Monday, November 27, 2006

But Blogging Isn't About Criticism. And That's A Good Thing.

Chicken Spaghetti found an essay in The Guardian regarding what really sounds very much like a pissing match (I can't think of a more genteel term) between a critic and a writer/blogger. According to Rachel Cooke, the author of the essay, the argument is over "what effect is the internet having on criticism?"

She goes on to say a number of harsh things about litbloggers and basically questions their ability to critique books. If they were better, they'd get paid for it.

I think everyone involved is laboring under the misconception that litblogs are about critiquing books. They aren't.

How many literary blogs truly are just one review after another? Not many of the ones I visit every day. Litbloggers cover "news"--who's got a new book out, what someone else said about it, who is going to appear where, what they did at said appearance. They talk about industry events they've attended. They talk about author sightings.

That's not criticism, folks. That's a fansite.

Just a month or two ago the kidlitblog world got into a discussion on whether or not so-called negative reviews should be posted. Many reviewers said they wouldn't do them, in part because they didn't finish reading books they didn't like or didn't read books they didn't like. Thus they aren't doing traditional "criticism" at all, and they aren't pretending to do so. They are making their readers aware of books they liked.

Now, I'm sure some people will see the words "fan" and "fansite" and become horrified because they're going to start thinking "Star Trek" and perhaps comic book conventions and write-in campaigns to save cult TV shows. Well, yeah, exactly. Do you think because we read books we're superior to other fans? Don't kid yourself. My eyes were opened this summer when I attended a Twilight Zone convention and felt as if I'd just walked into every author event I've ever been part of.

I love to read a good, professional, critical review as much as the next person. But out here in the carbon-based world, I don't know too many other people who do.
Literary criticism has existed for generations. It doesn't seem to be doing much to keep literature afloat right now. For years we've been reading about book sales suffering, reading in decline, the end of the written word. It's like the weather. Everyone talks about it, what?

The literary world needs a fan base. Litbloggers are providing it. Don't confuse it with critism.


Liz B said...

Great points! I'm always a bit surprised when I get called a review site; I didn't set out to write reviews, but, like a fan, to share what I liked and why.

That said, I do find my writing changing as I think about not only what I write, but what people read. For example, I've started using more quotes instead of just saying "loved the language."

A few more of my thoughts on the matter:
* when talking about kidslit/YAlit, so few "real" papers/journals cover the books that I think kidslit/ya blogs are almost more important than adult blogs. I mean, what, the NYT gives us a few pages once a month!
* mainstream kidlit/ya reviews (ie, not kirkus or slj, but local papers and magazines) don't tend to truly "review" kidlit/ya; instead, its usually a plot synopsis
* blogs also allow us more space to review and to link; I love that the reviews I read aren't limited to 40 words, and that bloggers include links to author sites & interviews.

OK that was wordy...I guess this means I should turn it into my own blog post!!

Gail Gauthier said...

Yes, I agree about how little space the mainstream press gives to kidlit/YA. I do feel we fill a void. And I agree about the links. Readers (myself included) can often get a lot more information from a blog post that includes links than we can get from a traditional review, especially those roundup kinds that newspapers often carry.

Anonymous said...

Gail, you might be interested in reading this response.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the response by Alan Bissett. He made some good points. But he doesn't much address the basic complaint that on-line reviews are banal and poorly written. The reviews I see on blogs (and good point about them being fansites, not specifically book review sites. Yes! I love that about them!) are better than any I see in my daily newspaper. Often better than those in professional review journals. I usually learn more about the plot. They are often informed by knowledge of the author's prior work. They are written by people who love and know children's literature, rather than being the usual patronizing afterthought that they are in most publications.

After awhile you get a sense of the reviewer and understand their tastes and interests--unlike most review journals where I either have never heard of the reviewer or don't know who the reviewer is, so I can't judge if they just happen to hate fantasy or if they have a good point to make.

It's not just reviews. It's a wonderful collective discussion.

And bottom line is the good will sort itself out from the bad, anyway. Banal, poorly written blogs won't get read for long. So Standards of Excellence Will Be Maintained, I'm sure.

Gail Gauthier said...

I think your last point is a particularly good one. Banal, poorly written blogs won't get read for long. Just because they exist, it doesn't mean anyone is reading them.

Bkbuds said...

Hmmm ... if we were any good at reviewing, we'd be getting paid for it, eh? Let me clue Cooke in. To get a reviewing gig at a large newspaper usually requires a very special skill: sucking up to a book review editor.

If you're already on staff at the newspaper, this is as easy as walking down the hall and grovel at the editor's feet. If you do not have the masochistic streak it takes to be employed at a daily newspaper, you must find some other way to weasel your way in.

Where I freelance, I get paid $400 a review--the same rate they were paying in the 1980s. Because they like to rotate reviewers, I can only do a piece every three months or so. So I earned $1,200 last year from professional reviewing.

But I guess I now have credentials Cooke would respect. That and another $2 will get me on the bus.

Sorry for the rant, but every time I read how "professional" reviewers are so superior, I have to stifle a snort.

Gail Gauthier said...

Both Cooke and the critic she was discussing brought up the business of money. I found that very interesting. I guess someone could make the argument that "you get what you pay for," meaning that a free review has no value because no money was exchanged. On the other hand,there's an elitist tone to the money argument--"Those of us who get paid are superior. If you were as good as I am, you wouldn't have to work for nothing."

I think that if I had been either one of them, I wouldn't have brought that up.

Lee said...

Gail, your point about fandom is good, and I think, original. However, the argument that Bonny mentions - banal, poorly-written blogs won't continue to be read - amuses me. Why should blogging be any different than the print-based world: the tabloids on the newstands, anyone?

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