This year I’ve been re-evaluating my use of social media. In the last year, I have lost interest in the internet. Power to the people—but the people are not always knowledgeable. Absurdities are tweeted, marketers mine Facebook and other platforms, and ads pop up everywhere. For what it’s worth, I can read international newspapers and journals online. For what it’s worth…will it be worth it in the end?
The internet started as a way of building community, or so they say. But a lot of good it has done it: it has destroyed public libraries. Many people plugged into the net have problems evaluating sources: Wikipedia and even sketchy results of Google searches have taken the place of scholarly books, reference books, journals, etc.. In England, hundreds of libraries have closed, as fewer people use them. In the U.S., the use of libraries has also declined. According to a recent Pew research study , only 44 percent of Americans visited a library or bookmobile over the last 12 months. Three years ago that figure was 53 percent. On the rare occasions when I visit university libraries, I do not see students reading books. All are glued to their computers. Shouldn’t university students be expected to read books?
Social media give everyone a voice. But books are not, as far as I can see, improving as a result of publishers’ mining data from consumer reviews. If anything, worse. And many journalists, critics, and writers–and who can blame them, since the internet has destroyed their work?– are bitter about social media. In Howard Jacobson’s savage satire, Zoo Time, the hero, Guy, a novelist, is furious that his books are out of print. His publisher is depressed because he is expected to ask Guy to “twit” and “blag.” (Tweet and blog.) But Guy wants to tell him that”the blog is yesterday,” and that the blame lies on “myBlank and shitFace and whatever else was persuading the unRead to believe everybody had a right to his opinion.”
Well, Jacobson is very harsh, though I know what he means about the unRead, and doubtless he considers me one. I can hardly say much against blogs, since I have one. Generally, the blog is a “no-harm” medium. It can be used as a diary, an op/ed page, a collection of thoughts, even as a site for polished essay. (The latter is rare.) But I want to assert that mine is a book journal with informal notes about books: I am not writing reviews. Very few bloggers are writing reviews. The problem is that the average blogger does believe he or she is writing reviews. And now that marketers have colonized blogs–I turned down a review copy yesterday, of an e-book, not even a real book! –the “review” factor is even shakier than it used to be.
In general, bloggers read short books and earnestly, or whimsically, as the case may be, tell you their opinion of the book. I find blogs very skimmable, but in recent years have read fewer. Every few weeks I read the bloggers who comment on my blogs, and then I leave comments, because it’s an obligation. But I am still as unconnected to other bloggers as Hillary Clinton was to the electorate. Deep down, I know that most of this internet writing is a waste of time, and that Bernie should have been the Democratic candidate.
Some bloggers love to read, but have no background in literature and are completely baffled by classics . If you don’t often read blogs, you may be surprised, as my husband was the other night, to find a blogger declaring Herman Mellville’s short novel Billy Budd “worthless” and giving it a D-. Yup, some bloggers actually grade books or work on the movie review star stystem. The thing I’ve noticed is, when bloggers read classics, they often pick a short book, presumably so they can tick it off a list–they’ve done Melville–without dong any real work.
My husband was so fascinated by this nervy blogger that he and I decided to write short fake reviewettes by an imaginary cranky blogger. Here they are.
FIVE FAKE REVIEWETTES OF BOOKS HATED BY AN IMAGINARY BLOGGER
Melville’s Billy Budd. 86 pages. ZERO STARS. “Could have 1 star if he cut out all the stuff about sailing. It’s crap! Don’t read Moby Dick. I bet it’s crap! Where’s Gordon Lish?”
Henrry James’s The Turn of the Screw. 121 pages. 1 star. “James can’t write. Boy, was this a waste of time. Crap!”
Colette’s Gigi. 68 pages. 1 star. “God, what crap. I don’t care about the characters. Read at a blog that C was an immoral lesy.”
Doris Lessing’s The Grass Is Singing. 208 pages. ZERO STARS. “The worst book I’ve ever read. Everybody pretends they read The Golden Notebook but they don’t. Jenny Diski hated Lessing, and SHE wrote short books. so knows. A bitch online said Doris Lessing satirizes TGIS in The Golden Notebook but she’s so full of crap. I hate feminists.I voted for Trump. I will never read another book by a woman.”
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. 838 pages. ZERO STARS. “I didn’t like Oblonsky, Levin, Dolly, Kitty, Anna, Karenin, Vronsky, Nikolai Dmitrievich, or Princess Betsy. Pevear and Volokhonsky are bad translators.”
Okay, you get the idea?
I’m going to look back at all the hours I’ve spent online–and wonder.