I have grabbed another entry from "Passive Voice" as a thought-provoking comment even as Joe Konrath defends sock-puppetry, and reader opinions on Amazon are being questioned.
Stothard (chair of the Booker Prize Judging Committee) says:
“If the mass of unargued opinion chokes off literary critics … then literature will be the lesser for it,” . . . “There is a great deal of opinion online, and it’s probably reasonable opinion, but there is much less reasoned opinion.”
He is spokesman for literary fiction, of course, and there is rather a chasm between self-pubbed fiction and Booker Award winners. There may also be a great deal of envy for successful genre fiction authors and the attention they receive from critics. But the point he makes about "argued" opinion and "reasoned" opinion is valid. A book review should be able to prove its judgment with examples. Alas, we don't seem to bother with those any longer.
A book review should also be open to critical evaluation by other reviewers.
And no, it's not a matter of just opinion. It must be reasoned and supported opinion, and not everyone is equipped to render such reviews.
You're right about Harry Potter, but that took a while.
As for publisher creating hype: publishers don't do anything for their authors unless the author is already famous. And yes, they can do a lot to support new authors and they used to. They just don't any longer. Hype costs serious money because these days it involves TV appearances and whole country tours. It still happens, but not to us.
The bottom line, I think, is that in this day of the proliferation of blogs and anything-goes opinions about everything, you (the reader) have to become your own "gatekeeper." Keep your own counsel. I wish it were not so, but it is. And you cannot argue with people who think otherwise. So, I don't try. I know I'm right---I know good writing from bad. And if I'm reading a review, I can tell an "argued opinion" from a "reasoned opinion" well enough to suit me. For instance, anyone who describes anything as "awesome" has no credibility with me---even if I agree with them. :)
Book reviews are writing too. But they are preambles to reading something else. That's where the critical evaluation comes in, for me. If the reviewer is persuasive, I might read a book I wouldn't otherwise have been interested in. If I think the reviewer offers, as you put it, a "reasoned and supported opinion," then I'm much more likely to be persuaded. Having said that, I'll also say I don't often read reviews these days.
All very true. Of course, there are reviews and then there are other reviews. I do read blurbs on backs of books from the New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, etc. Their reviewers are intelligent and well-read people or they wouldn't be on the staff of those papers.
I do not like famous author blurbs, partially because some are outright lies when the author couldn't be bothered to read the book but was obliging his publisher or agent, or they are kindly and overly generous praise because the famous author is a nice person who likes to give a struggling colleague a leg up.
The trade reviews (PW, Kirkus, LJ, and BL) are ok, but they lean toward content summary to give salespeople and librarians an idea what kind of book it is.
What I've never liked is the review that simply says that a book is good or bad. The good reviewer should put the book into a continuum. Is it a good book for those people who enjoy Patterson's previous work? Is Ulysses a good representation of Irish modernism and how should it be read. A simple review saying that a book is good or bad is useless unless you know the tastes of the reviewer.
“If the mass of unargued opinion chokes off literary critics … then literature will be the lesser for it,”
Literature is already the lesser. Do many people look to literature for much more than entertainment these days? Maybe this is an idealized past, but maybe we once looked to literature as nutrition and now it's mostly just dessert.
Sure, we all have our own opinions, but there isn't as much nutrition in ice cream as there is in spinach (but, you know, someone will argue with that these days, too ;).
It's very hard to know at the present time where we find our inspiration and which values will survive. Literature tends to be judged 50 years after the fact, maybe longer. And there is no rule that says genre novels cannot also be literature, or become important in their own right. Literary critics bring some standards or criteria to new publications that may suggest certain lasting values.
Sure, but I'm thinking more about the place of books in the bigger picture. Has the role of literature changed since books are no longer the only long-form fiction we have? Or has the role of fiction changed since we have other ways (not necessarily better ways) to get know other people?
Longform fiction? You mean movies and TV programs? I rather think that movies have so far been following books and not the other way around. (Leaving aside printed versions of "Murder She Wrote" or "Monk"). I have a notion this is heading in the direction of entertainment vs. "literature". again.