Does My Blog Harm Literature?

According to Peter Stothard, this year’s chair of the Man Booker Prize judges, book bloggers are harming literature.  Well thanks, Peter.  Thanks a lot.  I’m sure there are many people who have come across my blog who might have been indifferent or in strong disagreement with my reviews but I never expected the whole concept of my blog to be accused of being detrimental to literature.  That seems quite extreme to me.

I am not a professional critic.  I enjoy reading books and nobody pays me to write reviews.  I did not study English Literature at university.  I do not work in publishing or journalism.  As a blogger, I don’t have an editor to check my posts and I know my writing isn’t perfect.    However, I completely reject Stothard’s assertion that blogging is drowning out ‘serious criticism’.  He appears to have lumped all bloggers into the category of what he calls ‘unargued opinion’.   Sure, there is an awful lot of badly written stuff out there, but it isn’t universal.

When I write reviews, I try not to simply regurgitate the plot, not just because people don’t want spoilers but also because I don’t think an extended summary of the book really constitutes a proper review.  Sadly quite a few newspaper critics are guilty of this and don’t actually express proper opinions about the book they are reviewing.  I assume that people read reviews because they want to know what’s good and what’s not so good about a book.  I have opinions about the books I read which I try and justify in my reviews.

I also believe it’s important to think about what other people may or may not like about each book.  I recently read ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ by Milan Kundera and while I enjoyed it, I highlighted how the book could be perceived as being highly pretentious and I can completely understand why people might not like it.  This is because it’s not just my opinion and my criticism which counts in the blogosphere.  My blog is here to be read by people and I have many followers who regularly share their opinions both agreeing and disagreeing with what I have said.  Not only that, but bloggers will have different ways of expressing those opinions and different explanations behind their reasoning.  Criticism, whether it is academic or not, is nothing without diversity.

Some people might want the opinion of a ‘professional’ literary critic but plenty of people may also want to hear what us regular people have to say too.  While bloggers might not write and structure their reviews according to a particular framework, I still believe they are equally valid.  Rant over.

Advertisements

63 Comments

Filed under Books

63 responses to “Does My Blog Harm Literature?

  1. Totally agree with you. I think that there are a lot of good blogs out there that provide good, solid reviews. I strive to give good reviews using my honest opinions. How does it ruin literature? I would hope that people would be intelligent enough to distinguish between good and bad blogs.

    Like

  2. Sir, I do share your concern but I must say I quite agree with Peter Stothard. It has apparently not been your lot to read the slosh, at times the filth, that is being spewed out by metric tons in web space these days. Now a reasoning reader will surely wish to avoid the sick deluge, but the danger of literary critics being ‘choked off’ is very real. Please understand, not many try to understand a book like you before they let loose their canons.

    Like

  3. I actually do have a degree in English Literature, and I enjoy your blog. Because of you, I have some books on my “to read” list that might not have been there otherwise. I think many people in scholarly circles think themselves to be above everyone else, and they are offended when the “common man” tries to introduce the rest of the world to literature they think only the elite and highly educated can truly understand. I think that’s crap. Don’t let it discourage you.

    Like

  4. Totally agree. There are great and bad book bloggers. Plus literary critics and bloggers are 2 different species, with 2 different goals. The only thing thing in common they have is that IF they do their job correctly, they do encourage reading literature and writing good literature

    Like

  5. Ariel Price

    There’s a huge difference between academic literary criticism and blog book reviews. They serve two totally different purposes. Literary criticism is often too technical and in-depth for the average reader. It’s great for people with English degrees and those in academia, but for non-majors and otherwise “lay” readers, literary criticism is exhausting. Book reviews are quite satisfactory for most readers. So keep on blogging!

    Like

  6. Bah humbug to Booker baloney I say. You are the Queen of book bloggers. Because of you people will read more books. They should be thanking you.

    Like

  7. I totally agree! How can people who enjoy literature be harming it?! I’m not pretending to be a proper literary critic. I’m just a gal who reads and likes to talk about it. Mr. Fancy Pants needs to get off his elitist high horse. And since you mention The Unbearable Lightness of Being… I thought you might be interested in my take on it :). It’s irreverent.
    http://wordsforworms.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/the-greatest-sleep-aids-disguised-as-books/

    Like

  8. I see literature as being differentiated from much of the dreck that passes for reading in online reading groups and weblogs. Popular reading groups and weblogs have developed conclusions that reading anything is good for you, that books go stale after ten years, and that today’s popular writers (Stephen King?) will be the classics taught in educational institutions for centuries to come.

