The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Oh, for heaven’s sake

Posted on: November 26, 2006

Deliver us from these latter-day Pooters | Review | The Observer  (via Literary Saloon)

I hope Cooke did not get paid for this article. Here we go again as she heralds this imaginary battle line that has been drawn between the vaunted published, paid literary establishment and the nutty, banal, literary blogs. Hear ye, hear ye, we must not give in to the masses. Look here, some blogger called her a “shit sandwich”, another one a “bint”, and of all the sites that “all bloggers”–I wonder who they are?–recommended the only one of significance that registered was Grumpy Old Book Man.

I do not read reviews in any of the british newspapers; I may catch a link or two if it is on a site, but that is it. I do read a couple of the literary journals because, to my mind, the analysis (and the word count limit) featured is miles above anything that could regularly appear in the NYTBR or The Guardian. It may very well be that the book review space in English newspapers is robust and at its best. No doubt it focuses not only on the biggest names in the publishing world, with the biggest books, that every newspaper will be covering, but on the lesser known but still as excellent works from the independent presses. The book does not have to be released in hardcover 98% of the time for it to get something more than a lightning review. Poetry is given its fair space and translated foreign fiction is never shunned. Works are not judged by their genre labelling, but by the words on the page, with no prejudice. There are, I am assured, not so many books being published every day that the newspapers are overwhelmed and no number of significantly good books fall through the cracks.

This is all so ridiculous. Why does a supposedly intelligent woman like Cooke expect to turn on her computer, step out into the internet and expect dazzling, brilliant, criticism at every corner? Everyone knows the nature of the internet–that there is no editorial body at the gate, that there are thousands of sites out there and that yes, one has to look harder for quality. That the anonymity allows people to be more rude, crass, insulting and what have you. This is the 21st century, for heaven’s sake, if you are going to start any article on the internet waxing on about such things in maidenly horror might I suggest to the Guardian editors that they should reconsider sending it to press? Perhaps it would be best to find someone a tad more internet savvy so as to give your reader’s the best idea of what is truly out there, rather than appearing as if your writer is not open-minded, has no interest in possibly learning anything new, and went in with an agenda? Why would you get people who know a lot about books to write on them but Cooke, who obviously knows nothing about the literary world online, to write about litblogs? (Do not tell me you were going for the “Forrest Gump”, everyman angle. Who the hell wants Forest Gump to find quality lit crit for them?)

It appears as if all Cooke needs to know in order to learn that someone is a good reviewer is that they are getting paid. I, frankly, have higher standards: I do not read the TLS or the LRB because there is a price for it, I read it for the quality work that is published there. And I do not read Conversational Reading, The Mumpsimus, The Reading Experience, Elegant Variation, Sillman’s Blog, The Complete Review because they are free but for their quality work. There is more of a distinct variety among the litblogs I read than in the published establishment: they works they cover are, by and large, very different. As someone who reads everything from young adult fantasies to literary fiction to romance to books on art philosophy, if I subsisted solely on the establishment I would have long since died from starvation.

I truly, truly wish that Cooke and those of her ilk would shove their egos and insecurities aside long enough to clearly look at what good criticism is out there, what good books are being covered that they may have missed, and work for the reader’s interest. (Hello! Remember me?) I wish they would realise that many litblogs do pay attention to newspapers and literary journals, link to their articles and use it for discussion, and recommend their favourites. How the heck else was I suppose to hear about the TLS, LRB, or NYRB for that matter–my classmates in school? The tv? An ad on the bus?

Oh, nevermind, why should I appeal to Cooke’s reason? I’ll simply point out that the bloggers of Moorish Girl, Edward the Reluctant and TEV have all written reviews for American newspapers. I am sure if they send her proof of payment all her worries about certain parts of wild and wooly internet will be eased.

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3 Responses to "Oh, for heaven’s sake"

I quite agree – the quality is out there and people like Cooke need to spend a little time finding it. I reckon she spent about fifteen minutes going surf-surf-surf and then condemned all litbloggers because she hadn’t tried hard enough.

This is precisely the problem with newspaper reviews; they take a provocative angle that is intended to make a statement but is often poorly researched. I should also imagine that professional reviewers are feeling very uncertain for their jobs at the moment, as litbloggers must be drawing lots of real readers away from the broadsheets. I mean, it must be so – why else all this posturing and complaining unless they feel threatened? At the end of the day, a newspaper review is only someone’s opinion, same as a blog, and it’s surprising how often I find out what I really want to know from the blog rather than the newspaper.

Charlotte, I am of the same mind. She claims that she went to at least one blog which “all bloggers recommend” but has yet to give an example of who this anonymous crowd was?

Litlove, I feel the same. I have rarely skimmed through a newspaper’s book section and found anything that caught my eye or was written with any distinct style that would make me a devoted reader. The reviews are usually written by some other author anyway and merely being published isn’t a guarantee of *anything* as far as I am concerned.

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