Gee thanks, Sir Peter!

Man Booker Prize

Man Booker Prize (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Sir Peter Stothard, chairman of this year’s Booker Prize panel, my blog and all the hundreds of others like it are killing literary criticism. It’s nice to feel liked, isn’t it?

“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.” […] The rise of blogging has proved particularly worrying, he says. “Eventually that will be to the detriment of literature. It will be bad for readers; as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain’t so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off. There are some important issues here.” Source: Independent 25.09.2012

My initial reaction was to get all hurt and huffy. How is talking about books we like worse than the log-rolling of the Books of the Year or Summer Holiday Reading lists that fill the pages of newspaper review supplements so nicely? Private Eye has a long history of pointing out the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” nature of those things: writers puff books by their friends, by authors with the same publisher, by people who puffed theirs somewhere else. Politcians chose books that will make them look brainy or cultured, or show that they’re down wiv da yoof… Celebrities pick books that fit their image and so on.

Or maybe it’s the publishers who are killing literature with their celebrity cook books and band-wagon-jumping. Fifty shades of vampire detectives anybody?

And then there’s that “Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same,” bit, which as many people have already pointed out, smacks more than a little of elitism.

But then I calmed down a bit. I’m sure he has a point that plenty of book blogs aren’t very good. There are also plenty that are, although I wouldn’t venture to say where my own falls on that continuum. I don’t feel that what I do is literary criticism. It’s certainly partial, prejudiced and quite possibly also ignorant – just like me talking to my friends about what I’m reading, liking and disliking.

In other words, it’s that “word of mouth” thing that publishers always try to generate, only written down.

Other people write book blogs that are far more literary, proper reviews, proper criticism. They make me feel vastly inferior sometimes, but hey. That’s an aspect of literature I never particularly enjoyed, so I leave it to those who are better at it.

I think what I’m trying to get at here, in a slightly rambling, incoherent way, is that the internet is a big place. There is plenty of room for us all, so let the conversation flow and let’s not be shut up or put in our place by Sir Peter or anyone else.

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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2 Responses to Gee thanks, Sir Peter!

  1. E-Gusta says:

    I agree with this 100%. Yes, the internet is big enough for everyone, but the idea that only a privileged group of people have the right to have their voices heard is objectionable.

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