Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Had to add this

I followed a link from Conversational Reading, a blog, to this LA Times piece on online versus in print reviews, by film critic Richard Schickel (who gets points for the name alone). It's contentious and fiesty and very interesting - a worthwhile read, especially for those in the so-called blogosphere.

The most quotable quote comes early on:
Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmaker's or painter's) entire body of work, among other qualities.
So you get he point. He's rude, sure, but he's also irritated the many readers and, on the other end, publishers are giving bloggers equal weight to reviewers. I agree with him. As with books and their publishers, we need to trust the source of this information. As he says smartly later in the article regarding why we read critics, "We do not — maybe I ought to make that 'should not' — read to confirm our own prejudices and stupidity. "

He later quotes writer D. J. Waldie, who says that blogging is a form of speech, not of writing. Youch... but fair. As someone blogging right now, I realize the impermanence of these comments. I recognize the short shelf life of this piece. I have made peace with the fact that this most likely will never be archived. It affects my approach, and therefore affects the quality of writing. If a blogger denies that, then there's a problem - and many people are struggling to deny that.

I was following a friend's links to two bloggers, both of whom were writing very personal chronicles of their lives online, who have gotten book deals out of their blogs, and I was kind of horrified. I was willing to read a post now and again, but the fact that they had been told that their lives were interesting enough and important enough, having been blogged about to death, to warrant publishing, having in print for years to come... it seemed tragic.

I suppose that gets at issues of deserving. Does online journaling make one deserving, or is the journal a possible way to work through issues and feelings, possibly to develop writing skills or at least approaches? That's what I think. Then take those developed skills, concentrate, and write something new, and interesting, and worthwhile, and beyond yourself. That's more of what I'd like to see, as that would be more substantative and engaging to me as a reader.



Dan Green said...

And how long is the "shelf life" of a typical newspaper book review?

Boston BookEd said...

With its institutional affiliation, a book review will be available in some form - increasingly, in a readily accessible file online - for many years, I imagine. The LA Times or the Times Picayune or whomever protects that article. I don't think Blogger Inc is going to protect my posts, and they shouldn't b/c I'm not representing them. A review published in a paper represents the paper and then becomes a part of its history, so it is given more consideration beforehand and more weight afterwards - and rightly so.

Dan Green said...

You're talking about the literal preservation of a review in some kind of database. Those databases will exist only as long as the newspapers, and newspapers are in the process of disappearing through their own incompetence and lack of reader interest.

Only a few book reviews in a few large newspapers are ever referred to again. Most dissipate in the collective memory like the evening mist.

Boston BookEd said...

I disagree. Scholars and general writers of history will use journals and personal diaries, but they also use newspaper and magazine accounts. As an editor, when I've worked on reissued books, I've gone back and looked at reviews of that book, and I've chosen quotes for the jacket from the ones taken from more reputable sources to impress modern-day readers, so they'll realize the importance of this reissue.

I guess I don't share your fatalistic vision regarding newspapers. I don't know that they'll remain the same, but I suspect they'll survive somehow even if they have to change to accomodate trends. I do agree, however, that they're hurting due to their own incompetence.

Dan Green said...

But I think it is highly likely that online publications *will* be preserved for the future (the likelihood only increases every day the cybersphere encroaches on print's territory). And it would be just as easy for some future editor to haul out a quote from a blog or an online review for the kind of purpose you describe.