Wednesday, June 13, 2007

And the Debate Continues.....

All of us out here in blogger world, especially those of us that consider ourselves "book bloggers", have read the debate about Book Reviews. In days of declining literary news columns, the blogger world seems to be booming. Why is this? Are these so-called book blogger's reviews valid?? Or are book bloggers taking away from real literary critics? Yada, yada, yada....

In yesterday's New York Sun Times, the debate contintues. The Scorn of the Literary Blogger by Adam Kirsch appeared in the Arts & Letters section. While Mr. Krish's opinions about the consequences of the decline of the print review are spot on, his remarks about the literary blogger aren't very flattering.

But book bloggers have also brought another, less salutary influence to bear on literary culture: a powerful resentment. Often isolated and inexperienced, usually longing to break into print themselves, bloggers — even the influential bloggers who are courted by publishers — tend to consider themselves disenfranchised. Hmmmm...do you really believe this? Are all of you out there just longing to break into print? Hoping beyond hope that someone will tune in one day and boom you are going to be a star??? I don't think so. Sure....as a life-long reader, it's always been a fantasy of mine. Becoming an author. It's the dream job. But realistically, I know that I'm not suited for it and certainly not creative enough to chuck my job and start the "Great American Novel".

As anyone who reads literary blogs can attest, hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned. And the scorn is reciprocated: Professional writers usually assume that those who can, do, while those who can't, blog. Oh please. Professional REVIEWERS may believe this, but do professional writers?? Does it really matter to them if bloggers are talking about their books??? My opinion of writers in the blog world is this: If bloggers are discussing and reviewing a book, that means they are READING AND BUYING those books. Isn't that the point of writing? Shouldn't this be welcomed with open arms? I'd really like to know the answer to this question.

Literary criticism is only worth having if it at least strives to be literary in its own right, with a scope, complexity, and authority that no blogger I know even wants to achieve. The only useful part of most book blogs, in fact, are the links to long-form essays and articles by professional writers, usually from print journals. I personally started this blog for ME. No one else. I didn't even think anyone would actually READ it besides me. Do I like to review books? Sure. It's a way for me to put in print my feelings about something I've read and get back feedback from others. I live with a person that hates to read. Bouncing book stuff off him was useless....so I found another outlet. I really value the opinions of people like ME. That's why I read book blogs. That's why I write a book blog.

But there's no chance that literary culture will thrive on the Internet until we recognize that the ethical and intellectual crotchets of the bloggers represent a dead end. Oh really. Please tell me why MY opinion is a dead end? Why is my opinion any less than that of Mr. Kirsch's? Because isn't that what a book review is....an opinion??

I'm curious as to what others think....I'd like YOUR opinion!

24 comments:

Matt said...

I've read several posts on this topic recently and literary critics talk of authority to write a review. Where does that authority come from? I don't understand. Authority from those who hired them to write? Because they are being paid they have authority? I don't know the answer and doubt I ever will because a professional critic would never stoop so low as to explain that to me.

I've read books that I would have never read otherwise because of blog reviews. Isn't that good, doesn't that benefit everyone involved with literature?

The pretentiousness of literary critics is just astounding. If I ever behave that way I hope somebody punches me in the face.

Nancy said...

Holy Cow! I can't believe he said that. I read book blogs to find like minded people and see what others are reading.


While I don't think I am great at reviewing books, I am certainly not resentful or isolated or whatever else he was going on about.

The parts you have highlighted show Kirsch as being defensive and resentful. More times than not I don't agree w. professional reviews.

Wendy said...

These types of things to me are just literary snobbery. I've had over 5600 "hits" to my blog since February 12 of this year - most of those hits come from people who are looking to read a book review (my stats show me this). If a blogger's opinion is so uneducated and unliterary, how do we explain the interest people have in browsing and READING book blogs?

Here's what I think about this whole argument - I think print reviewers are scared to death of losing their jobs because authors and publishing houses see that they are getting reviews for free from the Internet and Litblogs. Why pay for a review if people can get it for nothing and are just as happy with what is on the blogs? I've read some fine reviews - very intellectual and probing - from litbloggers. Is the problem that litbloggers are getting too good at reviews? Why else would print reviewers bother wasting ink to try to discredit them?

