The debate or argument about the quality of book reviewing on blogs and in mainstream publications continues, with the weekend newspapers joining in ( an Observer article by Rachel Cooke is discussed at Literary Saloon via Librarian’s Place.)
The Tart of Fiction/Fictionbitch (as Elizabeth Baines’ blog is titled) has written interestingly about "bloggers vs professional reviewers" and about the Observer article (in which the T of F is singled out for poor spelling).
Saturday’s Times Books supplement featured a good editorial by Erica Wagner on the controversy.
My own take on it is: yes, most blogs are not as well written and edited as most publications, for a lot of very obvious reasons. But the two media are different — they coexist in harmony. I agree with Erica Wagner who writes immodestly but truthfully about the quality of the Saturday Times Books supplement — she is right to say that it isn’t full of literary pretentiousness, and although there is some "back-scratching" (literary editors reviewing each other’s books or rewarding each other with columns) it is not too intrusive. I love reading the supplement, and although some weeks there is nothing in it of interest to me, most weeks there is a considerable amount. The same is true of other publications’ book review features, for example the Philadelphia Inquirer, courtesy of the editorial vision of Frank Wilson.
Blogs, as everyone says ad nauseam, vary greatly in quality. Take one of my own interests, crime fiction. I look forward as eagerly to the latest review by, say Karen M of Eurocrime or Norm alias Uriah Robinson of Crime Scraps as I do to Peter Millar’s weekly round-up in the Times. Some reviewers, for example David Montgomery and Sarah Weinman, blog and write for publications.
I have read a lot of poor and mediocre reviews in both media. Some blogs are of extremely high quality, equal to the very best literary publications. (I challenge anyone to find a publication that offers reviews as wide-rangingly and consistently intellectual as those of Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence, for example.)
My view is that there isn’t a contest. You can find a reviewer that you can come to trust, irrespective of the medium in which the review appears. You can easily ignore the rest.
Apologetic note: I have not linked to all the blogs I have mentioned in this post because it is teatime and I am being kicked off the table. These blogs, and more, are all linked in my blogroll, to the left (until the next redesign 😉 ).