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April 18, 2013 / ljbradburn-Smith

Thursday Thought – Blogging and Literary Criticism

I have now being writing my blog for a few months and was dreaming up a new topic, to write on, when I came across an interesting article about blogging and literary criticism. I’m a bit out of date in my discussion, as this article was written in September last year, but I am sure that it is a debate that continues to rage on, much like the books versus ebooks debacle.

Peter Stothard, editor of The Times Literary Supplement and chair of 2012’s Booker Prize judges, made disparaging remarks about book bloggers saying that they could end up harming literature as they are drowning out the voices of the official literary critics. He felt that, “someone had to stand up for the role and the art of the critic,” before the evil book bloggers (metaphorically) bash them over the head and steal their lunch/book money.

Now before you get your angry face on, I also must point out that Stothard is a blogger himself (pause to unfollow) and so his point is rendered rather redundant from the get go. If he genuinely believes that blogging is detrimental to the work of literary critics and that their art needs protecting then why does he do it? Furthermore, why does he expect his opinion to be listened to when he clearly comes from such a contradictory position? Well Mr Stothard?

I imagine that his ‘do as I say not as I do’ attitude comes from a self-important view of his own opinion. The fact that he blogs shows that it is not the actual blogs that he has a particular problem with but the people who write them. He says that, “not everyone’s opinion is worth the same,” but opinion is opinion, it is personal to everyone and by its very nature comes about through people’s natural reactions to things. So how can Stothard assume that just because an opinion is not the same as his or that someone is not getting paid to share it that it isn’t as valuable?

Aside from all this, I think that it is highly unlikely that since the blogging boom that readers of literary criticism have decided they don’t care what the critics have to say anymore. I will start to feel sorry for them the day that they have their houses repossessed because bloggers have stolen the very sofas from under their bums.

Literary criticism and blogging are different ways of writing and should be treated as such. This isn’t to say that one is more valuable than the other, they are just different in tone and often in their use too. Whilst literary critics are no doubt talented, at what they do, they have their specialisms, their personal biases and views just like everyone else and so can never be completely objective in their criticism anyway.

Bloggers range from published authors, students studying literature to readers who just love books and this makes for a lot of varied and exciting reviews about all kinds of novels from all kinds of people. It has opened up a whole new way for people to learn about books and this can’t be bad!

I am only guessing here but I also imagine that it is a great honour for authors to have their books written about at all, whether it is by a literary critic or a humble blogger. I can’t imagine that authors write books thinking, ‘boy I hope that a literary critic writes about this’. I would imagine their aim is much more likely to be focused on reaching out to a wide audience and appealing to all types of people. Readers are what makes literature great and keeps the art alive and readers are the people who write blogs.

Stohard argues that blogs have a lack of reasoned argument and of telling the reader what is good. For a start ‘telling the reader’ anything doesn’t matter because they will still form their own opinions when they read a book and the people who decide whether they like a book purely based on someone else’s opinion are few and far between anyway. I don’t care how many prestigious awards a book has if it isn’t a genre I like or about a subject that even slightly interests me I won’t read it anyway, no matter who says I should.

Stothard paints a contrasting picture to my own view of book bloggers who, in my experience, are intelligent, inspirational people, with a genuine passion for books, whose aim is to spread the word about the importance of literature and encourage people to read all types of novels from the contemporary to the classics. Due to the nature of blogs, followers of them get much more of a feeling about their author than you might from a piece of formal criticism and so I think it is easier for the general public to find out about a particular person’s taste and judge if it is similar to their own. Often I use recommendations from other bloggers who have reviewed books I have read and know I love.

The ironic thing is that many book bloggers are actually reading books from the Times Best 100 Books, and other such lists, as well as novels that have won the Booker Prize, and often providing a more light-hearted, accessible account of these books, giving them more coverage and reaching a wider audience. The mere fact that blogs are accessible to everyone was a bug bear for Stohard who felt that the amount of information about a book could actually harm it. If he is referring here to negative reviews by book bloggers then I am afraid that people have their opinions and it is the general public and not only literary critics who will buy, read and generally determine whether a book is a success so why shouldn’t they have their say. Surely the point of it all is to read and enjoy literature. Blogging is rarely about assuming to be the only authority on a subject and more about opening up discussions and inviting opinions of others (unlike Stohard).

Right, now you have more of the facts feel free to do your angry face and make it a good one!

So Mr Stohard put that in your book and read it. I hope you enjoyed my blog 😉 I might add that it also doesn’t help that his face is very punchable, although not even Jake Gyllenhaal could convince me to stop writing about what I love.

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2 Comments

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  1. ronnie / Apr 18 2013 7:59 am

    Haha well said.It is advisable for people to embrace humility and listent to what others have to say rather than holding on to arrogance.

    • ljbradburn / Apr 18 2013 8:26 am

      Thank you very much 🙂 Yep, too right! I think people miss out on a lot if they aren’t willing to listen to others. It’s a shame for them really! x

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