A Ramble: Thinking Out Loud about Book Blogging and Discussion

Roger has an interesting post up today about books and book blogging in which he says he worries that all we bloggers may well be better talkers than listeners (that is, more interested in putting our own writing out there and having responses to it than responding to other people's writing), and that this tendency may one day kill professional reviewing (if I'm understanding his post correctly). I do not quite see the connection between the two things, because, to me, the best professional reviews stimulate discussion -- I still think about the perceptive last line of Roger's review of the horrid Boy in the Striped Pajamas whenever someone brings the novel up. (The line is quoted in my review at that link if you're curious.) And if they're not stimulating discussion and further thought on deeper issues, if they're just meant to be one-way responses to a book (yes it's good / no it isn't) for other people to read, then isn't that just talking rather than listening anyway? It's still purposeful and important talking, and often just the kind of talking overworked librarians and readers need, to help them choose the right or best books for their libraries. . . . They're two different things, is what I'm saying, and I don't think they cancel each other out. If I've misunderstood you, Roger, I hope you'll clarify the point, either here in comments or on your own blog.

But thinking more about online book discussion . . . Yesterday Mitali Perkins and I had a brief, albeit (to me) stimulating exchange on Twitter, of all things, about romantic/sexual mores in fantasy. She asked, "Why do SF/fantasy authors import our society's current mores about sex and romance into their imagined worlds lock, stock, and barrel?" I thought she was talking about gender roles, so I replied with five tweets involving polyamory (thanks, R. J.), my own reading tastes, societal structures in fiction, and the alas-overlooked middle-grade fantasy novel Questors by Joan Lennon (which I recommend highly for any fans of Diana Wynne Jones). Mitali answered that actually she had been thinking about the fact that 2009-era sexual mores appeared in worlds that did not yet have modern technology or language, and then I replied to that, and then we both got on with our days. It was just the kind of conversation about books I love most, thinking through issues both political and literary out loud, with people whose opinions I respect; but I felt frustrated by the fact I kept having to limit my out-loud thoughts to 140 characters, and that it would be nearly impossible for anyone chiming in late to follow the discussion easily on Twitter, which moves along so quickly, which meant that few other people could (or did) chime in.

So here's what my Web 3.0 would look like: a forum in which any registered member could come in and post a discussion topic, which everyone else would respond to. I could repost my thought piece on the definition of YA literature, say, or Roger could repost any of his favorite past provocations or introduce new ones, or Mitali could post her question above or any of the other fascinating topics she often raises about race, gender, and equity in children's literature. An interested reader could log in, scroll through all of the questions, and respond to the discussions all in one place; and it would update in real time, as Twitter does, so if Mitali and I found ourselves in a topic together, we could carry on just the sort of discussion we were having yesterday, back and forth, clarifying points and stimulating further discussion. And it could have rooms to discuss various books of the moment, like, say, Catching Fire; and because it wouldn't be hosted on any one person's site, no one would be the ultimate authority, the way it can sometimes feel in blog comment discussions. (Plus the person who set it up would make sure the response boxes had plenty of room to type and format comments easily, unlike the way blogger.com does comments -- which is why I'm responding to Roger's post here rather than in a comment over on his blog). There could even be the opportunity to vote for topics/comments/responses one finds especially useful, the same way there is on Amazon.com reviews or NYTimes article comments. This technology already exists, I know -- it would just take someone to find the right webspace and organize it for the kidlitosphere as a whole.

. . . Okay, so now I am pointedly not volunteering, I admit. And these sorts of discussions already take place in blog comments and on listservs like adbooks and my beloved child_lit, so such a forum may not be necessary. But that's my dream for a space where we can all discuss the books we love easily and at length, an ongoing conversation sometimes prompted by and incorporating reviews, and going on to the big questions that inform our thinking, writing, publishing, and ultimately the whole literary art.