So I had this whole other post all but good to go, then Mr Mark Charan Newton - author of The Legends of the Red Sun and The Lucan Drakenfeld Mysteries, which I'm awfully excited about - twittered a link to an article from The Guardian. The headline sorta says it all:
BOOK BLOGGERS ARE HARMING LITERATURE,
WARNS BOOKER PRIZE HEAD JUDGE
So proclaimeth Peter Stothard, lamenting the end of an era in his eyes. Specifically the era of literary criticism... because of bloggers. Because we're idiots and amateurs all!
This is nonsense, obviously. Then again, as one such charlatan, I would say that, wouldn't I?
If you haven't already, off you pop: read Alison Flood's interview in its entirety here — and give the comments a gloss if you have the time to. That's where the actual debate is taking place, after all... though it seems to me somewhat one-sided.
That said, it's easy to see why so many are railing against Stothard's comments. Essentially, his argument is that literary critics are in a sense superhuman; in their knowledge and understanding, in their wit and insight, literary critics, according to Stothard, stand apart and indeed above the opinion of the uninformed, unedited and one presumes unwashed that you and I number amongst. In this way the chair of the Booker Prize momentarily lowers himself to give us the bath we clearly dearly need.
Normal people, in other words, don't know what's good for them. Only literary critics do. Thus we should all shut up.
Or is it?
This may prove an unpopular opinion, but beneath Stothard's snobbery, I wonder if there isn't a glimmer of sense in his sentiments. Because there is a difference between bloggers and literary critics, isn't there? I don't believe it's half so simple as this old blowhard would have it - that one presents an argument whilst all the other has is an opinion - yet there is a split somewhere, surely.
I mean... take me. You all know I write for a fair few sites outside of The Speculative Scotsman, including Strange Horizons and The Science Fiction Foundation, but I certainly don't consider myself a literary critic, and I sincerely doubt many other bloggers would describe themselves thus.
Though please, feel free to disagree.
So there is, least as I see it, a difference. It's hardly killing literature, as per Stothard's discriminatory silliness, but it is changing it. Unrecognisably in certain respects.
For instance, folks tend to attribute Fifty Shades of Grey's mega-success to the phenomenon of self-publishing, but let's not kid ourselves: without word of mouth - without many millions of us contributing to that word of mouth, by blogging amongst other things - it would have come to nothing. In this case, literary critics can't be blamed. They had next to nothing to do with it.
And perhaps that's emblematic of what's really bothering Stothard. Because in ages past, literary critics did dominate. And now they do not. Now they're made to share the limelight with mere mortals.