R.I.P.)


The Litblog Coop came on the scene in the spring of 2005 as a coordinated effort to promote awareness of—as its website put it—“the best of contemporary fiction, authors and presses … struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace.” My impression at the time was that it amounted to

a kind of laboratory experiment in literary sociology. Can a group of people frustrated with prevailing trends in the publishing industry (which is constantly on the lookout for the next Da Vinci Code, as if one weren’t enough) and with mainstream media (where reviewing space shrinks constantly) win recognition for a worthy, but otherwise potentially overlooked, piece of fiction?

That from the headnote to an interview with one of the founding Litblog Coopers, Dan Green, about the thinking and process behind the effort.

After a three-year run, the Coop is shutting down, according to an announcement by Green, “mainly because so many of its members have become so preoccupied with their own blogs, as well as other literary endeavors that in some cases their blogs helped to make possible, that they could not devote the kind of time and attention required to keep a loosely-affiliated group like the LBC functioning adequately.”

Green’s post is long and substantative, and worth a look—despite indulging in some NBCC-bashing, of an altogether routine and even reflex-like character. (This will be quoted in my monograph Print Critics and Literary Bloggers: A Longitudinal Study in Mutually Reinforcing Status-Anxiety, forthcoming from Déjà Vu Press.)

Perhaps the most interesting point he makes is a self-criticism about how well the Coop lived up to its own expectations:

I believe that one explanation for this failure is that the LBC never really recovered from the disappointment spawned by its very first selection, a more or less mainstream work of “literary fiction” that had already been widely reviewed and whose selection seemed to many (including me) to be inconsistent with the LBC’s stated mission. This selection perhaps indicated that the LBC was going to be business as usual, choosing the same old books published by the same old publishers and reviewed in the same old high-profile book reviews. Our subsequent selections mostly demonstrated that this was not the case, but it may be that an impression was left that the LBC wasn’t quite the champion of unduly neglected fiction it was claiming to be.

It’s the nature of such things that other people will probably come back with different, and perhaps contradictory, autopsy reports.

In any case, this particular “laboratory experiment in literary sociology” is over—but doubtless there will be more to come. (Critical Mass is one such experiment.) Some will work, some won’t, and some will be used as inspiration, or plundered for spare parts.

I’d like to think that as the tinkering continues, we’ll see the disappearance of all the recriminatory boilerplate rhetoric exchanged between literary bloggers and NBCCers. That is just my own two cents and does not represent the opinion of the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle, etc. But if there is no other lesson to derive from the end of the Litblog Coop, at very least it suggests that we are (all of us) trying to do the best we can in circumstances that we can’t control or perhaps even fully comprehend. A little trust in one another’s good faith might be in order.