    Concepts such as these dilute the literature, cheapen the discussion, and substitute personal preference for critical thinking.

    But if we differentiate book reviews from literary analysis, the two can both be valuable, but they should not be confused.

    Like

  9. What a depressing view of literature this Stothard bloke has. I’m another one with an English degree, and the idea that “high brow” literature isn’t “readable” (which, in my head, means “enjoyable” in regards to books) for one of the judges of the Booker Prize makes me think he just might be in the wrong field.

    Furthermore, there are plenty of people out there with plenty of different ideas of what makes a book “good”. Their opinions deserve to be heard, and if it gets more people interested, and more people reading, then it surely can’t be harmful to literature.

    Also, if this guy’s a blogger, and he reads other blogs and spends time on the internet, he surely knows that the internet is the last place that an opinion goes unchallenged. In fact, I would say that professional critics are more likely to experience a lack of opposition to their opinions, given the fact that their status and education affords them some authority on the subject.

    Like

  10. What a debate you have going here, If I were looking for a technical critique of a book weighing up all the salient points from literary worth to language used, grammatical accuracy, analogy, usefulness for studying at A Level or higher, deeper meanings hidden within the text, description value, etc I would look to a well known literary critic for my information.
    If I were looking for a rounded, honest, clear and concise opinion from a regular reader to find out how appealing or not a book may be for me to sit down, curl up with a cuppa and escape for a while, I would turn to my favourite blog sites.
    The two types of book reviewing are completely different and can not be compared like for like with each other, both are valuable if done well and both are useless if done badly, they serve different purposes and are autonomous.
    Maybe I ought to see what my own blog readers think about the way in which I review books?

    Like

    • I agree that literary critics and blog reviews are different things with different purposes and I do read both. I just don’t think Stothard’s comments are very helpful as blogs have their merits too.

      Like

      • I agree, I don’t think blogs harm literature, I think it is up to the person who is looking for reviews to look in the right place for what they need. Blogs are extremely useful for giving the general reader on the street an idea of whether they will like a book or not and it is an invaluable means of promoting independent author’s who need as much exposure as possible.

        The world of books would now be a much poorer place without book bloggers like you.

        Like

  11. As someone who is both a “book blogger” and a “professional critic,” I think Stothard’s argument is elitist and that you provide a well-written retort. Any writing that encourages more people to take up reading is valuable. I say this as I watch my university students get dumber and dumber each year as they grow up playing video games and not reading at all. I agree with Stothard that good literary criticism is important, but the fact that not enough of it is being produced is certainly not a fault of amateurs (and I use the word in its highest sense, someone who loves the subject that they are investigating) who love literature, but of professional critics themselves, who have let the standard of professional reviews/criticism fall so low.

    Like

    • ifnotread

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Stothard saying that print-based media have reduced their book review pages because of book bloggers is just plain rubbish. Has he considered that maybe ‘professional literary criticism’ was in trouble long before book bloggers took hold??

      Like

  12. You are absolutely correct on the whole thing! It sounds as though Mr. Stothard doesn’t seem to like a little bit of competition. Who exactly is he writing his critiques for? I blog because my passion is reading. I enjoy sharing my thoughts on books I’ve read or just discovered, but most of all i respect and look forward to exchanging with my viewers about books. Reading book blogs is another way of browsing a bookstore. The reviews keep everybody reading and looking for new and interesting things to read and sometimes those books can be Man Booker, Pulitzer, Prix Médicis, etc. There’s room for everybody and Stothard should recognize this.

    Like

  13. ClewisWrites

    I also agree with your reply. As others previously have stated, your blog provides a very well written and honest discussion on books you have read. Many are books that others may or may not have heard of and by reading your opinion of them, you give your readers cause to read and make their own decisions about the books. Literature is supposed to be discussed by those who read it, no matter what their level of expertise is. Books are supposed to help foster intelligent conversation and if that is harming Literature as a whole, then I fear that Literature may be doomed. If only the “professional critics” and “scholars” (I myself studied English Literature in college) are able to discuss what we read then the discussion no longer encourages reading but rather fosters the feeling that literature is not for everyone. Keep reviewing. I love reading the reviews. The “critic” is just afraid that someone like you, who writes very well, will someday be more of a source than his puffed up words.

