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 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!