Maybe there was not so much a smackdown in this LA Times article on the recent brouhaha between traditional media and the litbloggers. It’s about the side argument that got started when the NBCC started a campaign to save the book review pages. Several critics made statements that made litbloggers seem like piddling book entertainment. The litbloggers got angry, understandably. This article seems to be trying to calm things down and make the book review editors feel like their sections still matter, while also validating the work of the litbloggers. I see us at somewhat of an impasse. The mainstream media claim that blogs lack true criticism, but where is the true criticism in the New York Times Book Review each week? Are reviews really criticism? I’m really asking the question here. What is it that the papers do that we don’t? My reviews are brief for the most part and probably fall short of being literary criticism, but is it better that I discuss books here that won’t get mentioned in the mainstream media? What do they want us to do?
Taking this English class has made me think about the importance of literary criticism more and more. Cynthia Ozick’s cranky essay ‘Literary Entrails‘ in April’s Harper’s about today’s lack of true literary critics also sparked some thoughts in my brain. Questions like ‘what does my site provide readers’ have been zinging around my brain ever since I read that essay. Am I providing anything of value? I don’t consider myself a “critic”. I am a professional book buyer though and probably see more books each day than most people do in a month. Does that help? If I had an English degree would that lend more legitimacy to what I write on this blog? I’m mostly musing here, sharing some of the thoughts I’ve been having recently. I liked Callie’s response to the article as well. She offers that the litblogs can do things that the newspapers can’t, offer MP3s, podcasts, cover author readings, etc. All of these things are important and open up a broader dialogue about books, something truly important in this day.
Perhaps you’ll read this and wonder how I segued from the bloggers vs. mainstream media topic to the value of this particular site. All of this controversy has been making me think, that’s all, about my role in it, if any. So thanks for listening.
Your reviews may mostly be brief, but you’re still one of my go-to litblogs. I’ve heard of a great many interesting books through you.
Sure you’re a book buyer and generally more of a fan of reading, with a great respect for writers and the work they do. I’m sure this plays into your not being too critical of very many books, but I’d rather this respectful approach be taken than one that’s more practiced and/or haughty.
Well, as I see it, the litblog reviewers fill the great gulf of everything that falls below the high peaks of the major media review pages, the anointed high priests of their reviewers and the industrial publication complex. They can only read and review so many… for all the rest, there’s sites like this one. (first time comment, but have read for a while)
I believe the litbloggers (at least quality litbloggers such as yourself) are essential, and that their influence is becoming more and more influential as traditional print review pages shrink. This should not be a surprise. Digital media is overtaking analog media on ALL fronts. Newspaper corporations are finding it hard to deliver solid headline news profitably, let alone book reviews. As for what constitutes “real criticism” – isn’t this normally reserved for obtuse scholarly journals? Reviews of popular books in mainstream media have never struck me as falling within the rubric of formal criticism. What the quality litbloggers do is just as valid, often more valid, then what one sees in the mainstream press.
I think all the discussion–which, to me, seems more like baiting than anything else–is tiresome. One of the reasons I started reading lit-blogs is because there’s a community here. Everyone is welcome to participate, regardless of his or her background. I’m currently reading “Don Quixote,” a book I wouldn’t normally have bothered tackling. But I’m a member of a blog, with about 25 other readers, devoted to reading and discussing “DQ.” It’s such an imposing volume that, for me, knowing that others are reading with me spurs me on and makes for thought-provoking discussion.
But I also have lit-blogs to thank for expanding my literary horizons. Now I read a lot more than I ever have in the past–blogs DO promote literacy, I think–and blogs give me more information about books and events than any print review sections. I don’t mean to disparage the reviews–professional reviews are important–but I think blogs offer a lot more by way of immediate information than the review sections.