I am camera-less today, so must rely on words alone. Time to take a stand on something which has moved me to speak.
The latest Persephone Books 'Letter' quotes an article on the subject of literary criticism and its value in relation to the bookish blogs. This is not a new topic, and I've seen and heard many instances of the critic (whether of books, music, art) seek to discount the influence of the blogging 'amateur' and belittle their abilities. Blogging is described as "yammering", and those who write about books on their blogs are said to be offering "hasty, instinctive opinions". That is as opposed to the crtitic (or his "humble cousin", the reviewer), who is deemed to know what he is talking about.
As one who has moved up from mere yammerer to humble cousin by virtue of now being paid to write reviews, rather than just offering my hasty, instinctive opinion here, I take issue with this dismissive, short-sighted and condescending attitude. The article suggests that a blog post is the equivalent of a chat with a friend, something dashed off with no thought of any scrutiny or permanency. I beg to differ. I read all books carefully, whether I have to make public my views on them or not. I spend as much time writing my review pieces for Cornflower as I am now doing for The Good Book Guide. I respect those who will read what I have written, whether here or elsewhere, and try to make sure that what I am producing is accurate and informative. Persephone themselves have quoted me in their "Biannually" which might indicate that what I write is worth printing and not just so much hot air.
The critic, who has the benefit of the space of a lengthy article and whose remit is to give an overview of the book in the context of the genre or the writer's work generally, is supplying a different product to that of the short review writer. The two are not mutually exclusive. While the critic's reputation might be so great that it requires no mention, I do not need to see the qualifications of those who are the self-appointed 'popular reviewers' when it is clear from their output that they make an informed, intelligent appraisal of the books they read.
I scarcely turn to the books sections of the weekend newspapers now, rather taking my reading recommendations from the experienced heads of those whose blogs I visit regularly - people who are knowledgeable, concise, committed to sharing a passion for books and adept at doing so in an easily accessible - but by no means frivolous - way. My experience is that the book bloggers are not just 'fond of the sound of their own voices', but passionate about what they do and eminently suited to doing it. "Hurrah for blogs ... but only if they are never mistaken for anything but yammering", the Letter goes on. It is not yammering I read when I turn to the websites which impress and inspire me. The Dovegreyreader and her ilk may not be as eminent as A.S. Byatt, but it's not always the height of the brow that matters.
Please note: since this post was published, the Persephone Letter in question has been edited to remove some of the more contentious remarks referred to.
The opinions of this writer, as expressed above, stand.