Conventional Critics vs Book Bloggers: Whose Side Are YOU on?


Books by book bloggers

Peter Stothard

Here’s an article I read on one of the conventional critics’ opinions on book bloggers:

“Sir Peter Stothard has edited the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) for almost a decade and spent the past seven months reading an “unnatural” 145 books on the search for this year’s Man Booker Prize. He has been left hugely critical over the decline in current standards of literary criticism, and says the rise of bloggers will leave the industry “worse off”.”Criticism needs confidence in the face of extraordinary external competition,” the former editor of The Times says. “It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same. Eventually that will be to the detriment of literature. It will be bad for readers; as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain’t so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off. There are some important issues here.”

I totally disagree, and was happy to read Why book bloggers are critical to literary criticism.

What blogs can give readers is a sense of trust that, in professional circles, only the biggest lit-crit names – such as James Wood or Michiko Kakutani – can attain: a “criticism with personality”. They are expressing opinions about books in particular, and literature in general, based on a particular life of reading, written in a critical but non-technical language.

Do you think book bloggers help or harm?

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As an aside, I’d request you to go check out the chat I had with Zukiswa Wanner (Commonwealth Prize shortlister) and Rohini Chowdhury (multi-published, acclaimed author) on the A to Z Blog.

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34 thoughts on “Conventional Critics vs Book Bloggers: Whose Side Are YOU on?

  1. Pingback: Literary Criticism Can Not Be Accomplished By Bloggers (Again) || The Worm Hole

  2. When I was in college I used to read a lot of critics to see what they said about books, what they recommended to read, but I started to notice that more and more of them were publishing pieces about books that they hated or sucked rather than giving me anything to look for. Thats when I started following book bloggers and my reading list has never been shorter than me, nor have I regretted the time spent on a single book recommended by a book blogger.

    • Sophie, this is such a good point! What I love about book blogs is the promotion of what they like – you’re so right. It’s very demoralizing as a reader to just see “no, not that one, don’t read this, that one is awful…” Fine, then tell me what I CAN read! Geesh! Book bloggers are so good in helping to surface the stuff that is worth people’s time!

  3. My opinion of a book often differs from that of a critic because what I am looking for in a story is usually the opposite of the critic. For me it is all about the pleasure derived from the reading experience whether it be a high brow book or a comic. A critic will always value the high brow and diss everything else. (Unless it would make them more money to praise well.) Bloggers are generally avid readers like myself so their opinion and what they are rating a book on is going to be similar to mine. Whether I agree with the bloggers opinions on a particular book or not is another story.

  4. Literary criticism and blogging about books are different animals, I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. Though I have read plenty of literature, I am not interested in taking that route when writing my reviews of books. Yes, my reviews are my opinion which boil down to whether or not I liked a book; but that’s the point of my blog.

    What I don’t agree with is that bloggers are writing to the detriment of books. That’s a bunch of bull corn. I believe that we are encouraging reading by writing of books. I want to tell my readers about something that I liked or why I didn’t enjoy something. If a reader doesn’t have the same tastes as mine, then they can find another blogger who does. It’s like finding a movie reviewer you agree with; you know you can read their reviews and easily come to the conclusion about whether you should spend your money or move on.

    • I believe that we are encouraging reading by writing of books. I want to tell my readers about something that I liked or why I didn’t enjoy something. If a reader doesn’t have the same tastes as mine, then they can find another blogger who does.

      Precisely. I don’t know how book bloggers are enemies of literature.

  5. I enjoy book bloggers because very few of them are compromised by a corporate marketing agenda. Same goes for any media, really. I’ve bought too many DVD’s and video games based off “official” reviews and the product can be substandard. I love indie-publishing (that is, if it’s well-written) and bought-and-paid for reviewers are rarely, if ever, going to expose these gems. Book bloggers have no fear of this.
    Further, I rely on the bias many book bloggers carry. I know what genres I enjoy and blogs cater to that lust well. No matter the media, I trust many blogs and customer reviews more than I do from official journalism. Fanboys, dare I use the term, have a keener eye and a sharper tooth for the genres with which they are obsessed. I rely on that obsession.

