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More on (Did He Say “Moron”?) Book Reviewing

Following on the heels of the recent Book Review Backlash, it seems that the realm of the argument has breached the blogosphere and (somewhat) entered the mainstream. I’m referring to to a recent Time magazine essay by book critic Lev Grossman called My Mortal Enemy, in which Lev talks back to blogger Edward Champion who apparently has been vocal about disliking Lev’s reviews. Says Lev:

I want to be clear: I don’t think Ed Champion is an idiot. I’ve read some of the other, non–Lev Grossman-related posts on his blog (which is mostly about books), and have found them to be highly opinionated but otherwise cogent and well-informed, and sometimes even charming. Ed Champion is not insane. He’s just unswervingly committed to the position that I am a complete tool.

I know, I know, I should toughen up. Blogging is a knockabout sport, and as a writer I’m fair game. You’d think I could just ignore Ed Champion (you can find him at edrants.com yeah, go ahead, don’t all click at once) and most of the time I do. But it’s harder than you’d think. Blogs reach a big audience. People read him. People link to him. Google frickin’ loves Ed. Not long ago I set up a website of my own, and despite the fact that it’s my website, and it deals with nothing but Lev Grossman, and it’s located at levgrossman.com Ed’s website still comes up ahead of mine half the time.

It’s nice to see a magazine acknowledging the blogosphere, but for Lev, his life is “increasingly being invaded by these people”. Lev’s position on blogging:

It’s one of the singular features of our little social-technological moment that people all over the world whom we otherwise would never even be aware of can effortlessly impinge upon our minds and lives and desktops. We probably see fewer people in person these days, but our lives are populated by an entire chorus of disembodied presences, amplified and directed by the Internet, as if we had all begun to suffer from a mild form of schizophrenia. Everybody talks a little louder now. There’s a little less mental elbow room.

Getting back to book reviews, Lev said this week in a Critical Mass interview:

At the risk — nay, certainty — of sounding kind of snobbish, I wish book sections in general would leave book-reviewing to the pros. There’s a pervasive notion that anybody who can read can write a book review. Not so. Good god, there is nothing so boring, so dank and unappealing on the page, as a bad book review.

And at the risk of sounding reverse-snobbish, I’d like to see more serious review attention go to genre fiction. It is, after all, what most people read. The worst of it is very bad, and the best of it is very very good. Why not help potential book-buyers divide the one from ‘tother?

For further reading: Bud Parr at Chekov’s Mistress has a well-thought-out response to amateur reviews. (Also cross-posted at MetaxuCafé.)

[via Niall at Big Blog of Cheese]

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

3 Comments on More on (Did He Say “Moron”?) Book Reviewing

  1. As I read Lev’s comments, I can only think of the phrase in Zen “finger pointing at the moon.” The phrase illustrates the problem of over focusing on the means of expression rather than the true meaning. Mistaking the finger as being important rather than the moon it points toward.

    IMO, the book review and the book reviewer should not be the focus and set on a pedestal as Lev’s vision of things is. His finger is mistaking itself for the moon.

    Despite the delusions to the contrary, there is not some objective way of judging quality in writing that has any useful meaning. Instead, it is far more valuable expressing why you like and dis-like something, and readers need to learn to gauge how much a reviewer’s tastes intersect with their own.

    Anyone can review books. The reviewers, pro or not, I will go back to are the ones where I can best decide whether I will like the book or not. There are some reviewers that I read because in some areas we agree, while others are reverse barometers – what they dislike, I like, and what they like, I dislike.

    Book reviewers as appointed gatekeeper of quality is part of the problem leading to people reading less. Book reviewers as helping people find books that they would love is part of the solution.

    In addition, I think the day of the mainstream book reviewer is numbered. I look at the trend of music for many I know. I know almost no one who reads music reviews to buy music. Instead, they listen to samples, rely on websites like Amazon, eMusic, iTunes with their extensive reader comments – and more importantly features like folks who liked X also like Y. People who bought the things you do, also bought these.

    However, I babble…

  2. I just got Crossover in the mail a few days ago and noticed on the site that John’s reading it. Now I’m nervous that I won’t be able to ignore his review before I even start reading it.

  3. Heh-heh. Behold the power of the book reviewer! 🙂

    Seriously though…all reviews, mine included, should be taken with a grain of salt. Just because a reviewer likes/dislikes something doesn’t mean you will too. We all bring something different to the reading experience and we all take away something different too. All readers should for their own opinion.

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