    Like

  14. The problem with ‘professional critics’ is that most of them write and therefore have an obligation to big up their publishing houses’ other names when they review them. If a blogger has an opinion then it is free to be argued by any casual reader, anything read in a paper is plastered all over a book cover and taken as gospel. I would definitely trust the ‘common reader’ more than anyone who may have a vested interest in doing a review.

    Like

  15. As far Stothard and people of his ilk are concerned, they are the only ones who are entitled to having an opinion. I guess the rest of us plebs don’t know what we’re talking about. It’s amazing we can even read.

    Like

  16. It’s a free country. If you are not interested in book bloggers, then skip out on my blog. I personally think that because of other book bloggers, I am more interested in reading some books that were previously unknown to me. Hopefully I have inspired others to do the same.

    Like

  17. a rant well justified!
    bloggers do as bloggers will 🙂 we write for people like us. we hope to inspire other readers. if we like a book we want to share it. if we don’t, we would expect someone else to put it on there TBR.
    Who do professional literary critics serve? the little man? the author? the world of academia?

    Like

  18. A good book should get you thinking, long after you’ve turned the last page and put the book down. A great book will get people talking, debating and can even motivate people into actions. Blogging is one way of sharing ideas and thoughts on books with like-minded people; a great way to expand our horizons. To quote J.K. Rowling (whose new book is about to come out tomorrow) “Ultimately, the people who have read the book, who are not paid to have an opinion, are generally the best benchmark of whether you have done what you set out to do”. Professional critics lay the foundations; the blogosphere builds on them.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. jamielynne82

    Haters gonna hate! Books are meant to inspire, make you think and even change the world. What better place to discuss that than in the blog world?

    Like

  20. Hi, to the blogger and readers of this blog,
    I think anything that promotes reading and discussion of fiction and non-fiction is a good thing. Surely, publishers looking for a fast dollar who promote salacious poorly written material are the real harm the future of literature.

    Christine M K

    Like

  21. Personally, I think the thoughts of every day readers and bloggers are more interesting than a “professional’s” and tend to be more relevant to the tastes of the “average” reader. Not to mention, who better to get book recommendations from than someone who you know/have some form of relationship with?

    Like

  22. I think that blogs and review sites like goodreads reach the everyday reader. Sometimes it is hard to find others who share your love of reading in the real world or to get consistent recommendations on a book. I do see the authors point where, bloggers can harm the literary scope, but that is only because I majored in Lit and many of my professors were strong critics of certain books and taught us how to view books critically. Blogger are more accessible to a reader than someone who is reviewing for a newspaper or magazine. We can create a dialogue with our readers and that is what sets us apart from professional reviewers.

    Like

  23. I like to read reviews on Amazon. There are hundreds and you can pretty much tell if people liked the book or if it was awful. Most people hated 50 shades of grey, but I went ahead and read it, but at the end of the book, I have to agree with all the people that hated it.

    Like

  24. Agreed. And how on earth are we bloggers any different to the ‘word of mouth’ phenomenon that is usually responsible for most best sellers? What phooey!

    Like

  25. Reblogged this on Tom Gething re: reading and commented:
    After publishing my commentary on book reviews the other day, I was intrigued by this discussion of the role of the literary critic. The article by the Times literary editor published in the Guardian smacks of elitism, but it also raises an interesting question: What is the role of the critic in the determination of literary art? Art, it seems to me, is not only something new, but something that influences the future of the form. Is a book art if only a few critics read and appreciate it? I distinguish between book reviewing and literary criticism. The first is immediate and reactionary (and few reviews achieve the level of literary criticism), the second requires more time in order to asses and trace the roots and subsequent impact of the art. Readers want reviewers to tell them if something is worth reading, not if it is art. If it is art, it will take care of itself.

