Recently I followed an interesting discussion in social media regarding the role of literary critics as opposed to book bloggers. My own opinion in a few words:
1. Here the literary critics, there the book bloggers – in my opinion that’s already a wrong alternative. Some literary critics have a blog where they publish, some book bloggers are professional and/or knowledgeable literary critics.
2. There is indeed no principle antagonism between literary criticism and book blogging. The literary criticism or essay or review is a literary FORM. It can be published as a monograph/book, as an essay in a literary journal, in a newspaper or in other print media – or in electronic form as a blog. Book blogging is a MEDIUM of publication, not a literary form. An article published on a book blog may or may not be a literary criticism, or essay, or review written by a professional and/or knowledgeable person; to take the MEDIUM (paper or electronic) as the defining criteria for the quality of the content (as indeed many participants of that discussion did) is missing the point completely in my opinion.
3. In each country there is a specific tradition of literary criticism. In the German-speaking countries for example there is traditionally a kind of clear division between literary criticism as a scientific and academic subject and popular literary criticism that aims to inform and advise potential readers regarding books. The academic literary critic aims at gaining knowledge, discovering connections of the work with other works, putting the work in many respects in the context of artistic, historical, sociological, and other scientific disciplines, using a set of tools that are the result of academic training. The target audience of this kind of academic literary criticism is not the general public, who wants to have advice what to read but a peer group that consists almost exclusively of other academics.
4. While academic literary criticism is important and has a raison d’être on its own, it is obvious that the general public is usually not interested in scientific essays, but in reviews that inform about content and author of a book, and that are able to highlight the particular strengths of the book in question and guide the readers of the review in a way that helps him or her to make up his/her mind if they would enjoy this particular book. Depending on the personal knowledge and ability of the individual reviewer and also of the target audience, reviews could be long or short, informed or clueless, superficial or deep.
5. The percentage of book bloggers and of academic literary critics that are able to write a good book review for readers is approximately the same, according to empiric evidence that I gained in the course of many years. The main defaults of a certain part of the book bloggers in this respect are the inability to write properly and too little knowledge about the subject. The main defaults of a certain part of the academic literary critics are the inability to write properly and too much knowledge about the subject.
6. An academic training in the field can help to write a good review of a book; but it is not an obligatory precondition – just the same like with Creative Writing Classes: not all graduates become good authors, and most excellent authors never studied Creative Writing or any literary subject.
7. I got the impression that a certain part of the audience seems to think that someone that writes in a way that I don’t understand proves that this person must be a great expert, and therefore deserves admiration. I got also the impression that a certain part of the audience seems to think that book bloggers are corrupt – while literary critics are not. (I had to laugh aloud when I read this – it shows such a touching ignorance of the true state of affairs in the literary world). To both groups I just want to say: wake up, you are delusional! Or maybe you should just start to read some of the good book blogs about which you seem to have no clue, but obviously a lot of prejudices and – some of you – sneering contempt that is absolutely not justified.
8. In a functioning book market, academic literary criticism has its place just as book reviews for readers. In a functioning book market the reader can and should decide by himself/herself, who can help him/her to find the right books for him/her. Traditional academic literary critics had kind of monopolized the review pages of the print media over decades. The success of book bloggers shows that the general audience was looking for something else, or something additional, had needs that this closed society of literary academics did or could not satisfy. Book bloggers bring an additional element of competition in the market place – and thus they can enhance also the work of traditional literary critics. You may like or not like book bloggers, but they are here and they intend to stay.
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