Rant: book bloggers harm literature…

September 26, 2012

So says the chair of Man Booker prize judges, Peter Stothard. You can read The Guardian article here.

I don’t usually weigh in on the arguments spawned by articles like this. I’ve been a journalist and I know how spin works: put a sting in the title, irk the minority, kick back and enjoy the backlash. Controversy sells. So does smut, bitching and pixelated photos of topless royals. A savvy journo can lead you off on a tangent that was never intended by the interviewee. My blog title—that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?

Anyway, I think this dude is talking about the kind of literary reviews that are more endangered by budget cuts and the death of print media than a bunch of booklovers talking about books. Personally, these types of print reviews don’t speak to me. I don’t read many of them because they’re not reviewing the kinds of books I like to read. Let’s face it—YA books and popular fiction aren’t generally given 1000 word pieces in newspapers, arts supplements or magazines and, if they are, I’m still not likely to read them because they’ve been reviewed by expert, adult reviewers. They’re measured, professional and considered responses—but I want to know whether a reader has laughed or cried, if they have a book hangover, or if they’re so riled that they’ve used the pages for toilet paper. I like more heart and less polish in my book reviews—but that’s just me.

Literary reviewers and book bloggers can co-exist without having to justify their existence; they’re usually not even hanging in the same playground. People who read literary reviews are not being dazzled by something new and pretty and easily-digestible. They’re not switching allegiance and the effect of reviews is not being watered down by the sheer number of book blogs. Books that don’t fit the criteria for traditional review might disappear without the discussion created by book bloggers. I believe more people are talking about books than ever. How can this be harmful to literature (unless we’re talking about serious literature, in which case it raises a whole new argument about literary snobbery)?

As a booklover, I respond to reviewers who speak my language and review the books I love to read. I seek out like-minded readers and begin to appreciate their style, to trust their judgment and to buy the books they recommend. For most readers it’s a relationship, not a fickle bed-hopping jaunt or a mass exodus from the traditional review arena.

This guy needs to give readers more credit. Apart from the odd few who gravitate to wherever the online drama is unfolding, most of us booklovers are pure of heart—we find our level and play in our own playground. We haven’t ditched reading literary reviews because we were never reading them to begin with. The proliferation of book blogs—particularly with a focus on YA fiction—is a case of supply meeting demand.

I’d even venture to say that those who think this article has a valid point are the same people who believe literary writing is the pinnacle of storytelling and that the rise of YA fiction and publishing phenomena like Harry Potter and 50 Shades is proof of society dumbing down. Bollocks. Readers are individuals with diverse tastes and book reviews should reflect that diversity. For a long time, print reviews have been skewed towards big names and literary fiction and non-fiction—now there’s something online for everybody.

Saying book blogging is harming literature is oversimplifying a complex shift in the way we’re reading and the way we communicate. I think everything finds a balance once freedom of expression is allowed. Literature will always be written and read, and readers will talk about it. Now the conversation is more widespread and immediate. Surely the form is less important.

 

Categories: Books, Rant, Reading, Vikki Wakefield, Tags:

Comments

  1. 's Avatar
    Thanks so much for this amazing post. It expresses so many of the same opinions I was discussing with friends on Twitter the day this story broke. I think many of Mr. Booker Man's statements came from frustration with a medium--print media--that is fighting for both funding and relevance. He seems completely out of touch with the way people receive their information in this day and age, and I would say that those who are struggling to find an audience need to seriously re-examine the content they are providing. That is much more constructive than tearing down other people. It's true that the literary criticism he's referring to has a very different atmosphere than the one in the YA reviewing community. But the dismissive, condescending nature of those remarks do no favors to any readers, regardless of genre or age. I think it's incredibly sad that anyone who purports to champion literature would ever discourage people from discussing books, in whatever method they choose. Wendy @ The Midnight Garden
    September 28, 2012 at 4:18 pm ·
    • vikki
      Wendy, yes to everything you've said. It's a far-flung net Mr Stothard has thrown - I hope he realises that the number of people who support his views is directly proportionate to the dwindling membership of the Old Boys' Club. Reckon I'm out of contention for the Booker... :)
      September 29, 2012 at 8:22 pm ·
  2. "Anyway, I think this dude is talking about the kind of literary reviews that are more endangered by budget cuts and the death of print media than a bunch of booklovers talking about books. " Funny you say that Vikki! I thought the exact same thing when I wrote my own little rant about this on my blog: http://bit.ly/NTekq1 Stothard's comments oversimplify not only what bloggers do and what that says about reading tastes, but also what constitutes a "good" book. Ironic, when you consider the novel was itself considered an inferior literary genre for many years... Great post! ~DF
    September 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm ·
    • vikki
      DF - loved your post. Succinctly put and beautifully written. :)
      September 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm ·
  3. CD
    From what I gathered from the article (written by a blogger himself) is that most bloggers do not "identify the good and the lasting, and to explain why it's good." They just say, "Oh, well, it moved me! It was awesome to me!" or "It didn't get me. It isn't what I want, personally!" So, the only standard for reading becomes finding like-minded people to recycle the same emotional sentiments. I think that's a legitimate criticism. Ironically, I'm working on a collaborative blog right now, and we're starting off by trying to answer this very question of "what makes it good". Sort of funny.
    October 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm ·
    • vikki
      Fair point, CD. I won’t argue that all book bloggers contribute to upholding the standards of literature, but many bloggers are prolific readers (more prolific than Stothard) and many are committed librarians and other professionals in the book industry. The article is skewed towards the notion that literary critics who write literary reviews about literary books are being drowned out by book bloggers. That’s like spraying buckshot at a tin can. I believe the majority of book blog readers aren’t readers of literary reviews, therefore his logic is flawed and his criticism misdirected (or too generalised). He’s defending his patch of literary turf by lumping all book bloggers together. Good luck with the blog. Perhaps the most important question to ask when starting a blog is, ‘Who is my audience?’ Thanks for commenting. :)
      October 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm ·
  4. 's Avatar
    What a great response, Vikki. I'm so glad to hear you say that you like reviews that talk about the personal response to a book, because I know some YA authors have said that book bloggers aren't really reviewing and while I know we're all just amateurs, we do love to read YA and I really rate a review in which I can tell how much a reader liked/disliked a book. There's definitely room for all of us to review the way we like!
    October 9, 2012 at 6:22 pm ·
    • vikki
      Thanks, Mandee. :) Your reviews are wonderful, no matter what label they're given.
      October 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm ·