At the Britannica Blog link above, Frank Wilson writes about the recent book reviewer "controversy", providing links to the main positions, which are on the one hand that the reduction in the number of stand-alone book-review sections in the mainstream newspapers is no bad thing, because bloggers are filling the gap; and on the other that bloggers are an undisciplined rabble who can’t string together a couple of coherent sentences without ranting, who don’t research their arguments.
Well, there is something to be said for both views
Frank in his piece focuses on the pros and cons of standalone book-review sections in newspapers. He is better placed than anyone else I know to comment, as he is a superb, long-established book-review editor (of the Philadelphia Inquirer) and well-known blogger (of Books, Inq.)
I won’t, therefore, summarise Frank’s points, becuase he puts them better than I could, so you can read them yourself. But my twopennorth on the general question raised, rather than the aspect Frank highlights, is that;
- Book review sections in newspapers are nice for readers. You can learn a lot without having to read all the books you would never have time to read, or think to read, with very little effort.
- Book review sections in newspapers are limited in space and in resources (good reviewers and good editors). The blogosphere fills a need, in reviewing niche, specialist, small-press and other books that don’t get covered in the newspapers.
- Book reviews on blogs are usually not as well written, researched or edited as they are in an edited publication, but sometimes they are.
- Book reviews on blogs are freely accessible to all and can be searched for using keywords, so it is very easy to find reviews of books in your own area of specialist interest.
- Blogging is a conversation. Although newspapers are increasingly opening up their content for comments, so far the blogosphere is the place for free and frank discussion, and of fast, efficient recommendations to fellow bloggers for good books to read (for example, as we do in our little crime fiction community of readers, bloggers and reviewers).
- Bloggers tend to review a book that they have read recently and liked. The book doesn’t have to be newly published or commercial. Newspaper book review sections are, in effect, part of the publishers’ marketing of new products. Neither is bad (unless the reviewer hasn’t actually read the book being reviewed).
I will end with a thoughtful and striking quote from a blog post by Glenn of International Noir Fiction:
There was recently a comment about blogging quoted by Richard Schickel in the L.A. Times, in his article about blogging versus criticism. He quotes D.J. Waldie as saying that blogging is a form of speech, not of writing. I agree with that comment, based on reading lots of blogs and "writing" this one. Others may disagree–what do you think? The distinction doesn’t have to be seen as a criticism of blog-criticism: but a blog doesn’t go through an editorial process, isn’t solicited by a publisher, and is usually more immediate for those and other reasons. So what we get (or give) in a blog is a discussion, a conversation, rather than formal writing (no matter how immediate a good writer can be in that form). And in fact that’s what I find attractive about the better blogs–they’re a way to talk about something, with a circle of people who might be interested in the same topic, however geographically dispersed they may be. The blogosphere is like a huge bar, with multiple overlapping discussions, and with your own selection of beverage rather than some bar owner’s offerings.