Back then, the basic unit of Internet buzz was the blog entry. Blogs, which today seem so quaint, gave you the chance to stretch out and make case for… well, whatever the oppressive world of printed matter wouldn’t give you the space to do. When it came to books, a blog post was, at minimum, a relatively stable bit of online enthusiasm. Like happy locusts, or any locusts at all, enough of them could keep you up at night, or blot out the sky. The best ones, though, were well-considered reviews that—even when they didn’t carry the imprimatur of a famous name or publication—put into circulation an account of your book by someone who had read it. Acknowledgment is one thing; that’s why authors lose sleep over landing in the NYRB. Blogs, though, allow for a wide, wide net of coercion, or if you want to be democratic about it, a variety of critical accounts.
Criticism isn’t just a way of conserving time and energy. It’s also an important translation skill. It’s easy to piece together a review that relies solely on comparisons and referents; it’s also bad writing and altogether useless for anyone who doesn’t already know the author, or run in exactly the same circles, taste-wise. A review is, in theory, helpful. That’s what language is for: it makes a movie, record, book, or film into a universal. This kind of communication is tied into consumerism, to be sure, but it’s also part of why—even as all authority comes crashing down—criticism matters. People want to understand, or be advised.