One last thing - there are many, many wonderful writers out there who are not "in print." As most writers know, not only talent but LUCK is involved in being "published." And the reverse is also true - I've read some stuff in print which is garbage. Good writing is good writing no matter what format it appears in.

Trish said...

Thanks for sharing the article and your ideas with us. I'm new to blogging. I had been keeping a private journal of the books I was reading until I entered grad school and the amount of reading became too cumbersome to keep up with. Until a few weeks ago, I didn't even know there were others out there, like me, who wanted to journal their own ideas.

I've found blogging fun (albiet a little more time consuming than I should allow), but I agree with you that the blog is for ME first of all--and if others want to read and comment, I welcome that. I don't try to be literary in my reviews--and I would prefer not to read "literary" or "pretentious" reviews of books. I rather know how a book made a person feel--that's what matters most to me when I read.

Sam Houston said...

Stephanie, Matt pointed out to me that we blogged on the same rather pretentious newspaper column this morning (pretentious, at least as I see it).

I have to believe that the pros are bitter about the way that newspapers have cut back on their literary sections and that they are looking for someone to blame other than themselves and the changing times. Who better than a bunch of illiterate amateurs like us?

I do find in amusing that they are waging such a one-sided war...bloggers are not concerned with the pros precisely because we are not pretentious enough to aspire to their jobs.

Nymeth said...

"Literary criticism is only worth having if it at least strives to be literary in its own right, with a scope, complexity, and authority that no blogger I know even wants to achieve."

I'm going to say something that is not very politically correct: I think that this, this quote, is the problem. I believe that a considerable amount of critics are failed authors. Because they failed, the settle for the next best thing - being critics, which gives them some authority and allows them to play at being "literary". And now, with the Internet, even that authority is, in their perception, being threatened, so this reaction is to be expected.

I realize that this is a generalization, but studying literature in university has done a lot to increase my dislike of critics. Most of the time, they are just pretentious snobs.

I'm new to the world of book blogs, but so far I have NEVER seen resentment in any blogger. Where I do see resentment and bitterness (towards authors, most of the time) is in professional critics.

I believe that anyone who reads and has an opinion has the right to express it. Concerning how "valid" it is or not, well, it's certainly valid for the person it belongs to, and those who read it are free to take it however they want.

I enjoy reading some professional reviews because they tend to be well written, and it's pleasant for me to see someone who expresses themselves well write about a book. But I find that in blogs too. And I think that the opinions critics are expressing are in no way more "complex", nor do they have more "authority" than the opinions of any other person.

kookiejar said...

I'm with you (and the rest of your commenters), I prefer book blogs to 'literary reviews'.

Those professional reviewers tend to be so pretentious. They will claim to like a terrible book just so they can look smarter than the rest of us ('Only Revolutions' come to mind). A book blogger will tell you flat out that it was awful.

The reverse is true as well, a 'literary reviewer' wouldn't touch some of the pulp horror or sci-fi that is out there (because they are snobs) but a down-home litblogger will tell you is absolutely worth your time.

Basically, the newspaper and magazine book reviewers are afraid that we are going to take their jobs. Boo-frickin'-hoo. I'm happy to do the work that they get paid for and I do it for free for anyone who wants to read it. No subscription, no membership. Just my humble opinion, you can take it or leave it. That's democracy for you.

*gets off soap box* :)

Imani said...

Nymeth that was one thing I picked up on but did not mention in my post about it. The critic took the accusation that's usually tagged on his kind -- critics are writers without the creative talent -- and tried to pass it off to bloggers. That was one of the most hilarious parts of the piece.

I also liked the very awkward way he tried to obscure the fact that a blog is simply a medium -- it's a content management system nothing more -- and called it a "genre" instead while the internet was a "medium". Really these critics so cleverly undermine their own claims of supposed intelligence.

Stephanie said...

Matt - Oh, I agree with you. The pretentiousness of these people is overwhelming. I don't have any "authority", and I personally don't think I need any. I'm expressing MY opinion. That's it!

