How to Offend Moms, Non-Moms, Housewives, Women over 50, Teens, & Genre Readers in a Single Sentence

Thanks to Serena for tweeting the link to this item, which got under a large expanse of book-blogger skin on Twitter yesterday, and to Sassymonkey for the tweet that inspired this post’s title.

Daniela Hurezanu shared some not-very-favorable impressions of last month’s Book Expo America on the website for Santa Cruz Weekly – but she provoked some not-very-favorable reactions with her characterization of the book bloggers she met there:

“BEA is a major event for the publishing industry also because there are many other concurrent events that are organized around it. Such an event was the Book Blogger Convention, which took place the day after BEA ended. Book blogging has become a subculture whose members are mostly women between 20 and 50 years old, often known as ‘mommy bloggers’ because they are housewives who blog about romance novels, horror/vampire stories and paranormal novels. Many of them have hundreds of followers on Twitter, and the result is that they have the power to establish new trends. And the publishing industry has started to take them seriously. They receive review copies from publicists, and the authors court them assiduously.

“At the Book Bloggers reception I met many girls in their early twenties who already have hundreds of followers on Twitter. As far as I could tell, I was the only person at the convention who doesn’t tweet. All these 20-year-old bloggers form a community that is replacing the traditional book reviewers; they know each other, read each other’s blogs and blog about the same books. So, in a paradoxical way, this subculture is even more limited in its interests than the mainstream media. Though, in theory, the Internet is a space of infinite diversity, in practice many communities reproduce the patterns that exist outside cyberspace. The main difference between the new book bloggers and the old book reviewers is that the former don’t have any literary ‘prejudices.’ They are children of pop culture and the mass media, and have transferred their interests onto the realm of books. Their electronic chatter will soon cover whatever is left of book reviewing.”

To be fair, there are a couple of things about book bloggers that Hurezanu didn’t get entirely wrong:

“…they have the power to establish new trends. And the publishing industry has started to take them seriously. They receive review copies from publicists, and the authors court them assiduously.” That was certainly borne out by the strong industry presence at Book Blogger Con.

And she’s not completely off-point in noting that “All these…bloggers form a community that is replacing the traditional book reviewers.” I’m not sure that’s accurate across the board, but in some cases, book bloggers have stepped up to discuss book genres that “traditional” reviewers have traditionally ignored; in others, we’re gaining acceptance among those more traditional reviewers.

But this is where she undermined her case and provoked a Twitterstorm:

“Book blogging has become a subculture whose members are mostly women between 20 and 50 years old, often known as ‘mommy bloggers’ because they are housewives who blog about romance novels, horror/vampire stories and paranormal novels.”

To begin with, Hurezanu should be made aware that while there are women who blog about their kids and their lives (but maybe not their books), many of them take exception to being called “mommy bloggers.” There are also many women who blog about books but do not have children, particularly in the “20-year-old” age bracket she mentions, and they – quite reasonably – take exception to the term “mommy bloggers” too. There are women with blogs (and kids) who blog about books (or other topics) and not about their kids; they’ve made a choice not to be “mommy bloggers,” and so they have their own reasons for taking exception to the term. And even among those women with blogs who blog about books, kids, and whatever else comes to mind, there can be some reluctance to accept the “mommy blogger” label. Being a mom with a blog does not necessarily make you a “mommy blogger.” (But it might make you a Mother(s) of Intention.)

In many circles, including some of those where it might seem to fit, “mommy blogger” is viewed as a belittling, pejorative label – much like “housewife,” come to think of it, but Jennifer has addressed that particular word choice already. It’s a term that can raise hackles even when it is applicable – and in describing the attendees of Book Blogger Con, it’s largely not. And I say this as a book blogger who has “swum in the shallows of the mom-blogger pool” for nearly three years, and has seen less overlap in the spheres than you might expect.

In a recent e-mail conversation, a friend called me a “matriarch of book blogging” – and although she acknowledged it was an odd choice of word, she figured I’d know what she meant.

I think I do. Having been at this for over four years now, I’m pretty sure I’ve entered the ranks of the “elders” of the book-blogging community. While there are blogs younger than mine that have far surpassed mine’s profile and popularity numbers-wise, this one has grown slowly and stayed on a pretty steady course, and I’d like to think it’s built up a fair amount of credibility along the way.

It’s also apt in terms of my own age, not just the blog’s, and that was something that resonated with me during BEA week. I am emphatically not a 20-something. I was undoubtedly one of the older bloggers there, and frequently I was the oldest member of any group I was with. I may have been the only one who noticed, and even if I’m wrong about that, I didn’t get the impression that anyone else particularly cared even if they did notice.

I’ve been a mom for almost 27 years, verging on 60% of my life – so yes, “matriarch” applies to me in more ways than one. True, I’m one blogger’s mother, but when it comes to blogging, we meet as peers. And many of my younger blogging friends have more solid, varied experience – as bloggers, as readers, as writers, as dwellers in the social-media landscape – than I do. Brought together by common interests, we learn and share on a mostly-level field where age really doesn’t seem to be anything but a number, and where there’s no educational or professional hierarchy.

And while we do broadly share an interest in books, there are definitely specific differences. There are certainly book bloggers – their age and marital status being immaterial to their reading preferences – who prefer to read and talk about “romance novels, horror/vampire stories and paranormal novels.” I don’t happen to be one of them myself, and I know plenty of others who aren’t either. There are book bloggers whose discussions of literary fiction, nonfiction, classics, and more attract strong followings – and those bloggers were present at Book Blogger Con. It wasn’t hard to find them and talk with them. We are a community of bloggers, but that does not mean we’re a monolith; there’s lots of variation within that community, and a far wider range of interests than Ms. Hurezanu seems to realize. And in my observation, the same applies to mom bloggers, whether or not they are also book bloggers.

Stereotypes often have a grain of truth in them, and like it or not, Hurezanu’s book-blogger stereotype isn’t completely fictional. But that truth only applies to a grain-sized portion and should not be extrapolated to the whole – that’s when it becomes a stereotype. Speaking as a mother, and a matriarch, I think there’s a lesson here: generalizing can be erroneous, and occasionally dangerous…particularly when it gets out on Twitter.

I’d like to reinforce that lesson with a few words from the Literate Housewife:

“We may now be considered media as a result of the digital age, but we began as readers who love all things books. If we all lived in the same neighborhood, we’d have one hell of an awesome book club. We don’t. Instead, we meet online. We discuss things on Twitter. We consume books. We love them. We support publishers large and small. We spend our money in local bookstores as well as at larger chains. We frequent public libraries. We are not girls. In fact, some of the best among us are men. We are in our teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. In that I could even be wrong. Why shouldn’t there be book bloggers in their 70s and 80s? I think every single one of us would agree that we’ll stop reading when we’re dead. Even then, heaven will be packed full of books.”

And it sounds like Ms. Hurezanu is fighting learning one other lesson, but she said it herself: The publishing world is taking book bloggers seriously. It’s time she, and other traditionalists, did too.

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