"Blog reviews are great. Reviewers do a great job at publicising great numbers of new titles. Where there were once gatekeepers to determining what a good genre book was, there are now hundreds of people all championing whatever worth they wish to.
But there is a fetish for frontlist titles. Frontlist – those books which are going on sale now, the ones hitting the shelves this year. The Next Big Thing. (And no I don’t mean all of you reviewers; I’m prodding the general culture, not individuals.)
What about the backlist, the great books from four or five years ago, the ones that no longer sit on table displays or promotions. What about classic genre literature? How do novels compare over time? What lineage do certain novels take, and to what do they owe their inspiration?
Questions that will largely go unnoticed, especially if bloggers are entranced on a) finding the next big thing and b) free review copies (because these will be the titles the publishers want you to read)."This is an issue I've been aware of in the blogosphere for quite a while. Personally, I try to read and review both old novels and newer releases, as I appreciate that focusing purely on recent and upcoming releases doesn't give a decent portrayal of the genre. Then again, it's only natural for bloggers to focus on new books - by and large, these are the books we're sent to review.
Furthermore, fans are always looking for the next big thing - it's easier to get excited by a new book than an old one, as there's more buzz, more debate. To an extent, it's important as a blogger to have your finger on the pulse of the genre (although few of us can match Werthead for being first on the scene - sometimes I almost feel that he is the pulse, and the rest of us are actually just standing there touching him. Actually, scratch that - the mental picture is too disturbing).
But older works are hugely important to the genre. And I don't mean the usual suspects like The Lord of the Rings or Ghormenghast, but books like The Book of the New Sun, The First Book of Lankhamar and Viriconium (I'm using examples that you might have heard of - there's far more examples out there that are perhaps more pertinent, such as The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick). These are books that often had a big impact on more modern writers, and to varying degrees have helped shape the genre we know today. It would be a huge mistake to ignore them in favour of newer releases.
It ought to be pointed out though, that this lack of "backlist action" is not the fault of bloggers, and is not even a recent problem: before the rise of the online book review blog, we had forums (as we still do) and the conversation on these (as it still is) is geared almost entirely around new/recent books. So to put in into perspective, blogs haven't caused this problem so much as highlighted it.
While I'd like to see more blogs reviewing older books, I don't expect to see it happen. Heck, I don't even read enough older books myself (even though I want and try to) - too many shiny ARCs on my bookshelf pouting and winking at me. And make no mistake, these new books are the lifeblood of the genre, so it's hard to ignore them. Overall, I think the best policy is one of balance. Or perhaps not even that; maybe a 70/30 split in favour of new books. Still, it's a policy that I don't expect to see implemented any time soon, though I might try and give it a go.
Anyway, enough rambling. What do you all think? Are you interested in discovering older books and reading reviews of them on blogs, or are you only interested in the here and now? Or is a book a book, and its age of no importance? Interested to hear people's thoughts.
Be sure to check out the comments section on Mark's post - plenty of good debate there as always.