    Like

    • I agree that only time makes true literary criticism possible, but art can be lost. If a book goes unnoticed in the short-term, it is pulped before a critic can find it (warehouse space and bookshop space is too costly to keep books for long). These days, a book might simply be lost amongst the millions of other digital files competing for attention, never to be found by the critic who can assess its long-term worth. Books have to be read and talked about to survive, let alone be granted the status of ‘art’.

      Like

      • I agree. As I said in my previous blog, readers have the ultimate responsibility for risking their time on unknown authors and talking them up whenever they think they merit praise. Thanks for stopping by, it gave me the chance to discover your blog. I’ll be following you.

        Like

  26. I really like your points here and totally agree with you. I can’t believe Stothard’s said this and it does change my opinion on him a bit. Great article 🙂

    Like

  27. His comments remind me of some of the older generation’s inability to embrace or see the good in change, particularly when it is affecting them in a negative way. Things are changing and when something that used to enjoy high visibility and a prominent place in society becomes disregarded, sometimes there is a backlash. Perhaps his corner of literature is now in the shade and it is not where the future is. That’s not the fault of book bloggers, that’s a change and evolution in demand coming from a new generation. Book bloggers are at the forefront, fulfilling the need across the spectrum of genre, opinion, criticism, the doors wide open and no longer so elitist.

    What I would love to know is how the book bloggers in general are handling the Booker prize nominee reviews versus Stothard’s publication’s take. And what do the writer’s who are about to be judged by this man think? Is he biting the hand that’s been feeding them? I hope one or two of them have the courage to speak out.

    Like

  28. As a book blogger i m conflicted, while I agree that blogs about lit are democratic and a good thing, there are an awful lot of terrible ones.Thats not to say there are no bad reviewers being published in newspapers just less. I suppose its up to the reader to discern the quality of the blogs they read, or review the reviewers if you will. somebody should set up a blog reviewing blog reviews, then a blog reviewing blog reviews etc… ad infinitum.

    Like

  29. Kathy J

    I think, if anything, having a proliferation of book bloggers ENHANCES literature. People are sharing opinions about books, and going out and reading books they would have not otherwise heard of. I’d rather hear it from someone whose voice I can relate to, who can give me the real lowdown on a book, than a so-called professional reviewer.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. “When I write reviews, I try not to simply regurgitate the plot, not just because people don’t want spoilers but also because I don’t think an extended summary of the book really constitutes a proper review.”

    Amen. I take the same approach to fiction, trying to convey the mental experience (rational & emotional) the book offers — or doesn’t. With non-fiction, however, I believe that my role is to give potential readers a means to determine whether or not reading the entire book is worth their time. Two different kinds of books, two different kinds of reviews.

    Like

  31. I hear you, My own rant, regrettably, spilled over into two posts :). I didn’t want to give oxygen to what I believe was a cynical ploy to reinstate the Man Booker’s ‘serious’ credentials, especially when Stothard knows he can’t afford to offend journalists or publishers, but he can afford to belittle unpaid and powerless bloggers. Blame us for the end of Western civilisation; we don’t have friends in high places.

    Like

  32. PS Does Stothard think it would be better for books to end up in the remainder bin than for them to be read and talked about by the ‘wrong’ people? What is he on?

    Like

  33. lamoglie

    I think there are many people in the traditional publishing world who are afraid for their jobs – the Internet has opened doors to reviewers and authors who couldn’t find an outlet before. It’s a revolution!

    Like

  34. Reblogged this on Anakalian Whims and commented:
    Amen.

    Like

  35. Reblogged this on seamusseamus and commented:
    Can this be true? Blogs, words, things made of air or ink or pixels can do damage? And to those of its own kind – more or less. More according to this writer.

    What do you think?

    Like

  36. michelle

    I completely agree with your post. I actually was just logging on to write one myself about book reviews and how due to the plethora of sites out there offering reviews and the need to garner hits how many of the reviewers grab for hot words and phrases to attract people. That doesn’t in any way shape or form mean that 1) all blogged reviews are bad and 2) that it hurts literature in any way. The bigger thing is that we should all be thrilled to have lots of people reading books rather than watching television. We should be thrilled that there is a community of readers out there who want to give other readers their impressions on books. We don’t all agree with any reviewer. I have personally learned that I should avoid any book touted by Oprah, but that’s another matter entirely. I feel that there is a snobbish sense of entitlement in the idea of “bloggers harming literature.” We live in a world with so many options when it comes to all forms of culture, but not all of them are always “reviewed” in the established media. Authors should write books because a subject moves them. Not in order to win a prize. If they can touch one reader, they’ve done their job. Keep on blogging. You are not harming literature, you are helping keep it strong!

