Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Book Reviewer is dead! Long live the Book Reviewer!

Colin Robinson isn't saying he's elitist, but he's elitist.

Last week, we learned that adults are not allowed to read anything written for people under the age of 18. We learned that we were in fact stunted developmentally and that is the only reason we could sympathize with the problems of protagonists younger than us.

This week, we learn that us amateur book reviewers, particularly those of us on Goodreads, are contributing to the distribution of sub-par work rather than leaving recommendations up to the literary experts, the Professional Book Reviewer. (Also amateur writers who write as self-expression rather than...umm...why else do writers write? Money? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA wait.)

Now, I will start out with some positive comments. Robinson isn't entirely off in some of the problems he lists in the book publishing industry. (He mentions the cut in pay to writers, which begs the question of "why should these writers continue to write" if not self-expression and creativity? Entirely for the edification of other people? HAHAHAHAHAHA I learn a lot of new words from Preston and Child but I don't think that's their point.)

However, the crux of his piece is that without the guidance of professional book reviewers, the rest of us are lost, adrift in a sea with no way of discerning land, even though we know what land looks like, and may have learned to use the telescope on our own rather than attending lectures on "Telescopes' Usage in the Crows' Nest During Various Weather Phenomena". How are we, the common non-intellectual people, to know which books are good to read, and which are terrible? How can we be a discerning public without kind Father Book Reviewer to steer us in the right direction?

Simple. The way most people learn about new books. Friends, family, the cover drawing us in, etc. As much as Robinson would like to think book reviewers were once guardians of the culture, they weren't. On the occasion I've actually decided to read a book recommended by a reviewer at the New York Times or other newspapers, I've found that I generally hate the book. Clearly there is a gap between what the reviewer thinks and what I think. And while a well-written critique of a book can be useful for everyone, it doesn't have to be written only by professional reviewers.

But that's where the elitism comes in. It's not enough for me to form my own opinions on a book. If the book reviewer is meant to be the guardian of culture, then it stands to reason that those disagreeing with them are the "uncultured", the "commoners", as this Book Riot article puts it.

Taste in books differs. While I may look askance at someone who thinks Twilight is good literature, I'm sure someone else will point out that, despite my realization that the Selection series mainly fluff, I made a little squee noise when I saw the third book had come out. People generally give us many good reasons to dislike them. Why make something trivial such as which book they like a reason? (Unless it's for a reason that reveals something terrible about them-such as the Neo-Nazis who think Lord of the Rings was totally about them being right, even though it was kind of the exact opposite.)

So, Mr. Robinson, let's make a deal. You review the books you like, and I review the books I like, and let people decide what they want to read.

But to make you feel better, you can have this Cleolinda mousepad. It seems to suit you.


  1. At the same time, I think that there is such a thing as objective quality in literature. Good writing is good even if no one likes it; bad writing is bad even if everyone likes it. (The same incidentally is true for movies and music. I loved the 2010 Clash of the Titans, but I'm under no illusions that it was an example of good film-making.) Part of the problem I think is that in the arts, the literary arts no less than the visual arts, for about a couple hundred years the "professionals" have been whiffing it. They have been trying to bestow the title of "objectively good" onto things that are objectively bad, and the folks in the cheap seats have started to realize that the emperor has no clothes.

    A big part of the problem is that artists and writers have come to be viewed as prophets rather than craftsmen. In the Renaissance a painter was paid by a patron to create a particular painting, and the artist took pains to pour every bit of their skill and craft into the task. In the 20th century artists made art that expressed their inner insights for other critics, often making it appear unskilled (I'm sure for deep, philosophical reasons) and reveled in the fact that most people hated it and thought it was ugly (the Phillistines!). The same has become true of literature. Normal, healthy human beings want books with likable characters that they can relate to, a clear distinction between good and evil (Which is not to say perfectly good and perfectly evil characters. Just a world in which we can tell when a character is being good or evil.), and an ending that satisfies the expectations of the reader. There was a time when this was the hallmark of objectively good literature. Aristotle even said the same thing more or less. Now though, the critics love novels that subvert all these. We get books with banal or unlikable characters who live in amoral worlds. And don't ask for a happy ending, oh no! (such a plebeian thing to desire!). In fact, don't even look for an ending that actually resolves anything.

    However, if God is God (and He is), and if He created this world (and He did), then the books that most people enjoy and want more accurately reflect the real world as it exists than the bleak, ambiguous, "realistic" books that the critics try to peddle to the public, which instinctively notices the cheat.

    1. I think you accidentally wrote a blog post over here. ;-)

      Yes, some books really are just bad. I like how Cleolinda described Twilight, which I think applies to bad books. When you want a Twinkie, you get a Twinkie. But you shouldn't be under the illusion that the Twinkie is actually a steak dinner. XD

  2. Yep. Maybe I'd better schlep on back over to my blog and make this a bit more sensical since I've already done the hard part of typing out my incoherent thoughts. Good post btw.

    And on the subject of bad books: people should read them if they feel like it. I know that McDonalds is not quality food, but sometimes there's an emptiness in my soul that only a large McD fries can fill. Same way with books. Know the good from the bad, but having a few junk food books isn't going to kill your brain.