The book blogger versus traditional literary critic debate has been rumbling on for a while now, especially as it is noticeable that endorsements from bloggers are increasingly used alongside reviews by established journalists. However, I was recently surprised to find a quote from my review of Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien inside the UK paperback edition published by Granta. I hadn’t known my review was going to be used for this purpose (but I don’t object to it) and I also didn’t receive a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my comments.
Interestingly, ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ is not the kind of book I would thrust into somebody’s hands with the promise that it will change their life forever. Rather than gushing praise, the quote selected from my review is descriptive and the other reviews collectively suggest that Thien’s novel isn’t exactly a light read which will appeal to everyone but it is a striking one if you enjoy densely written historical fiction.
Given that ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year, I was a little surprised that my comments were considered important enough to be included, especially as the book had already received lots of positive coverage from official media outlets through its association with one of the most famous literary prizes in the world. I like to think that the inclusion of book bloggers can be attributed to our reputation as keen readers who write thoughtful reviews, but it is also likely to be a sign of the decline of traditional books coverage in newspapers.
On the other hand, while my blog has a fair amount of followers, I still don’t consider it to have anywhere near the same amount of influence as other media. With newspapers and magazines, I find myself automatically looking at who has reviewed a book rather than the reviews themselves in order to ascertain the target audience, genre or level of quality of a book. For example, I wouldn’t expect Jodi Picoult to be regularly featured in the London Review of Books or the latest novel by Thomas Pynchon to be among Woman and Home’s top summer reads. However, it is much more difficult for readers to make quick judgements about which blogs are worth their time partly because there are so many of them and the tabloid/broadsheet distinction doesn’t really exist in this context.
Overall, I am not expecting my reviews to be quoted alongside newspaper critics on a regular basis. In this particular case, I think my pithy one-line summary was just seen by the right person at the right time.
What do you think? Do you tend to look at the reviewers rather than the reviews themselves? Do book bloggers have real influence or not?