The Critics’ War on Bloggers

Dissing Allies: The Critics’ War on Bloggers – Britannica Blog.

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.

5 thoughts on “The Critics’ War on Bloggers

  1. While book reviews in newspapers are interesting and I read them whenever I read a newspaper I in common with many people now don’t read newspapers as much as I used to. The circulation of most, probably all, our newspapers are going down so they are reaching less of us. Put into perspective, in Scotland, where I live, the Scotsman has a circulation of about 54,000 against a population of 5 million. The Herald has not many more readers and they both feature the most reviews, along with the Sunday counterparts.

  2. This is a very good post, Maxine. You have marshalled a number of viewpoints and put them together well. I write reviews and I like to read reviews — I regularly read them in our local newspaper and magazines (I used to even get the Sunday NYTIMES simply because I was addicted to the book section — one of the last pull-out tabs in American newspapers). Our house gets a lot of magazines, so I’m always interested in the different viewpoints expressed on a particular book or author — and since we get everything from Rolling Stone to The Weekly Standard, we do get a range from the left to the right on political books.
    Obviously, some of the magazines we receive — The New Yorker, for example — have much more emphasis on book reviews than others (R.S.). We also get several literary journals, so I read longer reviews in their pages (3,500 words for a pair of books is not unheard of in The Hudson Review — I’ve written such for them myself).
    I like to see everything from gut reactions (what you see more on the blogs and in short newspaper reviews) to reasoned, researched ones, which you see in the journals that have space for them.
    But I do agree with the blogger here: The language used on blogs is of a much less formal kind. Indeed, I’ve gotten so used to writing in that informal voice that when I recently submitted a more scholarly essay for a journal, I was chided for my colloquial voice. I went back and formalized it. It made me think, though: Will there come a time when the spoken and written tongue will merge? In French they refer to “parole” and “langage,” and that’s the distinction I mean. I believe we are moving towards “parole” — or informal, conversational communication — and it’s due to the Internet.
    Nor do I necessarily think it’s a bad thing, just a thing that appears to be happening.
    Sorry for the long post, but this really got me thinking (and, hence, writing!) What do you all think?

  3. It’s more than a war on bloggers– it’s a war on the independent small press; or at least, certain segments of the small press.
    There’s only the most dawning recognition in the book world that the system for producing and promoting American literature is in bad need of change.
    The decline of book review sections, after all, is only a symptom of a larger problem– the inability of literature today to connect with the general public.
    Blogs are one small part of the solution. Only that.
    (The group I belong to, the ULA, is the most blacklisted part of the lit world. Bloggers better realize that if we can be shut out, YOU can be also. What is done to us can be done to anyone.)
    (p.s. The refusal of mainstream critics to review our books is a virtual death sentence on our micropress, into which we’ve put every penny we have. Or, it would be, if we weren’t already used to living out of storage units and such. . . . One can’t kill an idea.)

  4. p.s. Quick added point.
    What’s noreworthy about your posts and essays on this subject (“you” as a group) is the lack of context, as if you exist in outer space; as if your existence and your words are abstract.
    1.) There’s a lack of historical perspective; an almost total inability to see the happenings today as part of a historical flow. Book culture does not exist as a fixed point. It’s in the process of ongoing change. ONGOING change. Where we are now isn’t where we’ll be six years from now or even six months from now.
    2.) There’s a lack of perspective about where book culture exists within the society as a whole.
    Yes, this is a very nice conversation you’re having– but it’s divorced from the populace as a whole; it takes place among a very tiny minority of that culture.
    Arrogantly, I’ll suggest that myself and my colleagues are representatives of that larger populace. We’re not “literary” people. We weren’t trained to be. It’s not our career. We came to literature solely through our love of reading. Our relationship to the lit world was to start with solely as that of objective readers.
    If WE say that you must change; that book culture today is unsatisfying, then I’d suggest all you well-trained folks sit up and take notice.

  5. Thanks, King W. Literature isn’t my career either, I too come to it through a love of reading. I don’t follow some of your comments, but maybe that is because I’m not in America – it is very hard for the small presses, I am sure. However, a list like Quercus has gone from 0 to 1000 miles per hour in about a year, so it can be done if you are producing good books that people want to read. It is also tough for authors, of course, either to get published or, if they are not blockbusters, to continue to be published. I do think I understand about historical context, though! My post above is simply intended as some observations on the current articles I’ve read about “newspaper vs blog reviews”, many of which seem to be written in ignorance of the medium that the author is not familiar with.

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