    Like

  37. girlinknits

    Amen. Blogging is the medium for self expression. Literature critics are held up against the publishing houses and journalists. If it wasn’t for book bloggers like you who are unbiased, giving honest opinions about the books that we all look at on the shelves and think.. Should I? or shouldn’t I? alot of us take the plunge and read the book, become engrossed in the plot. Recommend them to friends and family to keep the process going. Keep writing the reviews and be safe in the knowledge that your opinion is sought out because its wanted and valued. A critic is paid to give theirs whether it’s wanted or not.

    Like

  38. Pingback: The Best of 2012 Survey | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  39. Good to read this discussion. Maybe professional book reviewers are going the way of the travel agent: who bothers these days? I go straight to the place I am interested on the internet and look for reviews. The reviews on Amazon are fantastic for correcting something I might have read in a formal review: I can pick out when a reviewer is coming from my position.

    Like

  40. I also read this article recently, and agree that having an opinion is an integral part of the reading process. Sharing these opinions and encouraging others to reflect on what they are reading can only be a good thing- I have found blogging to be a great way to do this. I have also written a similar response to this issue entitled ‘Where do I Stand?’

    Like

  41. littlebookblog

    I couldn’t believe it when I read this 🙂 the number of new books I have read by reading blogs is ridiculous! There are so many different books I wouldn’t have read if I had not read blogs reviewing books! I am sure like many others the whole point of reading is sharing what you think is a brilliant book!

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Fascinating stuff! Something I’ve become very aware of is that there is a fairly tight circle of back-scratching in the inner sanctum of professional reviewing.

    I have picked up a number of books because the professional reviewers are pouring high praise on the quality of the book – only to discover, with HORROR that those self same books were badly, very badly written. Clearly, what was going on was ‘if I say something nice about your book, will you say something nice about mine’ Back in the nineteeth century the Victorian writer George Gissing wrote a book about this, New Grub Street, basically pouring scorn and vitriol on the incestuous nature of professional book reviewing.

    And – I concur with an earlier point – there is a tendency to give away the plot, big time, in many prof reveiwers.

    A book which blew me away, published earlier this month (Patrick Flanery’s Fallen Land) which so far sadly has only got 3 (5 star) reviews on Amazon – had one extremely favourable review in The Guardian – which gave away the ending!

    Like

  43. Pingback: Am I A Book Snob? | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  44. I am a college instructor. In my advanced degree I studied French lit and learned how to analyze, etc. I come to your blog for short bits of info about books. If I wanted to read a dry analytical exposé I would turn to a journal perhaps. Thanks for what you do! If you have an article about a Kentucky author or Kentucky topic, I will be happy to trop at it on my blog. Sheila
    http://www.mykentuckyliv.com

    Like

  45. Academics do not, typically, read books for pleasure – they read them to study and analyse them and whilst they may have many intelligent and profound things to say about them, they will completely overlook the simple issues of readability and the pleasure to be had from reading a good book. I once heard an academic (who specialises in studying 19th century Austrian drama) say, “I don’t like novels. I don’t know what to do with them.” I silently rolled my eyes and thought, why not just enjoy reading them?

    Like

  46. Pingback: Book Review Blogs by Amateurs and Pros | The Elements of Blogging

  47. I only just caught up with this post! I love your blog. I just finished 2015 with the gift of the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS and while it was a marvellous and imaginative present I personally found the reviews too long. Since they are so long and so thorough they tend to take ages to come out, and partly because each issue has a common theme, they may come out months after the book was published by which time I have generally read the book. Both have a place in a busy world. Maybe newspapers are reviewing fewer books, it does not seem that way to me.

    Like

    • Thanks, this is an old one – I wrote it over 3 years ago! Yes, both have a place in a busy world and it’s great that serious literary criticism exists in publications like the LRB, but I think it’s important to have credible alternatives too which are less academic.

      Like

  48. A certain irony as he did mention our shadow jury of book bloggers in his recent Man Booker piece

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s