  6. As a blogger and independent author I humbly disagree. If you write for awards and inclusion into a club of other award winning writers, you might follow his reasoning and be excluded forever. If you write for your own entertainment and there are those that are also entertained by your thoughts, let the market decide.

    “People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off.” In his own words – “It just ain’t so.”

  7. Originally posted by me on a thread at the group, “Connecting Readers & Writers” on this topic:

    “In general, I think the blogging world, although I also blog and support it, have made far too many people feel they are experts on a subject and that whatever they say should be taken as fact. Mostly because they’ve written it as fact, or that their opinion or view is the more correct, important, factual, believable, etc. There are as many, if not more bloggers however who are very professional although not officially in that capacity.

    I am a reviewer and have had a site for some time Flying With Red Haircrow. As commenters have said, I am not easy, as anyone reading my reviews will see but as an author and publisher also, I am fair. I’ve studied literary criticism numerous times on the way to a couple of degrees, but that is not the basis on which I review generally. I feel I’ve been successful largely because I do not concede to pressure to be liked, or widely followed or anything else. I have such a high volume of requests now, I’ve had to start set reading periods being overwhelmed by numbers.

    Referencing the article, I do not believe bloggers vs. literary criticism will be detrimental to literature because I feel that’s somewhat insulting to the average reader, especially serious ones. It’s somewhat downing reader intelligence and their ability to deferentiate between objective criticism and a personal angle of piqué, as well as their being able to choose what they wish to read or not.

    Sure, there does seem to be more observable trends and fads, where people blindly follow recommendations or “jump on the bandwagon” just for the hell of it or they personally like the blogger, or for whatever reason. But discerning readers can pick out those supplying “criticism with personality” if they want to.”

    Review Site: http://flyingwithredhaircrow.wordpress.com/

  8. I think that most bloggers don’t simply judge a book by its entertainment value, but dig deeper into the plot structure, the writing itself and the characterizations within. I also think that bloggers bring a wider variety to the table as far as background is concerned. We come from all walks of life, much like the people who purchase the books we blog about. I find it rather small-minded to presume that one has to have a Journalism or English Lit degree to properly review a book.

  9. I think bloggers are amazing and I’ve been seriously impressed by the quality of their reviews and professionalism. They take great pride over the design of their blogs and it’s always a pleasure working with them.

    A big thanks to all the bloggers I’ve contacted so far and who have provided detailed, honest and clear reviews, which have all helping to improve my writing and provide readers with a precise and truthful review.

  10. I am on the side of Bloggers. They, for the most part, seem to have their minds open to new literary endeavors. While on the other hand, professional critics seem to have their heads up their arse(s), which makes it difficult to read.

  11. Of course he is speaking rubbish, he judges the BOOKER PRIZE for God Sake!!!! By default, he is the head of the circus, who still has their nose curved towards the skies.
    He still thinks crime writing is stuff of dreams, and can never be part of serious fiction!!! Yeah yeah I get your point SIR!!!
    Well. Maybe his blog has few followers thats why he is bitter, because according to me a amateur blogger would be more open about the book, than a professional critic. After all its his profession and there is money involved, I guess you get my point!!!

  12. I think it can go either way. I tend to read the review as well as read between the lines. Either type of review might influence me to read a book but the final decision will be whether or not it sounds good to me from the blurb and reading a sample page. Book bloggers probably help the industry over all. Pro critics can have a tendency to be pedantic and agenda motivated, which the latter might be true for book bloggers. I don’t make a habit of reading too much of either, but I enjoy reading both if I am reading reviews.

  13. “Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same.”- i agree with that bit of his statement. generally, i don’t go by reviews while picking a book. it’s almost always based on the blurb and a little bit of serendipity.

  14. I totally agree with Alex. I might add it sounds like someone is concerned about job security. What makes them more qualified then any other reader to comment on a book? It’s all a matter of personal viewpoint whether a book is good or not, and I’m sure there are some who seek out a “literary” expert’s opinion on a book, but there are those who just want to know if “Hey, this is a great book- you should read it!” That’s good enough for me.

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !

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