The increase in numbers of what are still generally called "literary weblogs" has been really quite astonishing. When I started this blog 4 1/2 years ago, there were a few dozen such blogs, perhaps 15-20 of them blogs I tried to read regularly. (I still think of these as the "original" literary blogs, and many if not most of them are still around.) By now, there are so many literary weblogs, approaching all genres of writing, literary news and the publishing business, and the role of literary criticism and book reviewing from so many different angles and to so many different purposes that the very term "literary weblog" does seem hopelessly imprecise. And even if one wanted to keep up with all the blogs that concern themselves in one way or another with literature or criticism, that would now be almost impossible.
Some of the new blogs that have appeared in the last couple of years, in particular blogs such as Paper Cuts, The Book Bench, and The Book Room, all sponsored by various print publications, have not, in my opinion, contributed much to the development of the litblog as a medium, however. These blogs have only reinforced the most reductive and stereotyped views of the litblog as a source of superficial chitchat and literary gossip. Few of the posts on these blogs explore any issue in depth or examine any particular book with even cursory specificity. There is no attempt to provoke cross-blog critical discussion, either vis-a-vis specific posts or generically--of the blogs I have named, only The Book Bench even includes a blogroll, and it is very short and limited to the usual suspects. Whatever links that are provided are to the same old mainstream media stories to which so many other blogs are also linking and which, of course, ultimately only reinforces the supposed first-order authority of the kinds of print publication hosting the blogs in question. I don't know if I would go so far as to speculate that these newspaper and magazine-centered blogs are deliberately working to undermine the potential authority of literary blogs by creating examples demonstrating their vapidity, but the concept of the "litblog" they embody surely does trivialize what literary blogs have accomplished and might still accomplish.
Admittedly this concept was not created out of whole cloth by those operating these print-adjunct blogs. From the beginning, one model of the literary weblog has been the daily digest, brief entries on media-reported literary news along with links to specific news items or reviews or opinion pieces. Often enough, however, the blogger's underlying attitude toward the item at hand, the blogger's own literary sensibility, was really the point of such posts, and so even bloggers who stuck to the digest form usually managed to convey a point of view about the subject at hand--indeed, litblogs would never have captured the attention they did attract, prompting the appearance of these old-media blogs in response, if they hadn't offered a perspective on current books and other literay matters not to be found in existing media. Nevertheless, the literary blogosphere as a whole relatively quickly progressed beyond the daily digest, and while posting became less frequent it also became longer and more fully developed. If literary blogs have not exactly become substitutes for book reviews and critical journals, they have become sources of genuinely engaged literary discussion, ranging from conventional book reviews to both short and long-form critical analyses to full-blown scholarly essays. Combined with the ability through commenting and linking to extend critical discussion immediately and directly, the scope and the quality of literary blogs have allowed them, at least for me, collectively to supersede in interest and utility most of the remaining newspaper book review sections and those few magazines that still occasionally offer literary content. (I stopped reading scholarly essays published in academic journals a long time ago.)
As a way of noting the evolution of the literary weblog to its current form as a medium for serious literary inquiry (and as a way of calling attention to the retrograde assumptions of the old-media blogs), I have re-categorized my blogrolls to reflect the present state of the literary blog more accurately. I have made a basic distinction between what I would still call a "litblog" and the kind of more critically expansive blog I now think of as a "critblog." (Not all of the blogs listed under "critblogs" are focused only on literature.) The line I have drawn between the two is no doubt a little blurry in some instances, but the litblogs are the blogs that still fulfill some of the functions assumed by the first wave of literary weblogs but do so in a particularly enlivened and useful manner (I think them useful, at any rate), while the critblogs feature, either regularly or with some reliable frequency, posts explicitly intended as criticism. The latter may or may not be conventionally discursive literary criticism, but sheer length and adherence to the customs of critical writing are not the qualities I necessarily look for in a critblog. Quality of insight and/or specificity of analysis are what I hope to find. I will continue to identify blogs that exemplify these virtues and will add them to the blogroll as warranted.
And as a way of perhaps further contributing to the evolution of the litblog to the critblog and beyond, I am planning within a few months to inaugurate a new project that will, I hope, extend the reach of the kind of critical writing originating on blogs, the kind of writing to which I have mostly restricted myself on this blog, to encompass more formally-developed critical essays, specifically essays on contemporary American fiction. I intend to write some of the essays myself, but I would like to open up this new site (which will still be attached to The Reading Experience) to other contributors as well. However, unlike, say, Scott Esposito's The Quarterly Conversation--which has otherwise led the way in demonstrating what a web-based literary review can accomplish--I would like this site to focus not on new books but on books from the recent past (post-1980) that deserve additional close reading beyond the attention they received in their initial reviews, by writers who deserve careful consideration (perhaps more careful consideration than they've previously received) as writers whose work may last. At this point, the plan is for these essays to appear on an ongoing or rolling schedule rather than in separate "issues" so that the whole archive of posted essays would always be readily available. I am currently writing an essay on Russell Banks's Affliction, which will presumably be the first of such essays to appear, but I will have more information about this projected site in the very near future.
Finally, I have reconfigured my "literary criticism" blogroll to include in one place all of the non-blog websites I can find that offer reviews and criticism (not including newspaper book pages). The list contains both web-only publications and print publications that offer at least a significant portion of their content online. If there are other sites that might be added to the list, I would appreciate being notified of such.