Top Six Blogs That Challenge Me

A little while ago I named three of the blogs that make me happy, along with some that I find cool for other reasons. A few more that I find interesting and useful include Bookslut, Gambols & Frolics (really a messageboard, but lots of great book discussion here), Cursor, Shaken & Stirred, Skullring, and the awesome Forbidden Planet.

But what I really want to talk about this time are blogs that challenge me. These are blogs that engage me, make me uncomfortable at times, force me to think about stuff, and just generally provoke a response. I know if I visit them, I may get mired down in posting comments, get pissed off, be delighted, etc.

The Mumpsimus – I love Matt Cheney’s blog because frequently he expresses an opinion on something that’s similar than mine, but he’s able to do so in a less confrontational but just as effective way. I also love his curiosity and his intellect and his sense of humor. He also introduces me to books I never would have heard of before, and I value his honesty about what he reads.

Lakeshore – Jay Lake has a multitude of interests, all of which show up on his livejournal. He’s also transparent about the writing life while still being professional about it. His blog generally challenges me in the way he breaks down writing into quantifiable chunks, creates charts, talks about his process and word count. It challenges me because my working methods are usually so different, and there are parts of process and writing I don’t talk about because, for me, to do so is to kill whatever I’m working on. But Lakeshore is valuable in making me see a different point of view, because I know Jay is equally as passionate and driven as I am about writing.

Of Blog of the Fallen – Larry’s blog is great for encountering interesting analytical opinions about a wide variety of fantastical books. I value this blog because Larry doesn’t have an agenda and he’s not a writer or editor in the field, so there’s not even a hint of favoritism toward anything in particular. Even when I disagree about his opinion, his posts make me think.

Notes from the Geek Show – I don’t actually read Hal Duncan’s blog–I just sample it–because the entries are so long. It’s all brilliant stuff that makes me think, but what I really want is all of it in a nonfiction book so I can read it at my leisure. The real challenge, though, on my monitor, is to squint at the text, which disappears against the relatively dark background. This is probably the closest thing to an electronic book of essays on the internet, though. I will confirm its brilliance as soon as the bound hardcopy appears.

Torque Control – Niall Harrison’s blog constantly vexes me by being erudite and engaging on the one hand and annoying on the other. Opinions about books challenge me. Posts about various awards systems either put me to sleep or make me feel like I’m looking down into a cave at the bottom of a very remote valley that’s been lost to civilization for so long that the inhabitants have developed some extremely odd habits. I have actually taken this one off my blog roll because I could spend several frothing-at-the-mouth hours a week commenting on various things here. The very definition of challenging, really.

Asking the Wrong Questions – Abigail Nussbaum is an intelligent, curious, interesting reviewer. I read her blog with fascination and a certain amount of “No, no, no–you’re wrong!” angst (probably because when she’s right, she’s sooo right [note how sure I am that I’m right; ha!). You can’t help but engage because Nussbaum has a–gasp!–point of view and can express it eloquently. Even when I’m gnashing my teeth because I think, for example, she’s totally wrong about George R.R. Martin, I can still see her point. I don’t believe we should read stuff that always affirms our opinion of the universe–that’s the way toward self-congratulation–and so I appreciate having Nussbaum out there. In some odd way, I almost appreciate it more when I disagree with her.

14 comments on “Top Six Blogs That Challenge Me

  1. Larry says:

    Thanks for the shoutout, Jeff, but I do have an agenda with my posts. It’s not so much trying to promote one book, author, or publisher as it is trying to engage people and to give some of my readers (those from the wotmania and Westeros forums) something a bit different than what they may have encountered. But most of all, you nailed it – I want people to think about the books I’ve reviewed or about whatever topic du jour has caught my attention. Blame grad school for that one, though!

    And it’s nice seeing the others here, as I do visit/lurk at most of these as well, including Gabe Mesa’s board, where it was nice to see that he was almost the only other person I’ve encountered online who was promoting Roberto Bolaño’s work before the English translations. Speaking of those, you probably would enjoy reading The Savage Detectives if you haven’t already. I don’t know the quality of the English translation, but based on what I’ve heard from others, sounds like the translator captured most of Bolaño’s inventive prose.

  2. I’ve had The Savage Detectives on my radar ever since an article in Harpers. Still haven’t acquired it, though.

  3. Larry says:

    I bought it back in late 2004 and its prose, lovely as it is, was almost too overwhelming for me when I read it in Spanish (that’s a knock on my fluency, not the book’s “difficulty”). I’m planning on re-reading it for the third time later this year and I usually don’t re-read a book that many times. Let me know when you read it, okay?

  4. Jonathan K Stephens says:

    Hi Jeff,

    It’s not exactly a blog, but check out Dan Simmons Feb/March 2008 Message to Readers ( if you want to read one of the most erudite essays on the current state of genre fiction. It’s a masterpiece.



  5. I had no idea you stopped by Gambols & Frolics. I love it for it’s lack of angst (a nice change from the ol’ Dead Cities). Just pure book chat, and good quality stuff.

    Except the shit I recommend. *g*

  6. Oh, yeah–I check out Gambols every couple of days. Love it. I never figured out how to login, and that’s been nice because I much prefer just reading other people’s posts on it.


  7. Larry says:

    I still need to get around to registering a name and dropping by there, as the vibe is so much more relaxed and positive than what I’ve seen at most forums. Maybe I’ll do that after Ezboard upgrades again.

  8. It’s EZBoard, so you need one of their accounts, which I would avoid like the plague now that G&F is the last board to run on them. Apparently it’s being moved to Yuku in the next week, which looks like forums meets MySpace, so I don’t know if it will migrate elsewhere.

  9. Urgh. Pardon me, my extraneous ‘ is showing. “its lack of angst”, cleary!

  10. Larry says:

    OK, I’ll wait and see then how the transition goes before registering.

  11. James says:

    I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but Savage Detectives was definitely the book of the year for me. Amazingly powerful, and a little confounding, too. It’s somehow a tight, compelling slapdash sprawl.

    I’m looking forward to the translation of his 2666 more than anything else in recent memory, which may mean I’ll be crushingly disappointed, but I’m willing to take the chance. I haven’t studied Spanish since college, but I think I’ll track down a copy in the original just to tide me over.

  12. Larry says:

    I’m waiting until I have the money to spare to get 2666, but it’ll probably be in the original, since I’d rather read Spanish-language works in the original whenever possible. So sad that Bolaño wrote all those books, stories, and poems and died of cancer just when they were beginning to be published.

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