Nancy - Amazing, isn't it?? I don't think you have to be great at reviewing books as long as you give your honest opinions. THAT'S what I'm Looking for !

Wendy - I do agree these guys are probably nervous about losing their jobs. But isn't that kind of like biting the hand that feeds? As a reader, I DO like reading the book sections in the paper and the magazines. I like to see what others think (although I do seem to hold bloggers opinions higher). It seems to me articles like this just alienate a good portion of the people they are trying to appeal to!

Trish Thanks for stopping by! And yes, I blog for ME first. Anyone else that wants to read or comment on it second. And I do appreciate any and all comments (as long as they agree with me!! LOL)

Sam I hate that newspapers are cutting back on the literary sections. It kills me to see how little respect books seems to get next to movies and tv these days. But as I said to Wendy, it seems to me that articles like this are just alienating the people that are most likely going to read the literary sections of the paper! Amazes me sometimes.

Nymeth - It does seem likely to me that a lot critics are wanna-be authors. I do think they are snobs. And I also think they write reviews on a certain TYPE/GENRE of book so they seem better than the rest of us.

Kookie - You actually hit on something I meant to write. About how most critics dis a lot of authors/books because of the genre. Some of my favorite books are ones that a "literary" critic probably wouldn't touch. And that's just sad. Is there any more room on that soap box for me??

Imani - I was glad to read your post today too! As I told Sam, it seems that "Great" minds are thinking alike today!

Dewey said...

I imagine writers particularly appreciate blog reviews. Word of mouth spreads fast, and word of blog even faster. Also, he's ignoring the fact that so many author have their own blogs.

If I wanted to become a best selling writer, I surely wouldn't be trying to do so with a blog. That makes no sense. I'd be writing a BOOK.

Chris said...

Wow! This has to be the worst article I've read so far on the topic! I didn't think they could get any worse. I mean seriously. You're entitled to your opinion, but is it necessary to be such a frickin' asshole?! Most people keep a blog because they enjoy writing and sharing their opinion with like minded individuals. I certainly don't expect to get rich off of my blog and I know for sure that no one's going to stumble across my blog and think I'm the next big think in writing or book reviews.

What a jerk!! I'm going to link to this post later if you don't mind. Grrr...pisses me off!

MyUtopia said...

If it wasn't for book bloggers I wouldn't know about a lot of books. It keeps me an informed bookaholic.
I do check into all books I read about, bad review or not.

iliana said...

As Matt said, the pretentiousness is astounding!

I blog about books because I love them. Simple as that. I love finding out about new books and authors. And, last but not least I love being part of the book blog community. I mean isn't that what authors want in the end? To have people talk about their books and press them on to others? Through blogs it's like we are all a part of a big book club.

Kerry said...

I'm a genre reader first and foremost. That means critics generally don't review the kind of books I do, and if they do, it's with their collective noses in the air.

So I read blogs. And people tell me about the books I'm interested in. They give me the information I need to decide if I want to spend my money and my time on a particular book. I've learned which bloggers seem to most like the things I do and I generally trust their opinions.

I would love to comment on more of the books I read on my own blog, but poor health tends to stop me. I certainly don't think I "review", but I do try to sometimes post comments and opinions when I can. Maybe one or two people read them, but I mostly did it for me.

There is a place for the literary critics and the bloggers and I don't think the bloggers are trying to take over. However, it seems at least some of the critics see it that way.

Hmmm, not sure I had anything useful to add, but wanted to comment.

Kerry said...

Ooops, sorry. Just found a typo in my comment.

I meant that critics don't review the kind of books I'm interested in reading.

As I said later, I don't manage to "review" much on my blog.

litlove said...

I've just posted on this, comparing it to the fuss that greeted the creation of the mass market literary paperback in the 1930s. Back then the masses weren't good enough for literature, now we're not good enough to have a literary opinion. It's all complete nonsense that only goes to show the extent of the challenge book blogging poses to mainstream media. The professionals fear for their jobs, and frankly, when they write rubbish like this, so they should.

