To some authors and critics, these moves amount to yet one more nail in the coffin of literary culture. But some publishers and literary bloggers — not surprisingly — see it as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books.Well, first off, I call shenanigans on that first sentence. From where I'm sitting, literary culture looks pretty healthy. Admittedly, my only way of gauging this is via the masses of excellent-looking books sitting on my to-read pile, as well as by the fact that I get to talk with all you nice folks out there every day about nothing but books, books, books. That's got to mean something, right?
Moving on to my main point, though, I've never really thought about sites like mine out-and-out replacing traditional media. Though, come to think of it, with the exception of The Times, I don't actually read print media as it relates to books. Why not? Well, this bit from the article pretty much sums it up:
Edward Champion, who writes about books on his blog, Return of the Reluctant (edrants.com), said that literary blogs responded to the "often stodgy and pretentious tone" of traditional reviews.Over a year ago, I said pretty much the same thing, but I used a lot more words:
Because they appear on the printed page alongside articles about world events and local news, book reviews have somehow got it in their head that they are pieces of journalism. As such, writers of book reviews dwell in sensory deprivation tanks where their analysis of each book they read can percolate in a bubble of hermetically sealed objectivity.I still stand by all that, but it's not surprising that some folks in the literary community aren't thrilled about the rise of book blogging and the dearth of "real" criticism:
Now, out here in the real world where a few of us live, books are read under slightly different conditions: while standing on buses, in hurried snatches in doctors' waiting rooms, while waiting anxiously for a phone call after a job interview, on beaches with a glass of sangria wedged firmly in the sand next to your towel, blurry-eyed by the light of the nightlight while rocking a teething baby.
Books are also obtained in different circumstances that affect our emotional response to them: as gifts from beloved friends or pass-alongs from hated co-workers, as found objects in rental cabins, in the mail from the bloody book-of-the-month club you keep forgetting to cancel, in the bowels of a used bookstore after years of searching.
There are a thousand other factors that make our experience of a book highly subjective: a dislike of certain authors and genres, a tactile distaste for hardcovers or for paperbacks, an irrational prejudice against a character because they share a name with someone you loathe, and even -- yes, it's true -- a visceral reaction to a book's cover.
So why, then, the pretense of objectivity, a pretense that's all the more ironic and unnecessary given that book lovers are the first people you can rely on to appreciate and understand -- and enjoy -- the environmental and emotional factors that colour your experience with a book?
Here's another thing about so-called book reviews: why is it so damn hard for reviewers just to come out and say if the book was good or not? Really, isn't that kind of the point of a book review? I don't need to read an essay that proves how clever you are. I just want to read enough of your writing to know if you're clever enough to trust with my next reading decision, then give me a yay or nay. Is that so hard? It seems like too many book reviewers are writing for the benefit of other book reviewers, or for publishers, or for some imaginary English prof who haunts their laptop. Somehow, the actual readers get lost in the crowd.
Coming as it does at a time when newspaper book reviews are endangered, many writers, publishers and critics worry that the spread of literary blogs will be seen as compensation for more traditional coverage. “We have a lot of opinions in our world,” said John Freeman, president of the National Book Critics Circle. "What we need is more mediation and reflection, which is why newspapers and literary journals are so important."Sure, maybe. Though it's interesting to me that, in a community where credentials are hazy and experts seem largely to be self-appointed (in both the print and online worlds), it doesn't seem to have occurred to critics of book blogs that book bloggers might also be capable of "mediation and reflection."
I'm not dancing on the grave of mainstream media. It seems like there are opportunities here... opportunities for newspapers and journals to look to the online literary community and see what makes it so dynamic and satisfying, and then apply these qualities to their own publishing. Like, would it be too horribly demeaning to write in a colloquial, reader-friendly way? Would it be so absolutely awful to publish reviews online and, gasp, allow readers to comment on them? Would it be utterly pointless to let reviewers write about books that aren't current releases?
The internet allows for so many things that print does not: immediacy, interactivity, hyperlinking. I think it's possible for a forward-looking journal publisher to take advantage of all these qualities and still retain its editorial integrity. But what do I know. I'm just a book blogger.