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Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press
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11/16/2005

Comments

Doug Crandall

This argument has always struck me as ridiculous. Sure, someone with a Ph.D. in English better understands novels, but that doesn't mean that you nor I have any opinion about a book. No one is saying that the members of Amazon.com have as much credibility as Roger Ebert or Harold Bloom, but this isn't exactly the same thing. Harold Bloom is not going to lose his job to the Amazon.com five star rating system. We're talking apples and oranges here.

Also, we are working off of a system of supply and demand. Harold Bloom is never going to review To Tame a Highland Warrior, so people that are interested in this book have to turn to the reviews of those who would review it, namely those on Amazon.com. These critics are just inflating their egos. They will never be tossed out into the street, they just want to secure their superiority over the average person who dares to have an opinion.

Lauren Cerand

Sure, the democracy of the web can revolutionize cultural conversations, and that's a good thing, but it's equally true that there are a lot of poorly-written reviews floating around with little context provided for the average reader. I'm glad to see this topic taken up for critical discussion. The "Critics are snobs, rage the IMDB chatboards. What do they know? I'd rather listen to someone just like me" meme is particularly terrifying!

ed

First off, I should point out that with nearly every author interview I have conducted, I have gone out of my way to ask critical questions, even if it is an author, a book or a publishing house I adore. (In fact, just the other day, I talked with the author of a book that I found particularly compelling and took him to task for his argument, despite the fact that I agreed in large part with the argument's points.)

I carefully read the books and meticulously research subjects. And I refrain from asking bullshit questions about their personal lives. I really don't see newspapers doing this, nor do I believe, in light of the egregious puff pieces seen in the NYT of late, that they are interested in furthering critical thought, much less even a rudimentary intellectualism.

Certainly, there is a problem with critical thinking, but I would contend that this has more to do with the rush to classify things into silly dichtomies, a propensity to groupthink and to regularly agree, and, most importantly, the inability by some people on the Internet to consider the other side of an argument, much less engage in a discussion without vilifying the participants, in which there is a considerable disparity between the opinions presented. But I think that's a problem that cuts across all media.

Campaspe

Thank you for the track back. I think you are right, and I did understate the degree to which many articles and, too often, reviews are extensions of a media outlet's corporate interests. I thought my Working Critic correspondent had made an interesting point, and the post was really an attempt to get other thoughts, so I am glad to see your post and the comments. If I am honest, it is usually a lousy professional critic, and not an illiterate Amazon poster, who prompts me to rub my temples and reach for the Scotch. But cultural blogging has its own insecurities. Every once in a while I stop and ask myself, to borrow a Thurber line, "who are you, anyways?" A contributor to the dialogue, or a loudmouth with a DSL connection? Probably both. Meanwhile, I find better film commentary in the blog community than I do in many major media outlets, so if the revolution is coming, perhaps we should let it come.

Dan Green

Campaspe: Thanks for your comment. I have to say I as well generally find better book commentary on litblogs than in most newspapers. I just hope that doesn't change.

Ed: I enjoy your show a great deal. I do not at all think of it as puffing up the "book business." If publishers want to appeal to blogs or podcasters for discussion of their books and authors, that's fine by me, as long as they're willing to accept the consequences--independence of thought from the bloggers in question. And as long as bloggers continue to value such independence, even if the review copies and the interviews stop coming so readily.

David Thayer

Blogs have introduced an element of uncertainty for publishers that is shared by producers of music, film, big finned automobiles, you name it. Like Louis Quatorze on his balcony they must wonder what the mob will do. Let them eat review copies.

R  A  Rubin

Hey,my movie reviews are real cool. Cooler than yours dude!

Jonathan  Mayhew

What are the qualifications for a professional movie reviewer at some big city daily? Having a strong interest in film, some opinions, and the ability to write coherently and briefly about recent films. There are plenty of people who aren't "professional critics" who could do just about as well.

ed

Jonathan: Speaking as a former film critic, I can tell you that film critics are recruited by using a large scraper to extract an obsessive and often bitter individual from the bottom of a towering DVD pile. If it can be demonstrated that the individual can more or less put sentences together and write seven reviews a week on deadline without completely cracking (which often involves seeing about ten hours of films in one sitting, including the godawful ones), then she is often hired for the outlet. It is low-paying and unglamorous work, and I envy anyone who can still sustain any enthusiasm for film after five years.

Sam

The average book buyer hears about a book three times before he/she buys, according to the numbers I've seen. Given the scant column inches devoted to books by newspapers, and the practical impossibility of advertising every book adequately, online book talk seems necessary to both book readers and book sellers, even with quality concerns.

Thanks for the link to the McLamee article, btw. Unlike most of Scott's stuff it's complete bullshit, but I had fun hating it.;-)

the highway scribe

Fun discussion.

In the end, the quality of the review, not where it is presented, should be what moves the reader. As the writer of a POD book I have to make the same argument all the time: "Sure, the new means of publishing and increased access lead to the production of bad work. But what are we saying, the traditional publishing establisments (journalistic, literary, electronic) only generated professional and quality product? POD publishers didn't invent the crappy novel and bloggers didn't invent the ill-informed review."

Nathan

"I have to say I as well generally find better book commentary on litblogs than in most newspapers..."

Dan, all respect, but it seems to me that while litblogs certainly have *more* commentary than most newspapers, the commentary is not necessarily *better*. How can it be better when most litblogs seem perfectly happy to simply provide links to various articles appearing in mainstream media? There's a difference, I think, between providing commentary and providing a clearinghouse for the Guardian, Independent, NYTimes, WaPo, Salon, etc & etc. (I'd also argue that there's a difference between "commentary" and "comments," and that the content of many, many litblogs would fall into the latter category.) (I would also exclude "The Reading Experience" from that analysis.) (Love this site.)

Dan Green

Nathan: You're describing a subset of blogs that primarily provide links, or links with brief commentary (some of which is itself very incisive). This category doesn't by any means include all litblogs--I'm not sure that it any longer comprises a majority of litblogs. Your description is becoming more of a stereotype than an accurate account of what literary weblogs have become. I could point you to many blogs on the blogrolls to the right that do indeed provide extensive commentary, although I don't know that we need to get into a naming names game. The same is true with film blogs. There are quite a few providing commentary at least as substantial as what you can read in the local paper.

Nathan

Dan: If it's becoming a stereotype (meaning many blogs are doing something *else*) then I'm very glad about that. I fear that many bloggers have become too heavily reliant on the link: as the thing that substitutes for actual analysis; as the fundamental unit of meaning; as the thing which gives a post *reason to be.* The danger being, of course, that this approach will inevitably shape content. Just as the popular software application PowerPoint was shown to shape thinking to serve its own functionalities (according to an article I read today in "The New Atlantis"), so too the act of linking promotes a certain kind of analysis: namely, only that which is linkable is worth analyzing. Which is a strange position for a person writing about print culture.

Not true of every blog, of course, but it's what I've been seeing a lot.

I'll look through some of the blogs on the right side here, as you suggested. And if you'd care to email me the names of a few great ones, I would very greatly appreciate it. Best--

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