Too much has been written already about "newspaper reviewing versus online reviewing" (Scott Pack's phrase which he uses to introduce his rejoinder to Rachel Cooke's ill-informed, nugatory and defensive recent piece in the Observer), so I'll restrict myself to restating what I had taken to be self-evident: the internet is a massive space and "online reviewing" comes in many shapes and sizes and of widely differring quality. An enthusiastic customer review on Amazon is not the same as a review in Jacket magazine and nor does any sensible reader equate the two (journalists and populist academics aside, it would seem).

And no two blogs are the same. Some (often quite winningly) blether inconsequentially on about what books lie unread on the bedside table; some engage in serious criticism. All of this is, surely, utterly unambiguous. My fear with this debate, however, is that the previously mentioned Scott Pack (ex-Waterstones Buying Manager) and the novelist Susan Hill are continually referenced as somehow the voices of the blogosphere, the defenders of bloggers and blogging. When interviewed, I've heard neither cite serious literary websites and blogs (RSB, This-Space, the Literary Saloon, Spurious ... one could list for hours) and neither seem to be particularly well-informed of what they are being wheeled-out to defend. Commenting beyond this risks flattering this idiotic debate with import it doesn't possess. Next time you read an article about blogging in the mainstream media, however, take it with a mountain of salt.

Readers Comments

  1. Rachel Cooke's comments were spurious, lamentable, and tediously typical.

    It is obvious to all concerned that, say, a blog such as This Space, says more about writing/the novel than any broadsheet would ever care to deliver.

    We need not worry.

  2. I couldn't agree more. My blog tends to be picked up and reported because it is one that journos check fairly regularly. I am by no means an authority on blogging, the web or literary sites. I know quite a lot about books from the commercial side and feel content to be viewed as someone with a worthy opinion in that area but I should not be seen as a defender of the blogosphere. My personal taste in 'literary' sites tends towards those that are put together by readers rather then journalists, so Palimpsest is a favourite although Salon etc. are very good.

  3. Amongst other things, it surely rather depends on whether you actually think literary blogging need have anything to do with reviewing at all given that has never been anything I've felt even the vaguest aspiration towards.

  4. I'm a reader who do no blogs and read both online/offline book reviewing. Lately I found out that I bought most my books from reading online reviews--likes Readysteadybook, Literary Saloon etc. You all have done a brilliant job, while newspaper reviewing becomes cliche everyday.

  5. Charlotte Otter Tuesday 05 December 2006

    I agree that the distinction between literary and online reviewing needn't be so binary. There are all sorts of shades of reviewing, as well as many sources for finding books. Are critics taken that seriously by readers? They may be given credence by publishers and authors, but as a life-long avid reader, I have always trusted word of mouth rather than critics in judging whether I want to pursue a book. What literary blogs provide is another version of word of mouth - and because they have taken the time to write about a book, and their opinions are so obviously heartfelt, I tend to prefer their reviews over those of offline critics.

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