Search This Blog

Thursday, May 17, 2007

An Old Argument

The first part of this article reviews a lot of the contentious arguments between book critics and bloggers that we've all heard before, but then moves on to some interesting points.

excerpts from Battle of the book reviews:

"Many believe there's a healthy synergy between the two (critics and bloggers). Maud Newton, who runs one of the more respected literary blogs (, was puzzled by the idea that the two are somehow competing. "When bloggers disagree with or agree with an article about books in the mainstream press, it drives traffic to the newspaper," she said. The cutbacks at newspaper book reviews are unfortunate, but hardly the fault of bloggers."


"And although many newspaper reviews are shrinking, Dennis Loy Johnson — an independent publisher who started Moby Lives, one of the pioneering literary blogs — believes they continue to offer more solid content than most online efforts. "It's a dirty word in 2007, but blogs have not raised the level of intellectual discussion," he said. "Book blogging is for the most part book gossip and fresh commentary, or opinion. It's vital, but it's not true literary criticism."

I love reading reviews from other bloggers, but I certainly don't like the fact that newspapers are cutting their book editors and reviewers. The above quote is often true, most bloggers (certainly not all) are interested in book gossip (Who is reading what and does it sound good?), fresh commentary (Gosh, I read the book and didn't notice that --symbol, character, incident, allusion, etc.-- and it makes sense.), and opinion (Liked it. Hated it). This information is fun and informative and has expanded my reading horizons and pleasure. I don't believe it is anything to be ashamed of.

Yet I still want access to a professional critic's opinion, and newspapers are doing us all a great disservice by eliminating book coverage. There are some excellent sites on line for book information, including some excellent criticism, but newspaper coverage IS broader.


  1. I agree with you. I hate what seems to be happening to the literary sections of this country's major newspapers because they are killing off one of my favorite Sunday pastimes. I love the way that the internet has made it possible for me to read so many different newspaper book sections every week.

    Most book bloggers do not "review" books in the same sense or style that professional reviewers do the job. Bloggers are more about their personal reactions to books than they are about where a book fits into the literary world. We know what we like and why, and that's what we try to express in our own way. And I certainly think there's a place for that kind of thing because I have expanded my reading world by reading book bloggers in a way that the more literary newspaper reviews never did it for me. I read the newspaper and magazine reviews to learn which books I "should be" impressed with and why. Professional reviewers have the background and education that help them to see books in a way that most bloggers will seldom approach. But I'm more often mislead by professional reviewers than I am by book bloggers. I read for pleasure and for knowledge. The best books offer me both. I want to know what people like me are reading and enjoying...that's exactly what book bloggers tell me and I love them for it.

  2. A second everything Sam has said. Even if a blogger has the education and background to write professional reviews, that's not what she's doing in the blog, and that's not what others read her blog for. We bloggers are a community of booklovers, and we want to write/read what others of our tribe are enjoying (or not). I discover a lot more books through bloggers than through the professional book reviews, which have limited space, and have to appeal to (i.e., sell to ) a more specific audience.

    (And I love reading your reviews!)

  3. I third what Sam said! I am not a profession reviewer in any sense of the word. My blog is simply a place where I can share my thoughts and impressions of the books I read and I don't pretend to be an expert or even very good at it.

    I too have come to trust bloggers opinions more than the professional reviews though. I feel like I'm getting a "real person's" thoughts on the book, someone like me.

    I have never really read newspaper reviews, but still I hate to see those sections cut because I know that many people do enjoy them.

  4. Sam - I know things are changing, but a lot of people still take the paper exactly for things like book reviews and cultural events, getting the news itself from television. They may lose more customers than they realize by cutting in this area.

    There is a place for both and blogging raises interest in more formal the benefit of newspapers.

    Melanie - A community, yes! That is the fun of blogging, the sharing!

    L.F. - I love the book sections, but that is usually once a week, and blogging is every day communication and sharing. As the article mentioned, there is a "healthy synergy"! And as Johnson said, book blogging is "vital," even if it isn't (and doesn't pretend to be) "true literary criticism."

  5. I agree with you. I don't understand why both can't coexist happily. I miss the book reviews in my local newspaper. I still read book reviews from the "critics" but why does that mean I can't have a say about the book either. I love to read book bloggers reviews because they are usually on a more personal level, and with comments on blogs well that just opens up a dialogue between the readers. My book reviews are my diary of what I've read and how I felt about it. Simple as that :)

  6. I have never thought of my blog as bing any sort of professional review or criticism of a book. For me is an online reading journal--more chatty for discussion perahps. I know where to go to look for professional criticism and reviews. I like to have a more scholarly or educated interpretation of the books I am reading, but I also like to know what others thought on a personal level. Sometimes this constant argument back and forth makes my head spin!

    Also I will have to pick up the Gruen book (I didn't notice a place to leave a comment on your post). I have looked at it, but never felt compelled to buy or borrow it. I will have to look closer next time.

  7. Chiming to say here! here! and me too, what you and everyone else has said.

  8. Not much for me to add other than "me too!"

  9. Feeling like a broken record here, I have to agree with everyone else. When I started my blog, it was never supposed to take the place of professional reviews. It was FOR ME PERSONALLY. I didn't actually think anyone else would ever read it anyway!

    I LIKE reading book blog reviews. I get a chance to see what someone that I like and can relate to thinks about a book that I might like to read. It doesn't take the place of anything!! It enhances my reading experience!

  10. I agree with everyone else, too. The funny thing about bloggers is that there are plenty who have literary training, have journalistic backgrounds or have written professionally in some other capacity but choose to write about how a book makes them feel rather than sticking to a more formal review. I think that's wonderful and there is plenty of room for both professional critics and casual reviewers. Obviously, the people who read book reviews are readers; we're looking to read about what to read. :)

  11. I always find this interesting. I guess in theory I want there to be true literary criticism, but then I often cannot distance that title from book snobbery. I guess one of the hard things is determining what makes one a good critic. There are soooo many who may seem like good critics and then they make statements dismissing books while admitting that they 'don't like this genre', etc. Some of the things that are happening were brought on by the industry itself so I cannot entirely feel sorry for them. Although I still wish they would continue, despite some of the negative feelings I have surrounding paid critics.

  12. Exactly! There are many bloggers who have the ability to be professional reviewers, some even do those kind of reviews. I like what Danielle said, that our blogs are 'online reading journals', to share our impressions of our reading. I don't think we are attempting to provide academic literary criticism, just sharing our enjoyment of reading. I certainly read both, as I am sure lots of us do.