Peter Stothard, one of the panel of judges for the Man Booker prize made this comment a few weeks ago, whilst lamenting the ‘diminished critical standards of the literary blogosphere’. In an interview with The Independent, he said “There is a widespread sense in the UK, as well as America, that traditional, confident criticism, based on argument and telling people whether the book is any good, is in decline.” He went on: “Criticism needs confidence in the face of extraordinary external competition. It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste … Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same.”
Now, I perhaps should be offended by this seeing as Stothard has just taken aim and fired at what I love doing. However, as indelicately he has put it, he does have a point. Being a professional critic is not the same as amateur book reviewing, and nor should it have to be. I don’t try or even pretend to be a literary critic, I’m just one of many people in this life who likes reading and likes talking about reading with other fellow book lovers in the hope of exchanging and sharing ideas on the things we read, as well as encouraging each to read more. And I’ve had some fantastic conversations so far namely with plantain1 and Claudette Beckford-Brady both of whom have given me really good food for thought concerning the books I have reviewed and on books they have read.
For the record, I’m not saying that other so called amateur reviewers do the same, I’m just talking about myself here. For me my reviewing of books is about creating a forum for discussion and introducing people to books they may not have read before. A few friends who have checked out this blog have said that it has encouraged them to expand their reading habits as some of the books I have reviewed they either haven’t heard of or haven’t thought to read. To me that’s more of a complement than to be seen as a high-brow professional critic like say Michiko Kakutani. That’s not to say that I don’t like literary criticism, I do, though I don’t read enough! I just think the purposes of a blog like mine and a review by a professional critic are different. And I don’t think that bloggers such as myself are to the detriment of literary criticism or even pose a threat. There is room for both to exist in the world and it is important for people (readers) to know and understand the difference between the two, which I think by and large, people do.
Peter Stothard’s comment that ‘not everyone’s opinion is worth the same’ is a bit harsh and unnecessarily so because people’s opinions generally are worth something. Just ask any author with struggling book sales! Or an author just starting out who probably depends on ‘amateurs’ like me to give them a chance. It’s a privilege to read stuff by new and as yet unknown authors, and to be part of their journey to literary success in what ever shape that might take for them is great. And who is really to say amongst the literary elite who’s opinion is worth more than the other, surely it’s a matter of who or what you agree with, and personal taste. Who’s to say that I or a real literary critic will agree with the judges’ choice for the Man Booker prize, just because they like the book and deem it worthy doesn’t mean to say everyone else will. But then they already know that and perhaps therein lies the crux of the problem.