The End of CONTEXT?

I’m not sure if this is accurate or not, but a reader just alerted us to the new Dalkey Archive website pointing out that the “blog” is called the CONTEXT Blog, possibly signaling the end of CONTEXT magazine. This may just be speculation on their part, though it is true that the last issue of which came out sometime early last year . . .

There’s no real explanation in the “posts,” although there is a cryptic mention of “plans for something a bit more involved in the future” so maybe this “blog” will evolve into something as rich and rewarding as CONTEXT once was. (I just noticed that the last issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction is from last summer, but in that case I know that a special issue on “New Catalan Fiction” should be out this month—there’s an event at the PEN World Voices celebrating it—so at least one of the critical publications Dalkey does is still coming out.)

I feel like Dalkey has put me in a funny position though . . . We’re often pretty critical of websites and digital book initiatives that are misguided or all messed-up (see E.J.‘s post about Zinio for instance. (And people usually think I’m the fierce and mean one . . . ) and this site is a mess of the highest order. As a former Dalkey employee though, I respect what the press publishes and hate seeming overly critical of it.

Nevertheless, this is such a poor showing of a redesign that in the issue of fairness, I have to point out a few critical issues.

First off, the positives: the shopping cart is very nice. And incorporating Google Books into the site is useful and pretty slick.

Negatives? The fact that you can’t search the site is a bit dismaying (that really is a pretty essential item, especially with all the author interviews online) and the fact that all linked text is black (and therefore indistinguishable from the rest of the text) is, uh, unforgivable. The “blog” should have a space for comments. On a more technical note, this site is laid out in tables. Seriously. Hello 1996, meet Dalkey Archive. Dalkey Archive, welcome to 1996.

At least there are still really good books coming out, although it’s unfortunate that the spring list is hidden in the news section and consists of 10 works of fiction/literature and 5 “Scholarly Series” books. (In the past the Scholarly titles were often subvented by the author and are mostly academic books that don’t generally appeal to a broad audience.)

The books I’m most excited about are: Knowledge of Hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes (which we just reviewed), I’d Like by Amanda Michalopoulou (which I wrote the NEA grant for, but haven’t read), Diary of a Blood Donor by Mati Unt (who also wrote Things in the Night) and the reprint of Monsieur by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (which is no Bathroom but is very good). Not so sure about the Nicholas Delbanco book, which, with its hardcover and paperback editions, may be subvented. (Could be wrong though—this just jumps out at me.)

Overall, a decent spring list, but totally mediocre website.

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