Welcome to Chapter 16, an online journal about the literary side of life in Tennessee. There’s a certain irony in the whole concept of a website devoted to celebrating books. (Wags might claim there’s also an irony in the concept of a literary life in Tennessee.) The Internet can be a dispiriting place, where total cranks and nincompoops effortlessly assume the mantle of authority, and anonymous comments savage the most enlightened points of view. Internet publications tend to be instantaneous and often incompletely considered — the very opposite of a book. Plus, it’s a sensory wasteland, lacking the satisfying heft of a book, the rustle of pages, the lovely scent of glue and ink.
But with newspapers shuttering book pages all across America, readers hoping for news about writers not named Dan Brown must turn increasingly to book-centered sites like IndieBound and Beatrice.com, and to blogs like Maud Newton and Bookslut. Like those sites, among many others mushrooming around the blighted landscape of old-media book coverage, Chapter 16 aims to use what’s best about the web — the feeling of community, the opportunity to get news out fast — to promote what’s best about books. Because this is a project of Humanities Tennessee, we’re focusing on Tennessee writers. Here you’ll find book reviews, interviews, and profiles featuring the home team — and original essays and poems by our authors, too. But we’re taking a very broad definition of “our” writers: Once a Tennessean always a Tennessean, as far as we’re concerned, so look for stories about all kinds of writers with a Tennessee connection, present or past, and news of notable out-of-state writers who are giving readings or signing books anywhere in the state, as well. Be sure to register on the site so you can make comments and send us feedback — about what we’re doing right and where we could stand to shape up a little. Think our reviewer totally nailed a nuanced and complicated book? We want to know — and we want to hear, too, when you think we’ve missed the mark. One of the best things about the Internet is that book reviews on the web aren’t pronouncements from on high. They’re conversation starters, the first volley in a back-and-forth we hope to have with you, and that we hope you’ll have with each other. Every Thursday we’ll post new stories like those you see today. And watch for a raft of new features that we’ll be rolling out, one at a time, all fall: original poems by Tennessee poets, profiles of book clubs around the state, photo features of bookcases and nightstands owned by folks whose lives you might like a peek into, podcasts from the Southern Festival of Books and other author events, even a searchable database of all the writers our state has produced, along with biographies and links to more information about them. And that’s just for starters. So poke around while you’re here, write a comment or two, and then make a note to check back next week. At Chapter 16, the conversation is just beginning.