Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Book Blogger Blah-Blah-Blah

This is very late, I know, but I only had time and free brainspace to regurgitate this after scratching off several items from my mental list of to-dos.

I don't know how many book bloggers cried when Sir Peter Stothard, chair for this year's Booker panel, asserted that their "mass of unargued opinion" will tsunami the output by bona fide literary critics. "There is a great deal of opinion online, and it's probably reasonable opinion, but there is much less reasoned opinion."

He also mentioned his predecessor's focus on "readable" books, arguing that readability can be "interesting", but "great art for the most part resists it to a degree". "Someone has to stand up for the role and the art of the critic," he added, "otherwise it will just be drowned – overwhelmed. And literature will be worse off."

I imagine people who, without finishing the article(s) hyping up Stohard's statements, going, "La sir! How snobbish!" or "At least we don't refer to the New York Times for what to read."

I was hesitant about shooting my keyboard off while this thing was still hot, because at some point I want to stop, and I can't seem to when talking about stuff like book blogging or reviewing.

A simple reply from me would be, "Rubbish." Too short? Okay...

By now it should be clear that book prizes such as the Man Booker aren't for types who pick 'readability' over 'art'. Books that can be considered 'readable art' or even 'absolutely re-readable art' are possible, but what determines that is for the most part subjective. How to explain the polarised views people have for certain books, apart from blaming rogue reviewers and easily gamed ranking systems?

That few things out there are universally loved - or hated - keeps reviewing and criticism exciting. People apply different yardsticks to measure a book's readability, bringing to bear their own knowledge and previous reading experiences.

The subsequent richness of opinion on a book or any other work can be complex and hard to cut through, but one gets a really huge buffet of viewpoints from which to choose, digest, and maybe add to.

Anybody who spends time and money to buy and read a book is entitled to an opinion, even if it's just "My cat can write better erotica" - who knows, it might just be true. Even if it doesn't advance one's appreciation of the book, at least it's entertaining and, well, if it isn't, move on to the next soapbox.

And the opinion deluge wouldn't necessarily drown out the more "critical" voices which, by virtue of their writing, should rise above the inane. Serious book people will learn how to recognise this cream; it is, after all, like picking what's good to read off the shelves. It's fine, I guess, to indulge in something 'vacuous' on occasion, as long as one recognises what it is.

One's understanding and knowledge of a particular kind of work can only increase as the discussion goes on and intensifies. That can only get better, but only if the contributions improve in quality. They will, over time, despite scepticism from Booker Prize panel chairs.

Book prizes such as the Booker may have a part to play as an established gatehouse that brings good but lesser-known reads into the spotlight, like this piece suggests. That they're not about recommended "beach reads" is pretty much self-evident. Their picks and their relevance at a time when reads appear to be dumbing down, however, will continue to be a subject of at times intense debate.


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