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Literary Criticism Can Not Be Accomplished By Bloggers (Again)

If you haven’t already, you may want to read this article before continuing: The bionic book worm

It is quite evident, given what the editor of the TLS says, that the “professional” (in quotes because I think it’s run its course) literary critics have no knowledge of book bloggers at all. It would appear that those who scorn bloggers have simply logged on to Google and found a few blogs that may not represent the community at large, or they have simply not spent enough time browsing to find blogs that suit their tastes. And it’s rather funny really that, furthering this, Peter Stothard fails to realise that many bloggers share a similar educational background to him. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come across many profiles that cite Oxbridge and indeed other educational institutions of high regard; maybe you are one of them? And they are good writers.

It is ridiculous of Stothard to suggest, subtly as he does (yes, I’m being kind there), that the opinions of all bloggers are of no importance and should be disregarded. Not only is he fundamentally wrong, all he achieves by saying so is to reveal his own prejudice of anyone who does not conform to the high standards he has created for himself. If Peter Stothard does not approve of you, then that is all that matters. Never mind that there is a place for every opinion online, and that people in general appear to appreciate the concept that anyone can have an opinion which is worth listening to – if Peter said that a person who doesn’t read shouldn’t have an opinion on such-and-such a book, that would be easier to understand, but to scorn the very valid opinions of a person who read the book is elitist. And I think we’ve seen enough of that against our community, when will they learn? Indeed, as Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog said, “every new article about how bloggers are ruining something is really an acknowledgement that bloggers are powerful” 1. The bigger picture isn’t that bloggers are bad, per se, it is that they may mean the end to “professional” criticism. Perhaps if the media actually bothered to write about books as much as they used to, and didn’t just display their class and educational status in their reviews, there would be more healthy competition between us rather than a reason for scorn. Because as has been said numerous times, there is a place for both our factions.

And how can it be said that some opinions do not matter? Of course there will always be occasions where a person will review in a positive manner a book that another thought was an abomination to literature, but that positive review has its place. People think differently, they appreciate different things, and what works for one person won’t work for the other. A blogger might review a book in a way that reveals they lack understanding of the background context. Another person may not find such a review helpful if they happen to know the context – maybe the blogger will say something that makes no sense or is literally irrelevant given that context. But, and this is a big but, that review would appeal to someone who also doesn’t know the context of the book, and the fact is very few, given the number of books we read, will ever know the context behind everything. That includes people of Stothard’s ilk, whose mistakes are often pointed out. We often learn through our reviews and the discussions we have about them. There will always be someone who will find an opinion useful, even if others don’t. That in itself is reason to suggest that all opinions count, and particularly it is reason to suggest a level of equality in opinions.

So Peter Stothard, and every other “professional” critic who hasn’t bothered to spend time doing research and discovering our various purposes, can continue blathering on about what they have little knowledge of, making a fool of themselves in the eyes of not only those who they scorn, but the very many who support bloggers. Maybe one day they will realise that there is not such a strict divide between “them” and “us” and that the people who work with “professionals” often work with bloggers too. Perhaps that’s another thing that gets them in a twist, the idea that it is no longer exclusive.

Their motive is not to suggest that good criticism is in decline, their motive is to prove their own worth and to push back the force that is eligibly turning the tide. Unfortunately for them, it is their own methods of working and the refusal to work with what is popular that is the real enemy they should be throwing their words at, and it seems unlikely they will ever realise it.

If Peter Stothard wants to keep up, he should probably reconsider his workings – “in a normal year, you might read 20 novels” – and see how many novels the book bloggers are getting through.


1 Rebecca Schinsky, on Twitter, 25th September 2012

More opinions on this topic:


Tanya Patrice

September 25, 2012, 6:40 pm

Just wow – the comments on the actual article is priceless – and have you seen the response @ Book Riot ( – well said!


September 25, 2012, 7:41 pm

Well said, Charlie! Stothard is clearly stuck in another era and feels threatened by something he has no idea of. If all “professional literary critics” thought like him, they’d go extinct in no time (and they should really read more than 20 books a year ;))


September 25, 2012, 9:55 pm

That is so disappointing — what a limiting attitude! I know that social media has created a change in attitude by consumers, representing a focus on the opinion of one being as valid as any other opinion — and that frightens some folks. But a plethora of opinions, however schooled or unschooled, shouldn’t be scorned or viewed as negative. It sort of boggles me that any champion of literature and reading can be so small minded — I suppose it shouldn’t — so disappointing!


September 25, 2012, 10:10 pm

I read more than 20 books a month and cite Oxbridge in my profile. Guess he didn’t find my blog, but I do do YA rather than literary fiction. I find it odd when people write up a long opinion without doing research first.


September 26, 2012, 10:48 am

If I’m truly honest I have never read a critics review of anything. When it comes to books, films, and television shows I would much rather ask friends and family their opinion. Now I have a blog I have other bloggers to ask too. Personally I don’t feel I can relate to critics, I don’t want a critique I want to know how a book made a person feel.


September 26, 2012, 8:08 pm

I have had my own little ‘rant’ about this too, it really is silly.

“Perhaps if the media actually bothered to write about books as much as they used to, and didn’t just display their class and educational status in their reviews, there would be more healthy competition between us rather than a reason for scorn. Because as has been said numerous times, there is a place for both our factions.”

I completely agree! This is all about class, the more educated. I cannot express how the high cannon of literature aggravates me!

I think there is a place for both Stothard’s ideal and the actuality of book blogging. Each has its own merit. It’s when discussions of what is better happen that I feel disdain for critics like Stothard.


September 27, 2012, 1:59 pm

Tanya: Yes, I saw Amanda’s article, she’s completely correct I’d say. Damien Waters has posted to The Guardian too, and the comments are similar there.

Tze-Wen: A different era, exactly. I’m struggling to see how 20 novels works, if that makes up the Booker list then where does the reading that provides context come in? – non-fiction can only do so much.

Audra: Social media yes – in a way that phrase is an issue, for example do we consider blogs social media? Unfortunately the small-mindedness is rife.

Liviania: Case in point, your blog, which I suppose could be called a stereotype breaker, as far as this debate is concerned at least (in reality we know better). I think if he had done research and shown us he had (and one would have displayed the other by default) it would be easier to understand his opinion.

Jessica: Critic pages can be interesting but yes, it’s generally good to get another opinion. Maybe an exception can be made there for non-fiction if what you’re looking for is a comment on bias. Your feelings sum up why we need both, critique for those who want it, and opinion for the experience.

Alice: Added to my list. Yes, the use of the word “class” is difficult to apply here, because I think everyone who is commenting realises that class isn’t quite as straight forward as the interview suggests, but it is correct nonetheless. Both are better for different reasons, and both have their place. I liked what Simon said (interviewed in The Guardian): bloggers don’t moan about critics, we appreciate them.



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