The State of the Site: Year Three

Today is the third birthday of the Seattle Review of Books. One of the originating tenets of the site was: new writing every day. Every day, over the past three years, this is what we've delivered. Every day, something new, for you to read. Read, and we hope, enjoy.

We've run 271 reviews in that time. We've paid 155 writers, journalists, poets, and illustrators to bring critique, news, poetry, and reports from all corners of the book world. Occasionally, we antagonize some local authority. Mostly, we just write about how much we love books, and the people who write them, make them, read them, and sell them.

Our regulars are a treat: the spiderific advice of Cienna Madrid, the amazing, sweet, and colorful paintings of Christine Marie Larsen, the obtuse and scintillating dreams of Aaron Bagley, the thoughtful and mesmerizing post-it-notes of Clare Johnson, and, of course, our three columnists: Daneet Steffens, who covers murder and mayhem in Criminal Fiction, Nisi Shawl, whose view of science fiction in the Future Alternative Past is the one we most want to live in, and Olivia Waite, who has brought romance to these pages, where shocking little was before (when she came, we swooned at first read) in Kissing Books.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the incredible contribution our Associate Editor Dawn McCarra Bass brings to the site daily. You may (and should) read her Sunday Post, but there is far more behind the scenes where her fingerprints are not visible to the reader.

Our sponsorship program is better than ever. We sell out our run each year. Those sponsors help pay for everything you see here, the talent and words of everyone who we are lucky enough to publish. The best part? The sponsorships are good. Do you yourself a favor and click through each week. You'll be impressed (maybe so much that you'd like to sponsor us yourself?), and may find your next event or read.

What does it mean to run a critical review website in 2018? When Paul and I first started the site, we talked a lot about reviews in the days of GoodReads, Amazon, and other capsule sites. There are quick takes and aggregated stars that tell you how much, on average, a book was enjoyed.

But what does an aggregate review mean, really? It can't tell you what you will enjoy, because you are not an average, you are a person with distinct taste and style. You probably love something that many people don't love. Our taste is personal, intrinsic, and wonderfully obtuse.

A star rating culled from one hundred individual ratings can only tell you, en masse, what a bunch of consumers think. It's a perfect capitalist way of thinking about books: little market forces that have a commodifiable enjoyment rating.

No one here denies that books are a business (and should be a business), but books are not widgets, sprockets, or dolls. They are one of the few products in the world that the form underplays the function. A flat of best-selling hardbacks at Costco looks soulless; the same book in your hand at night brings you a life other than your own. You cannot sum the joy of a well-turned sentence with three stars because the plotting was clunky. You cannot, in five stars, capture the sensation of your hands shaking when you close the last page of a book whose every moment was sublime.

A good review, on the other hand, can be read before one reads the book, and after. It is like re-reading a book through someone else's eyes. "Is good / Is bad" has nothing to do with it — what was the experience? How did it enthrall or disappoint the writer? How did it change them?

Over time, reading reviews from the same person or publication, you get to know their voice and their taste. You may not agree or feel that their flavor is your flavor, but you have a baseline and an understanding. You know when a reviewer you love reviews a book they love, that you should make the effort to seek it out.

One person, with a distinct voice, is an incredibly powerful thing. That's what we try to capture here. That's what our goal is. Are we reaching that goal? That's for you to decide. You can let us know.

One thing is certain: it is a privilege to be where we are sharing this with you. Thank you for reading — whether you've been here from day one reading the stellar interview with Nicola Griffith that launched us, or just joined us yesterday to read Paul's take on the latest issue of Wonder Woman. We are grateful for your attention — the one precious resource we each control exclusively — and we hope to earn it daily.