(Im)Plausible Denial

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As Edward Champion and the Literary Saloon have already noted, Sam Tanenhaus makes a buffoon out of himself in an interview in Queens College Knightly News. In response to the question of whether he reads lit blogs, Tanenhaus says: “No, I don’t. I don’t really have time. Other people here do and they’ll tell me about them. I never read blogs.” Then he proceeds to offer a number of detailed criticisms of them, some of them less detailed than huge (and erroneous) generalizations. Try this: “I don’t find they write about authors and have that many interesting things to say about literature.” Who exactly is Tanenhaus reading? I suppose the answer to that question would force him to reveal that actually he does read lit blogs, which, in his mind at least, would lower him to the proletariat level of bibliophiles, rather than staying on the lofty pinnacle of book elitists.

Ultimately, this is a question of pride. In the Tanenhaus universe, there are tiers of talent: one for dilettantes who fuddle around on the Internet, one for reviewers cheap medications with moderate insight who might work at mid-level newspapers, and one for his coterie. He thinks that his publication and his reviewers are so much better than any who would deign to give their words away for free that he tries to downplay anyone who blogs. What this pride reveals is a great deal of self-consciousness and self-doubt. He’s so scared of the shift from centralized print to decentralized Internet that he (repeatedly) pretends that bloggers don’t exist, he doesn’t read them, they don’t say anything. He used this same tactic when I asked him this question during the Ask the Editor week at the NY Times: “Why do so many book bloggers seem to dislike you?” He replied, tongue nearly poking through his cheek, “They do?” By feigning ignorance of the criticisms against him and the NYTBR, Tanenhaus is playing the ostrich, head in the sand, pretending that his publication is the only one that exists or matters. Guess what? We’re not fooled, and our readership is on the rise.

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