By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Mark Sarvas, the unwitting bad-boy blogger of the popular lit blog The Elegant Variation, is doing his part to keep the novel alive. People throw down on his site like they’re defending the Bloods and Crips, not Banville and Amis. His own recently released first novel, Harry, Revised, is no less polarizing. It was skewered in the New York Times Book Review, but Sarvas is taking it gracefully. And why shouldn’t he? He has a loyal daily Web viewership of 8,000 strong and plenty of shoulders to cry on, if he were the crying sort, which he isn’t. And yes, Sarvas is in discussions to turn Harry into a film, as befits a former screenwriter living in Pacific Palisades. We met at his home there to discuss the blog, the book and the state of all things literary.
(Click to enlarge)
L.A. WEEKLY: Literary blogging has grown exponentially over the past few years. How do you think it has impacted the world of letters?
MARK SARVAS: It has opened up the conversation, to people who before would be sitting at home with their books and experiencing this passion for literature with no outlet for it. Now with the proliferation of lit blogs, there’s a book blog for every flavor. If you like science fiction, mysteries, romance, you can pick your poison. It serves as a virtual salon.
Do you find that the power balance has shifted? There is a sense, with lit blogs, of the seizing of the means of production.
There is, but I wonder if the power is a bit ... illusory? My blog has a great deal of visibility, but I’m not finding that the turnout for my events is necessarily much higher than for any other literary-fiction book tour coming through town. I’m starting to get a sense of what the limits of our power are.
But The Elegant Variation certainly took off.
It did. Part of what made my blog a destination was my ability to get interviews with Andrew Sean Greer, John Banville. Conversations with authors like David Leavitt. But the paradox is, I became able to get those conversations because of the growing visibility of my blog. Whereas any beginning blog today would be unlikely to get that kind of time with A-list authors.
Did you feel like the NYT Book Review write-up was fair?
It’s an interesting sign that when someone is so off-the-charts mean, Gawker comes to your defense. That should tell you something about the review. I’m confident that smart readers will know that it’s more about [reviewer] Troy Patterson than it is about my book. He didn’t particularly engage with the material. My only regret is that the Times chose to assign it to a sitcom and pop-music critic.
Whom would you have wanted to review it?
I would have wanted James Wood. But I knew he wouldn’t, because we had corresponded and had enough personal contact that he wouldn’t feel comfortable taking it on. The problem is, now that I’m in this world of book reviewing, I know too many people. I’d be interested to know what Michiko Kakutani thinks about it, but I’m unlikely to find out, as I’ve been critical of her on the blog.
You’ve been critical of a few people, including writer Steve Almond, with whom you’ve been in a colorful cyber war for the past four years. Did you really start your blog because of him?
No. Think of all the power that would grant Steve Almond. I don’t want to be known as the blogger who hates Steve Almond. And I don’t hate Steve Almond, by the way. I started the blog because there was an interesting literary discussion that I wanted to be part of. And I noticed things were missing from that: an L.A. focus, certain European writers I enjoy. And I began with a declaration of principles, and one of those was James Woods thumbs up, Steve Almond thumbs down. And it rather ballooned out of control after that.
Almond took you to task for your use of the royal “we.”
You want to know why do I write the “we”? I always loved the old New Yorker Talk of the Town pieces and that voice. But the core of it is a little bit of insecurity. I’m often asked, and wondered, and I’m sure Steve Almond is asked and wondered, why anyone would give a crap about what I think about anything. What are my credentials? What entitles me to hold forth and bloviate on literature? Subconsciously, I feel like the “we” invests me with a little more authority than I naturally deserve. There’s safety in numbers. There’s strength in numbers. It now fits like an old glove. But I know there are people who are instantly put off by it.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city