Does My Blog Harm Literature?

After publishing my commentary on book reviews the other day (see This is not a review), I was intrigued by this discussion of the role of the literary critic. The article by the Times literary editor published in the Guardian smacks of elitism, but it also raises an interesting question: What is the role of the critic in the determination of literary art?

Art, it seems to me, is not only something new, but something that influences the future of the form. Is a book art because a critic tells us it’s so? I distinguish between book reviewing and literary criticism. The first is an immediate reaction (and few reviews, except perhaps retrospective ones, achieve the level of literary criticism); the second requires more time to trace the roots and assess the subsequent impact of the work. Readers want reviewers to tell them if something is worth reading, not if it is art. If it is art, it will take care of itself.  –TG

A Little Blog of Books

According to Peter Stothard, this year’s chair of the Man Booker Prize judges, book bloggers are harming literature.  Well thanks, Peter.  Thanks a lot.  I’m sure there are many people who have come across my blog who might have been indifferent or in strong disagreement with my reviews but I never expected the whole concept of my blog to be accused of being detrimental to literature.  That seems quite extreme to me.

I am not a professional critic.  I enjoy reading books and nobody pays me to write reviews.  I did not study English Literature at university.  I do not work in publishing or journalism.  As a blogger, I don’t have an editor to check my posts and I know my writing isn’t perfect.    However, I completely reject Stothard’s assertion that blogging is drowning out ‘serious criticism’.  He appears to have lumped all bloggers into the category of what…

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Filed under Commentary, Reviews

13 responses to “Does My Blog Harm Literature?

  1. Thanks for reblogging. It is true that professional criticism and blogging are two very different things but I thought Stothard’s comments about bloggers were very unfair.

  2. Pingback: Gee thanks, Sir Peter! « a discount ticket to everywhere

  3. lesliemorlie

    A readers’ blog is in essence a virtual book club. Would professional critics condemn book clubs as well? Both blog and club promote reading. This is ipso facto positive, isn’t it ? – in a world in which, not long ago, academics were bemoaning the decline of reading and projecting the demise of literature due to the development of other media. Reading a book blog is not mandatory: those who prefer serious lit crit needn’t subject themselves to the evidently painful lack of academic analysis. Academic analysis and immediate aesthetic enjoyment are two different kinds of appreciation. That said, I do agree the better the background, the broader the compass of understanding, as is the case in all fields. Certainly scholastic focus enlarges one’s capacity to appreciate (or depreciate) a writer’s work.
    Nonetheless the two represent separate modes of discourse. So an optometrist may find a pair of eyes beautiful on different levels: that he knows the technical structure of a pair of eyes in no way contradicts the common man’s enjoyment of their spell. Professional criticism should perhaps not blindly assume impaired vision on the part of the common reader; rather its purpose is to enhance or correct it if need be – like a pair of glasses.

    Perhaps it’s important professional critics not prejudge the blog as a form. They did that in the 18th century: the novel itself was originally considered a base and “common” literary form, unfit for educated consumption.

    And in the end, what’s a “canon of literature” but works which have been read and appreciated by readers with diverse backgrounds, literary acumen and areas of expertise across a broad spectrum of time? One might think professional literary critics would be pleased people are reading and passing the word, generating new students of literature.. I hate to be crass, but this is commonly known as “job security.”

    • That’s a great analogy about the optometrist. And I agree, a newspaper critic writing a book review is hardly literary criticism though the journalists in the business might like to think it is. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Hear hear! Though I must interject here that not all book review blogs are the same. There are some which do in fact verge on the edge of literary criticism, though not perhaps sufficiently so to satisfy the likes of some.

  5. That seems like a rather curious criticism to make – how can more people talking about books (by writing about them), even if critically, be a bad thing?

  6. wee bee would be honored if someone were to insist that her blog harmed literature. she hopes to someday be on the vatican’s list of banned books, too.

    gotta love a good a-hole critic or two 🙂

  7. mwheelaghan

    Hi Tom, great post. Peter Stothard seems to be advocating censorship of some kind. Surely not? Are the literary establishment running scared?
    Cheers again – I enjoy your candour.

    • Thanks. I think they are running scared. As newspapers and magazines struggle, the arts sections are often the first to go. If I were a book editor, I’d be a little nervous, too.

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