For a couple years before I started writing Isak back in 2006, I was a regular reader of a handful of literary blogs that, as it turned out, were my inspiration for getting in on the game. I remember discovering that lit blogs existed, these remarkable portals of smart, funny, bookish news and commentary, and how immediately I knew them to be a home. These blogs were the first beat of my day in the mornings. I made up an excuse to talk to many of the folks behind these blogs via interviews for an article I agreed to write on spec (never again) for a certain writerly publication, and as I asked them about the rhythm of their lit blogging, their contributions to the literary conversation, I think I knew all along that I was really asking for guidance to what I wanted to do myself.
Among my early initiators and mentors, whether he knew it or not, was poet George Murray of the belated and beloved Bookninja. Bringing a brilliant and distinctly Canadian voice to the public conversation on literature, Bookninja came alongside my cup of black tea each morning.
But the site abruptly ceased a year ago this month. My constant refreshings did nothing to stimulate new content. In the National Post, Murray writes about the project of Bookninja, as well as why, finally, he moved on.
At its peak, Bookninja’s unique brand of comedic literary commentary reached more than 10,000 people a day. It seemed like everyone in the publishing industry, from writers to editors to publicists to librarians, was reading Bookninja. We were mentioned, quoted and profiled in newspapers and magazines not just in Canada but around the world. I was invited to speak at conferences. Publishers lined up around the block to get their books mentioned on the site — the number of free
review copies got so overwhelming that I held parties at my house during which I’d put out Rubbermaid tubs full of books and demand people leave with at least three or four.
Over the years, I’d been in talks with various bigshots about buying the site, but the problem with selling a brand like Bookninja is that the brand is, well, me. So, a year ago Saturday, I posted one last time. There was no goodbye message. No real explanation of why I was calling it quits. To the readers, it must have seemed like the site went out with a whimper, but it was a shocking relief to me.
In the end, it was a good run, and lots of people had fun. A successful poet in Canada can count on between 500 and 750 readers over the life of a book; a mid-list novelist doesn’t get many more. My brand of literary stand-up comedy was earning thousands and thousands of readers each day. It wasn’t translating to sales at the till (it’s poetry, people, come on), but it certainly made me feel good at parties when people came up to say hi. Do I miss it? Sometimes. But mostly not. To paraphrase The Doors when they were told they’d not be invited back on The Ed Sullivan Show: Hey, man, I was the Bookninja.
I appreciate Murray's honesty in plain-saying that he doesn't particularly miss Bookninja, even as the rest of us do. There is something -- well, poetic about calmly understanding that sometimes it is time to stop.
I don't think I ever publicly thanked Bookninja or the other sites that lured me into what has been nearly six years of adventure and joy here at Isak, so let me do so now. Thank you, Bookninja. And thank you too, Moorish Girl (Laila Lalami now occasionally blogs here), The Elegant Variation, Literary Saloon, Bookslut, Maud Newton, the site now called Reluctant Habits), and Beatrice. You meant more to me than you know.
I am so grateful.