Friday, November 24, 2006

So Who Do We Think We Are?

Whose book reviews carry most weight these days? Those of established critics in the mainstream press, or those of bloggers and on

Apparently, critic John Sutherland (left) stoked the flames when he declared in the Sunday Telegraph a couple of weeks back that the online amateurs were invading the hallowed ground of the established literary press. (The article is not online unfortunately, though you can read a subsequent interview with Sutherland here.)

Novelist Susan Hill (right) quite rightly took Mr. Sutherland to task on her blog, but I think went too far when she declared:
... the traditional book pages of most of the national newspapers are largely irrelevant ...
The plot thickened rather when she received an apparently anonymous threat via e-mail telling Hill that her future books wouldn't be reviewed on the sender's literary pages.

I respect greatly the reviewers in the mainstream press and the best of them set a very high standard.

I've read equally excellent reviews on literary blogs. Susan Hill points out:
If I am writing about a new book or an old book for that matter, to recommend it, I hope I am taking as much care in writing the blog as I would have taken with a sub-editor breathing down my neck. ... The Bloggers – by which mean the true Bloggers, the independent ones, not the side-kicks of the press – are quietly, slowly but very surely, gaining power. And a lot of people do not like that one bit.
But what I appreciate most about the reviews by other bloggers and Amazon commentators is that they are written by ordinary folks who read books and therefore are in a sense more to be trusted.

I also wonder about the politics involved in the book pages of the mainstream press. Not every book can be reviewed and I really wonder what kind of pressure publishers must exert to get a first time author reviewed. And I've seen on occasion some honestly less than brilliant fiction, hyped to the heavens and wondered just how impartial those review pages really are.

Bloggers and others bring a democratic voice to the debate about the merits of a book. And in Malaysia where fiction gets little exposure in the mainstream press, I think are even more important.

And if none of the newpapers want to review Ms. Hill's next novel, I will find space on my blog!


sympozium said...

I think there's more than sufficient room for all reviewers to exist side by side...

John Ling said...

Seems to me that these snobbish elitists are insulted that the 'crude masses' are diluting their tender bourgeois sensibilities.

Well, as a writer once said, there are no inferior genres, just inferior practitioners of genres. In the same vein, I would say there are no inferior reviewers, just inferior reviews.

The sooner snobs understand this, the better.

Anonymous said...

I find the Amazon reviews quite useful to get a general sense of how a book is received. A few are helpful in giving details. I still rely on the mainstream (international) reviews AND on some blogger reviews (you, for one) not just for opinions but also for the review's own writing merit. It's similar to reading Roger Ebert's movie review even after hearing the comments from your friends regarding the movie. The conclusion may be the same (good, bad, so-so), but it's the journey to that conclusion that makes a review worth reading, in my opinion. Eliza.

bibliobibuli said...

it's the journey to that conclusion that makes a review worth reading i think that holds for me too Eliza. a well-written review is a real pleasure - the best ones are the ones i read and think "i wish i could write like that"!

writing reviews on amazon gave me tthe confidence to write reviews for publication ... i found one of my reviews appearing (with no credit given) on a whole lot of websites and decided that since my writing could obviously hit the right chord, i should capitalise on it!

i don't read any reviews until i've finished a book and made up my own mind - and then i really enjoy them

The Visitor said...

erm, pls explain to me how there can be "no inferior reviewers, just inferior reviews"?

Lotus Reads said...

A very relevant post, Sharon, especially as there has been a lot of discussion recently on Meteaux cafe about publishing houses "using" bloggers to promote their books. Some people are of the opinion that when publishing houses offer bloggers free copies of their books they are essentially buying a favourable review and if that is the case are blogger reviews completely honest? I happen to believe that there is no harm in bloggers receiving ARC's (I would accept free books in a heartbeat)but I would mention the source of my book and I sure wouldn't hesitate to declare a book a lousy read if that's truly how I felt. A book needs publicity and even if the publicity is not so good, it sure beats not being mentioned at all, doesn't it?

Sorry if my comment is not completely relevant to your post...but it just seemed to tie in with the latest talks doing the rounds in the lit blogger world at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon...

Yes...I owe your my story. But let's put that aside for the time being.

My comments have got nothing to do with this post. I just wanted to say that I admire your persistence in writing. Not only do you write everyday but you read about writing and you read books that are worth reading. I envy you and there are times when I wish I have more time in a day to spend doing what I like to do the most. I know it's no excuse but it's true that 24 hours just aint enough in a day.


bibliobibuli said...

lotus - 'tis relevant! yes, i've also heard about bloggers being "bought" but don't know how much truth there is in it.

i have received just a couple of free copies but am so lazy and behind with myself i haven't written about those books yet - though intend too. I would not give a favourable review if i didn't feel the book deserved it, even if someone gave me a free copy.

i don't want to be obligated to anyone - my blog is where i find freedom to write what i feel should be written

having said that i'd love to find a way to make money from this blog that din't involve being bought or having ads plastered all over it

bibi - you sound a bit sad and overwhelmed. miss you! hang in there ... things will get easier.

Anonymous said...

Book reviews anywhere are mostly bogus. I mean, Dan Brown LOL :) I found most of the good stuff on my own, at book fairs and stuff. I think a good book can't be reviewed, it would be like trying to describe love, or why you like for instance apples and not pears.

Eternal Wanderer said...

I am rarely influenced by reviews although I would seek out reviews of books that I have read to find out what people are saying about it. I prefer to read the blurbs of the books I wish to buy and if possible, the first three or four pages of the book.

The reviews that I don't trust most is the one on sites like and Barnes & Noble. But I do check out Silverfish's newsletters, Bibliobibuli, Ted and Eyeris' sites if I'm looking for a new book to read. When I look at reviews or write a review, I'm only concerned with how the writer flesh out his story and which audience would most likely enjoy the book. I don't like reviewers who slam books, insult the author's (and also the readers')intellect and just plain rubbish someone's work that probably took one or two years of their lives to write. I find a lot of these comments on Amazon, thus, the reason why I don't trust them.

That's just me of course, who is trying to be an all round nice guy! :-p

bibliobibuli said...

i read reviews after i've read a book too (i don't even read the blurb beforehand!)

and i've been wicked enough to slam books on amazon i'd have been politer about if reviewing for print. my excuse? i was an angry consumer who felt duped! when you spend money and feel cheated by a book it's delicious to take the author apart for revenge! i think i've grown politer though ... or at least more diplomatic.

i do value the amazon reviews because they are honest reactions. some are very well crafted too. and some of the reviewers simply "don't get" the book. i wouldn't make a purchasing decision based on them but i do enjoy reading them.