At the meeting in 2009 where we decided to go one more year with the reading series and then move on, I brought up the burgeoning world of online publications and websites as being the place to move our efforts—to start an online website and journal—but even as I said it I knew that I did not have the energy at that time to start such an enterprise. At the same time, I hoped that I would have the energy one day to work with an online journal.
I’ve held dual careers for the past twenty-some years, as a librarian and as a poet. As a librarian I’ve witnessed the decline in print resources, which seems to be happening at a breakneck pace in the past year. Will we become a world of completely electronic publications? It is happening and the outcome will have many ramifications, from citations in research papers to the very existence of the public library itself.
As a writer, I see the plethora of online publishing to be a welcome addition to print literary journals; for one thing, wide distribution using the electronic model is assured. The life of poetry journals is often short, and so may be the life of an online journal or website, but the online community also ensures the possibility of working with a wide variety of collaborators, editors, and contributors.
Our Casa group created a reading series out of desire and shared work, and it seems that the online journal can be done in the same way, as can most things in life.
In February, 2010, I started using my Facebook account, which I had opened, because as a librarian we are supposed to be conversant with techy things, but I had never used it. I didn’t see the point of it. However, I soon did. Within days of updating my profile and posting on my wall, I received requests to submit work to journals, got back in contact with poet friends, made the acquaintance of many writers that I had long wanted to meet, and met new people who have become real-life friends. I received many words of appreciation for my books, from strangers or people I’d heard of and never met, and I was very grateful for that. Having worked outside of academia for all of my writing career, I have sometimes felt cut off from other writers. I was really astonished at Facebook’s easy way of networking, which was like something I’d never imagined could exist. Facebook seems made for writers’ needs—to keep far-flung groups in contact, to write about and link to ideas and things to read, to promote one’s work and those of others to people who are actually interested in finding out about it.
In March, a call went out on Facebook from Connotation Press for a book review editor. As a librarian, I’ve read thousands upon thousands of book reviews. We use them as criteria for purchasing or rejecting books. We read them so we can help people find books that they would like. I’ve never read Stieg Larson or Barbara Delinsky or Emily Griffin or W.E.B. Griffin, but I have a sense of who reads them and what they’re about. We even were taught a method of writing a book review in ten minutes by looking at the front, back, flaps, and thumbing through a book. We know that if a book has a 50,000 book print run, its expectations for sales are high; they are extremely high for a 500,000 copy print run. We like to read them because they’re often good reading in themselves.
A ten-minute “review” of a book is much different than an elegantly written review in The New Yorker, or a comprehensive, learned look at a subject guided by four or five titles as one finds in The New York Review of Books, or an opinionated, I-read-a-lot-of-books-for-a-living-don’t-bullshit-me tone of the quirky, enthusiastic, and belligerent reviews in Kirkus Reviews. I trust that the reviews in Entertainment Weekly are accurate and tied very well to the publishing industry: you will find the titles that library patrons will be asking for, whether it’s a book of true crime, literary fiction, memoirs, graphic novels, or even cookbooks. I pretty much like to read all book reviews, and seek them out in any publication I pick up. I like to read book reviews for my job and have read many a book based on a reviewer’s choices. I like to read books are think-pieces about reading. I like to read about everything. I like my job because we get to read, think about reading, and think about the business of reading and the state of reading in the culture.
I am a reader. I have had periods of my life where I have read compulsively and not-in-a-good-way. I spent several years reading nothing but literary journals, and have also wasted extraordinary amounts of time reading message boards about T.V. shows. I can think of many times I’ve declined social offers in order to stay home and read a book I was engrossed in. I have specific memories of certain books and the days I spent where I could not leave them: Caddie Woodlawn in the back of a car while my parents drove me on vacation, The USA Trilogy during an Iowa summer, The Changing Light at Sandover while my toddler sons napped. I have read specifically as well as indiscriminately and widely. I’ve read the literature about many things that have nothing really to do with my day-to-day life: the Warren G. Harding administration, UFOs and alien abductions, the history of New York City, where I have never and will never live, and other things. As for poetry in the culture, I wish there was more suggestion and encouragement given to the reading of poetry rather than the writing of it. Reading really good poetry is life-changing.
In March of 2011, I contacted Ken Robidoux after reading his call on Facebook for a book review editor and asked to become that person. Here was exactly what I had been looking for: participation in the online literary culture, with someone else running the show, which I could not see myself doing. I was impressed and remain impressed by Ken’s enthusiasm and hard work and for the results of that work in each bi-monthly issue. I am glad to be able to participate in the literary life by acting as an editor. My goal is to find compelling and interesting reviews for others to read, the kind I like to read myself. My bias is toward a wide variety of subjects and titles, though I tend to get poetry book reviews submitted to me most often. As poetry books are ignored by most of the culture, I think we do a service to our readers by reviewing these books, and by providing a place for writers to publish poetry book reviews.
I am looking for reviews that reveal enthusiasm for a book or an author. I would love to read a discussion of one author’s work, or a meditation about someone’s best loved book, the book that changed a life, or maybe was just a good companion and friend along the way. Please send those my way.