Critics have been described either as jackals, tearing apart high art they don’t understand, or as the helpers at the Gates, great minds who mete out gold stars to deserving creators. The book critic was historically considered to be the lowest form of journalist for most newspapers, and though some gained fame, they were largely considered lesser journalists and completely inferior literary scholars. Despite this, though, there were, and are, great critics who inspire readers to think about books in interesting ways. Some critics, Micheal Dirda, comes to mind, have gone so far as to make book criticism an art in its own right. Before the book blogs, the delineation between author, critic, and reader were clear: authors wrote books, critics critiqued them, if they were any good, and readers read both. Now the lines have blurred between critics and readers; readers are reading, having their own opinions, and writing about them on blogs. Now, everyone wants to have their say, jackal or gate helper, and the message from the print side is that bloggers aren’t up to the task of creating decent reviews.
There has been a massive outcry from print circles about the lack of substantive thought and the dirth of good writing on the web. In some respects, this is true; the web can be a sinkhole of inanity, but there are writers out there who are writing well. In addition, I find it amusing that many of these critics themselves have blogs, which would seem to indicate that they champion some aspects of the form. Regardless, a line is being drawn between print and blog, and it’s being drawn on intelligence and experience.
Print writers believe they are smarter and better than the bloggers. They feel that they should be given their due by the public more than the bloggers because they have worked hard, read a lot, had an editor, and been paid really poor wages. Bloggers, most of them moonlighters and hobbyists, couldn’t possible reach the standards of intelligence and sentence formation reached by print reviewers – it’s just not possible. Yet, great writing is produced everyday on blogs, and the fact that it is presented on a blog shouldn’t diminish its excellence.
The debate about blogs versus print points to a deeper issue: we’ve reached an uncertain point in our reading lives. Some wonder if books will even be around in their present format in 20 years, while others worry that no one will be able to read them if they are. The print writers bemoan the loss of the great critic, one that could call readers to the bookshelf merely by the strength of his/her own words, yet all is not lost. In my opinion, the fact that the web is nearly glutted with book blogs is a tremendous testament to the public’s love of reading. As people read books and book blogs, they will also find their way to printed reviews.
Print writers should welcome the vibrant life of the book blog world, rather than shun it; it means there are readers. Perhaps a way can be found for print reviewers to embrace the book blog, to raise it up from the puddles of passing thought, to a height more literary. In the long run, this might be a smarter option, rather than railing about stupidity and the loss of standards.