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The Blogerati Files: Bookninja

This week in the Blogerati Files, George Murray, poet and an editor of Bookninja .

Describe your blog in 10 words or less.
The internet's deadliest book site.

Why did you start blogging?
I started blogging with a friend, but now continue on my own, because our group of young writers and editors that hung out at a particular pub in Toronto were starting to move away from the city to parts unknown and blogging was a good way of keeping the conversations going over vast distances. People could check in when they liked, but didn't feel obligated to respond as they would have with email. I had admired MobyLives, an American book blog for years before I started Bookninja in August of 2003. August 11, was our first post, I think. Since then we've added a magazine component with essays, reviews, interviews, and discussion pieces, as well as a section of crappy, but funny, comics I drew. We're really enjoying audio interviews right now, but are working on all kinds of print pieces too. The editor of the Magazine section is my good friend, the novelist Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, who lives in High Park.

How long have you lived in Toronto?
I have mostly lived in Toronto off and on for about 15 years. Between my stints there, I've lived in Italy and Manhattan. I just moved to St. John's, Newfoundland. Moving for me is now just a matter of plugging my wires into different walls. My spiritual home is still Toronto.

What's the funniest/strangest thing that has happened to you in Toronto? Did you blog about it?
I don't blog about my daily life so much, but rather about book and publishing news. Occasionally I pepper this with personal anecdotes and facetious commentary. The tone is irreverent and insouciant and can at times mimic the cynicism and world-weariness of the jaded publishing veteran. I did once have an old lady die right in front of me while I was buying stamps at a post office at St. Clair and Bathurst. She waved me ahead while fishing around for change in her purse. She said, "Go ahead dear... I'm in no rush." Those were her last words. She fell over from old age about ten seconds later. Can you believe it?

What are some of the changes in Toronto that you have seen in your lifetime?
The smog has become so unbearable that my four-year-old can't be outside without a runny nose. Sad. But some of my favourite areas have cleaned up and are coming up. Parkdale, Cabbagetown, my old neighbourhood at Bathurst/St. Clair. I don't really like the direction my other old 'hood, The Annex, is headed. It's like what happened to Queen Street West.

What era, day or event in Toronto's history would you like to re-live and why?
Kerry Fraser's no call on Gretzky's high sticking of Gilmour in game six of the '93 cup. I'd be in the audience with a sniper rifle.

Who's your favourite Torontonian?
Dennis Lee.

Do you have a favourite post from your blog? Do you know your blog's most visited post?
We now get about 6,000 individuals visiting each day, so it's a pointless hard to track individual posts. Our traffic is bigger than we ever dreamed or intended it would be. It's just sort of snowballed into a big thing. That's why we have advertisers lined up for space. Though, there was one contentious post (I had to turn off comments) called something like "Margaret Atwood vs Stephen Harper".

Have you had your 15 minutes yet?
I've just begun. I'm hoping the 15 minutes will be measured in Biblical time. Also, as a writer myself (I have four books of poetry in the world looking for homes, please buy one), I'm not so much concerned about my fame as a blogger. It's just something I do as a community service and for fun.

Ever met a stranger who already knew you through your blog? If so, how did it go?
I meet people like this all the time, especially in the big centres like New York and Toronto. Where ever there are writers, readers and publishing people, people seem to be reading Bookninja. It's strange because, for some reason, not nearly as many people comment on the site as read it, so I don't have a real clue from my office of what's being talked about or picked up in the outside world. But then I get to some function and people start going on about this or that that I wrote. It's kind of nice and kind of scary. I even once overheard someone talking about me and the blog but they didn't know that I was sitting right there. It was all good stuff,
but scary, like I said.

Bookninja's been cited or name-checked by major news outlets like the London Guardian, Time Magazine, the New York Times, etc. etc., so that's a little bit like being recognized by people I don't know, I think.

Who are your favourite bloggers?
I like Jessa Crispin of Bookslut and Maud Newton of her eponymous site and Ed Champion of Return of the Reluctant. I also like the people at BoingBoing and then some less-famous blogs of friends and family.

What's happening in Toronto right now that the rest of us should be watching?
Toronto FC! I can't believe a football club started up just as I was leaving. Sad.

If your blog were a food, what food would it be?
Fugu. Delicious and possibly poisonous.

Speaking of food, do you have a favourite Toronto lunch spot?
Future Bakery at Bloor and Brunswick.

If you could gather all of the bloggers of the world together into one room and tell them one thing, what would it be?
"Welcome. I think you'll find the exits firmly secured and a ceiling full of spikes descending slowly...."

Have any advice for would be bloggers? What do you think is the best route to raise a blog's profile?
Update several times a day with good new material. It's about personality, quality of content and frequency. If people know the product is going to be good and going to be consistent, they will return, and bring friends.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Try to be civil in your commentary -- try to communicate with others on the web with as much respect as you'd realistically pay if they were standing right in front of you.


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