Guest Blogger, Ron Hogan, Literary Internet Creator
To listen to Ron’s interview on the show: http://wp.me/p1KmwD-6hz
When I first got seriously involved with the Internet, back in the ’90s, it was far from the most efficient way to get book recommendations. That’s not to say it was impossible–I used to be fairly active in a Usenet newsgroup called rec.arts.books, where you could find hundreds of simultaneous conversations taking place about books and writers. But when you were dealing with hundreds of simultaneous conversations, it could be difficult to find one that had particular relevance to you…unless you wanted to start that conversation yourself, of course.
So, for a while, I was still finding out about great new books I should be reading the same way I had before the Internet: the New Yorker book review section, tips from my coworkers at an indie bookstore (as well as noticing what people were coming in and buying), and a few trusted friends. Once I had my first website, Beatrice.com, up and running, I was also getting a ton of suggestions from book publicists–not the most objective of suggestions, naturally, but they tended to be good ones. (A truly effective publicist learns about a reader’s tastes, so nobody’s time gets wasted dealing with books that simply won’t be of interest, and so she can spring the occasional pleasant surprise on you, the amazing book that wasn’t ever on your radar until she showed it to you.)
Twenty years later, it sometimes seems like everybody’s got a book blog, and it’s that old Usenet problem again–how do you find the conversations about books that are meaningful to you?
I love having dozens, hundreds, even thousands of alternatives to the mainstream media’s coverage of contemporary literature–heck, I love being one of those alternatives, along with my occasional appearances in the mainstream. But it’s still a lot of book talk to sort through.
So I don’t. At least, not anymore.
A while back, I read about a concept called “Dunbar’s number,” which refers to the number of meaningful social relationships you can reasonably keep track of. Many people put that number somewhere around 150, so that’s how many people I follow on Twitter. Between the writers, the publishing people, and a few close friends who just love books, I get a steady flow of information about what I might want to read next–and if something truly interesting is happening out in the literary world, I’m likely to hear about it from one or more of those 150 people sooner rather than later.
Oh, I follow a few RSS feeds for media outlets that deal with books and a small handful of favorite writers and bloggers. But I’ve been following those feeds for a long time, and over the years I’ve actually pruned a lot of them back. It takes a lot for me to add a new source of information. First, it has to come up a lot among my 150 Twitter sources; then, after I’ve been sent to visit the site a few times, if I’m consistently impressed, I’ll add it to my regular media menu.
And, yeah, I appreciate the irony of telling you about the benefits of keeping your book-related intake down to a well chosen minimum, then trying to pivot to “I hope you’ll check out my websites!” The key word being well-chosen: If you take a look at Beatrice.com or TheHandsell.com, and you find that the books I’m talking about, and the authors I’m talking to, are consistently holding your interest, I’d be thrilled to become another literary resource for you. If not, keep looking! And don’t be afraid to add your own voice to the conversations–there’s bound to be someone out there who shares your taste in books and knows about some amazing ones you haven’t found yet.
Ron Hogan helped create the literary Internet by launching Beatrice in 1995. Today, as the host of The Handsell with Ron Hogan &…, he recruits authors and independent booksellers to help readers find their new favorite book, based on what they’ve already read and loved.