I’ve never met San Francisco writer Kevin Smokler. But I’ve admired his innovation in promoting authors on the Web. Smokler invented the Virtual Book Tour, where authors visit various blogs in the course of a week, to talk about their books or write a guest post or two. The tours introduce authors to as many as 100,000 potential readers. It’s a great use of the medium.
Smokler is the editor of the recently released anthology, Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times. He posits the book as an answer to a 2004 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, which warned that Americans were turning away from books in favor of other media, such as movies, the Internet, and video games. Smokler disagrees with that gloomy perspective and suggests that it may be a golden age for literature – if we redefine literature.
“If online reading was eating away at book reading, how did we explain literary weblogs that command thousands of readers a day, or book recommendations and dialogue as crucial features in the next generation of social software?” Smokler writes in his introduction. “If young people were reading less than any other demographic group, how did we dismiss the revolution in young adult literature brought on by J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket, or the best-selling careers of twenty-something favorites like David Sedaris, Nich Hornby, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Safer Froer?"
Smokler created the book “to show that my generation (the Atari/VCR/Internet generation) still cared about books and literature and that authors of this age were committed to both producing great books and making sense of writing in an age of intense competition from other media,” he said in an essay on the Powell’s website.
I bought this book expecting essays about the changing world of writing, about the influence of blogs, about how the Internet is the future. Happily, I didn’t get this. Instead, in this terrific group of articles I got a more old-fashioned peek into writing: how some writers learned to love books, how they stumbled and humiliated themselves until they learned how to write, how they deal with the American world of celebrity culture. The stories were compulsively readable; this was one of those books I couldn’t put down.
The book, as Smoker explains, is broken into sections: Beginnings (How I became a writer), The Life (What it's like being a writer), The Now (What are the challenges of being a writer in 2005) and The Future (what will be those challenges in the decades to come).
For a taste: Michelle Richmond writes about the sex-saturated climate of her MFA program; Glen David Gold talks about his shame at Googling himself; Adam Johnson calls out for writers to collaborate; Paul Collins writes about sitting in the Portland, Oregon library to read 121 years of a British magazine called Notes and Queries; and Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of the blog, Gawker, talks about the end of blogging.
Bookmark Now is really an old-fashioned, flat out celebration of books and writing. The voices in the anthology are literate and astute, self-aware and self-deprecating. It’s a great read. What higher form of flattery can there be?