A couple of weeks ago, I blogged briefly about "A conversation that can't be controlled", a chapter written by Sarah Wendell that appears in Book: A Futurist's Manaifesto. At the time I wrote:
"The co-founder of Smart Bitches Trashy Books, a review site for romance novels, Wendell sees the interaction between readers and writers, as well as with other readers and maybe even publishers, as more than healthy. In her view, it is inevitable."
In Wendell's experience, the interaction also helps sell books.
So, when I read that Peter Stothard, chair of this year's Booker prize judges, had criticized book blogging as a threat to the future of literary criticism, I was left scratching my head. Alison Flood of the Guardian reported Stothard's thoughts:
"If we make the main criteria good page-turning stories – if we prioritise unargued opinion over criticism – then I think literature will be harmed," Stothard told the Independent. "Someone has to stand up for the role and the art of the critic, otherwise it will just be drowned – overwhelmed. And literature will be worse off."
Okay, I'm still scratching my head.
I'm in favor of great literature. I also am in favor of people reading. But the notion that only a select few can engage with a book and adequately position it for posterity (and the rest of us) echoes Philip Roth's recent rants against Wikipedia.
Even with a burst of review sites around the world, there still are special classes of reviewers. But these days, they aren't all chosen by the media elite.
I agree that someone who reads for a living can offer a specific and important perspective, and I hope those jobs continue. But someone who lives to read and write about books can offer an equally important voice as we try to sort through what is great and not so great.
The endurance of great literature depends on more than the elites. It has always had to reflect the judgment of a conversation that can't be controlled.