|On the Internet, no one knows you’re
a dog reviewing books
I’ve been reading a lot of articles and blog posts this week about the tension between literary critics and amateur book reviewers. I started to think about whether this blog of mine, which I started so that I could at least pretend I was talking to someone about the books I read, might actually be doing more good than just giving me an outlet. Most of the pieces I read defended the literary critic. Criticism, proper criticism, is not something just anyone can do. It requires an educated, widely read person who can not only summarize a work without ruining the story, but who can also help other readers understand the work.
It saddens me that newspapers and journals are shutting down their book review pages and columns. And I’m not just saying that because it would make my job as a book buyer for a library a lot harder without taste makers to help me sort the dross from the gold. I’m saying it because they help me find those books that can widen my horizons as a reader because they pique my interest in books I wouldn’t normally pick up and read the back covers of.
That’s not to say that bloggers can’t be critics. There are a lot of great book blogs out there that do what critics do. But I have noticed a lot of would-be reviewers failing to rise to even the lowest levels of criticism, especially on Amazon. It bothers me when reviewers use stars or take out their frustrations with Amazon affiliates or their hatred of an author’s politics out on a book. Books are good or bad regardless of whether a shipper was late or because an author says something idiotic on Twitter. And stars alone don’t tell you anything. That’s why I don’t use any kind of rating system on this blog. I know I whitter on longer than some people are willing to stick around for, but stars don’t tell you why a book is good or bad. They certainly won’t help you find books that will appeal to your own idiosyncratic reading tastes.