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Litblog will connect writers to readers

Claudia La Rocco Associated Press

Call it Oprah Online.

Hoping to promote overlooked contemporary literary fiction, 20 literary bloggers have created Read This! Four times a year, the Litblog Co-op will share its pick with readers, with the first announcement coming today at www.lbc.typepad.com.

Los Angeles blogger Mark Sarvas, who runs the Elegant Variation Web site and conceived of the idea, said the group hopes to have a “measurable impact on the life of a book” in terms of discussion and sales.

While he wouldn’t reveal the initial nominees (there are five) in advance, he said that they include a novel in translation, experimental fiction and a graphic novel.

Two of the books are from major publishing houses and three are from “pretty small houses,” including Brooklyn-based Soft Skull Press.

“I’m absolutely delighted,” Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash wrote in an e-mail. “The lit blogs are now doing what e-mail and the Web couldn’t pull off: connect writers to readers more smoothly.”

Another nominee is published by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House. Senior publicist Michiko Clark said that, while Pantheon is excited to be among the picks, the house is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Because the nominated book will be published shortly, the current marketing campaign would not be affected. However, Clark said, “It may affect a second printing. If the co-op does take off, we may do something like put a line on the book. We’re watching very closely.”

Sarvas is realistic about the power of bloggers but cited buzz generated by online interest in Sam Lipsyte’s novel, “Home Land.”

“This gives us a chance to measure our ability to make a difference,” he said. “I believe we can. I have just been deluged with e-mails since we unveiled the main site.”

The online community, Sarvas said, remains disappointed by the “pack mentality” of mainstream media outlets, which tend to give much of their attention to the same titles. There has also been criticism about the “sameness” of National Book Award nominees.

The Co-op members limited their choices to literary fiction, short stories and graphic novels for the first round, but Sarvas said that everything about Read This! is open to change.

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