BuzzFeed has hired Isaac Fitzgerald to edit its books section.
The author Stephen Elliott convinced Fitzgerald to join the literary site The Rumpus, who said in a phone call he had been “just bouncing around” in San Francisco, working at Bucca di Beppo and AlterNet, “smuggling medical supplies into Burma” and working in a biker bar. He stayed at The Rumpus, which he co-owns, for four years and then joined McSweeney’s as its director of publicity.
He liked the McSweeney’s job, Fitzgerald said, “But I was missing the Internet, and I was missing what I do best, which is talk about books online.” He foresees a section built on “shareable content” and personal essays from authors — “things that people want to share but also can connect with,” he said, citing a quote from Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys”: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”
BuzzFeed will do book reviews, Fitzgerald said, but he hasn’t figured out yet what form they’ll take. It won’t do negative reviews: “Why waste breath talking smack about something?” he said. “You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip.” Fitzgerald said people in the online books community “understand that about books, that it is something that people have worked incredibly hard on, and they respect that. The overwhelming online books community is a positive place.”
He will follow what he calls the “Bambi Rule” (though he acknowledges the quote in fact comes from Thumper): “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
BuzzFeed launched its books section this past summer. At the time, Burton told me that it had no plans for a dedicated staff or traditional reviews. Fitzgerald will start in December and will move to New York. I asked him about whether he’d be a lonely bearded person among the publication’s staff. “I’m not gonna lie. Very early on I was a little worried. There are a lot of beardless dudes,” he said. “I saw some guys with some potential.”