DesLily said...

please excuse this old ladies comment...

Since I have been reading blogs by other readers I've read many more books then I would have normally.

Now ask me why...

Because the bloggers are more like people like me! I don't have any sort of literary degree..nor would anyone want to pay me to say I like or dislike their book.. what the blogger says means more to me then any Paid Literary Review.

They are surely afraid of loosing their jobs when more books then they can review are sold, and books that mean "nothing" to them suddenly become popular ..and even movies!

If a Paid Review matches the bloggers I read, I say: RIGHT ON! If they don't... I go with the bloggers voice before I'd go with the Reviewer.. call me crazy, call me old, doesn't matter.. all blogging about books can do is.. sell more books!

Kristy said...

If someone is threatened by my saying I like or don't like a book, then they need to get another job. I'm much more likely to read a book that I've seen reviewed on a blog. I think blogs only benefit books which should benefit the "literary authorities".

Chris said...

Don't get me started!!!! I first read about this blogger backlash on the Smart Bitches blog. Man, they were maaaaaad! I was dumbfounded. I've never given a rat's ass about the pros. I didn't think of them. I read and feel compelled to review.

Like you Stephanie, my hubby doesn't read (he can, just doesn't ;)). So to whom can I say, "That was soooo good!" or "Don't waste your $$$."

It sounds to me like a lot of paranoia. The papers want to cut reviews. It stinks but this should be a clue that the majority of readers don't read that tight arsed bologne the pros spew out. And as for frustrated, I see the pot calling the kettle...

Excuse me.... I must...blog!

Darla D said...

Wow, I agree with all these wonderful comments. I guess I might point out that I doubt all reviewers feel that way - I mean, that's just silly. Clearly he's got an axe to grind, for whatever reason.

I had to laugh, though -- as I read everyone's comments I was gleefully rubbing my hands together because they formed a wonderful list of passionate book-bloggers' blogs to visit!

I think the importance of blog reviews is that you develop a network of people whose opinions you come to trust, because through their posts you know them in a way you couldn't possibly know a book reviewer, no matter how often you read his or her columns. These people enjoy the books you do, and they have no need to find that one negative thing to point out, no matter how they have to nitpick to find it, just so they appear discerning and intellectual.

I guess I can't be bothered to be upset about the article because it seems to me that he's just yelling into the wind. We're here to stay, because we love books, and we love talking about them! So there. :-)

Bookfool said...

Stephanie,

Your response is much more intelligent and accurate than the original article. Do you get the impression that Kirsch did a hasty sampling of blogs and made broad, sweeping generalizations in defense of his chosen career? That's the impression I got.

Really, a great deal of what he had to say was laughable. I began my blog as an outlet, just like you. I write slightly more formal reviews for a closed listserv and wanted to have a way to purge my thoughts in a more casual form. I thought of blogging as a method of journaling, a nice way to keep track of what I've read and occasionally write down things I've experienced or my family members have said or done. I used to write such things in letters, but nobody writes letters, anymore. Voila - a new avenue for purging. I put off blogging for several years, thinking there was no point writing to myself, actually.

He can go off to his room and type something with authority, but we're not going away.

Maggie said...

Would you believe, I have heard this same arguement between pilots and air traffic controllers. Pilots believe controllers are just frustrated old men who want to be pilots. For some silly reason they assume we (I controlled airplanes for 7 years) want to drive the bus!?!

It's all a matter of insecurity and someone being a little green jelly bean. :D

aichaku-愛着 said...

I feel there is great value in book blogs which professional reviews cannot match. For one book bloggers are more likely to include their personal feelings and responses to a book, which often might be muted down in professional book reviews for the sake of literary, intellectual or objective critism. I find personal opinions of bloggers more useful because if I know a blogger has similar tastes to mine, I might also like or dislike the same books. I've found many new and good books to enjoy from reading book blogs. My spouse also does not like analysis of books (and films) so like you, blogging about books and reading book blogs are good outlets for my desire to discuss books and films I've read or want to read.

Bibliolatrist said...

Hi - I actually just posted in response to Kirsch's article as well. Great blog you have here!