I was able to fool myself for a while… six months, nine months. Maybe he’s busy, I thought. I know he’s got a lot of other things to do. At first I’d keep checking, full of hope—today? Well no, OK. He has a lot on his mind. Maybe next week? But eventually, you can’t delude yourself any more. You know it’s over. Time to move on. There are other blogs on the internet.
But… Bookninja was special. It was one of the first blogs I followed, for one thing, back in a more innocent day when they were a whole lot fewer and farther between, when the prevailing ethos was Why not? rather than Why bother? In 2003, when George Murray started up his smart and witty literary site, people still laughed at the word “blog.” Well, I did. But a little laughter doesn’t stop Ninjas. As George described it over at the National Post’s Afterword last week:
Along with one of my best friends, novelist Peter Darbyshire, I decided to create a website for our group of friends to visit. We came up with a silly name, designed a logo and site, posted some links to articles along with our usual saucy commentary, and added an area for discussion. The initial announcement that we’d launched a website probably went out to 25 people. Within two months, several hundred people were visiting the site, which we’d dubbed Bookninja. Within two years, traffic had grown to thousands.
And that’s not surprising. George and his fellow Ninjas, Peter Darbyshire and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, were not only on the scene at the right time but they had the right voice, the proper ratio of serious news to humor, the correct dash of snark (which is to say: generous). And a rapid-fire delivery—Bookninja was always timely. You could almost hear the teletype machines in the background, and I always got the sense of George hovering over the keyboard, poised to snap up the latest literary news and break it to the rest of us. In fact, I may not have been so far from the truth about the hovering part. Now that I’ve been blogging for a few years I’m far more appreciative of just how much sheer grunt work it takes to stay current:
It was an exciting place to visit, but for those of us running it, the pressure was on. If I was late posting the links, I’d get angry emails from readers asking why there’d been a delay. “Listen, buddy,” I wanted to write back, “It’s a thing we do for FREE in our SPARE TIME!” But, of course, that was the problem—we ran the site around our other work and obligations.
And you can’t really argue with that. It seems like George just finished promoting his last book, Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms, and here he is announcing his upcoming collection, Whiteout. The world is a better place for poetry. But still, it’s hard not to feel a touch of wistfulness for Bookninja’s passing.
Full disclosure: I was a stand-in Ninja in the summer of 2009, when George took an actual week off, and it was a gas. Blogging may be a solitary act, but the sense of audience always lurks below the surface. Yes, I know, I have an audience here—although Like Fire was only the barest gleam in my eye at that point—but this was bigger, not to mention international. It was being read all over Canada! I felt so cosmopolitan, and honored to fill even a small Ninja shoe for the week.
I do take issue with one point of George’s farewell address, though, and that’s his statement that ”Bookninja was still well-read, but it wasn’t really ‘needed’ like it once was. The void it had filled was no longer a void.” We’re going to have to part company there, because I think there’s always a need for snappy, sharp commentary in the crazy literary world, and the blog’s closing is going to leave a major void of its own. But you’re supposed to leave ‘em wanting more, and Bookninja has certainly done that. Thanks for the blog, George and Peter and Kathryn. Supposedly you never stop being a Mouseketeer, and I know I’ll always be a Ninja ’til the day I die. The site’s motto was “No Book is Safe.” Well, it’s a safer world for books now, but a sadder one for the rest of us. Thanks, Ninjas.