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Breaking Down

From: American Book Review
Volume 33, Number 5, July/August 2012
pp. 8-9 | 10.1353/abr.2012.0152

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Breaking Down
The Nervous Breakdown, Brad Listi, Founder and Publisher. http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com

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I’m feeling really old today, and I think reviewing a book blog has something to do with it. I’m thirty-two, which I guess isn’t too old, but I remember sending poetry submissions out to stapled print journals when I was eighteen. Online journals at the time were just starting to pop up, but lame graphic design and academia’s stress on print deemed them unworthy of serious consideration. I can still see my childhood bed—the white and blue comforter covered in about twenty different envelopes with stacks of five poems each, S.A.S.E.s (if you don’t know what that is, good for you!) placed under each pile.

The first book review journal I remember reading was called The Frank Review, published by Nathan Graziano and Lindsay Wilson. It was printed on several pages of plain paper, folded in half, and used only black ink. The Frank Review covered small-press poetry and fiction, had an interview or two, and included general small-press gossip. I fantasized about having my work reviewed in The Frank Review. It seemed unbelievably important. Looking back, I can’t imagine more than fifty people reading The Frank Review. How many did they actually print? At the time, it felt like millions.

I’ll say this now: online lit journals, book blogs, book review websites—whatever you want to call them—are a good thing. They’ve expanded the dialog in the world of literary freaks, and I’m personally grateful to have this one simple feeling: I can read about any book, any author, at any time I want. This doesn’t mean that everything online can’t feel completely overwhelming. The simplicity of The Frank Review, the wait for it to arrive in the mail, is something I do miss. Now, in the time span of ten minutes, my eyes can scan hundreds of articles, reviews, interviews, etc.

The Nervous Breakdown is a book blog that attempts to do just about everything and more. Gone are the days of The Frank Review. What does The Nervous Breakdown feel like? Imagine your Dad trying to carry all the Christmas presents from the car and up the driveway to your in-laws’, his arms holding a tall pyramid of wobbling boxes. It’s amazing and entertaining, and also tough to watch. It feels like something terrible is going to happen, but somehow he makes it inside, everything intact, and everyone gathers around and Dad has something for everyone. Hooray!

The Nervous Breakdown is a big book blog. It seems odd to try and critique here in print what you, the reader, can simply see by opening your computer, but I’m going to try, and I think writing this will give you some idea about the overwhelming amount of information there is on The Nervous Breakdown. For example, on the main page alone, there are twelve categories (ranging from “Book Reviews” to something called “Phone Pics”). Below the categories are the most recent entries—over 30 per page. To the left of this is “News and Events.” Below “News and Events” is “Podcasts.” And below “Podcasts” is “Recent Comments.”

All this is well and good—tons of information for writers and readers, intelligent essays, thought-provoking interviews, and some excellent fiction from a lot of writers I’ve never heard of. I spent over two hours clicking around The Nervous Breakdown finding new writing and genuinely being surprised at the many things the site has to offer.

To compare The Nervous Breakdown to any other book blog would seem unfair because The Nervous Breakdown feels like it is attempting to swallow every other book blog and digest it within the many categories it features. At its best, this leads to the search-and-be-surprised element I mentioned earlier. At its worst, the site is incredibly frustrating, with endless labyrinths of information that lead to the site possessing the identity of an all-you-can-eat buffet.

If you think I’m being too harsh on a book blog, I...