Literary Reviews- Old School vs. New School

27 Jul

Well, it was bound to happen. Book reviews have now moved online as book bloggers fill the gap left by increasingly limited print reviews. Many publishing companies are very supportive of these book bloggers, most of whom work for free simply for the love of spreading the word about good books.

This May at the first-ever book bloggers convention at the Javits Center in Manhattan, the presence of online marketing specialists from most of the major houses and sponsorships by HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and the Crown Publishing Group, as well as smaller publishers like Peachtree and Unbridled Books — showed the industry’s endorsement of the bloggers. “The best people in the industry are getting to know the best bloggers,” declared Ron Hogan, former director of online marketing strategy at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

It’s understandable that professionals in the publishing business would be keen to get to know the best bloggers and offer them support. There are 18,000 books published a month and newspapers can only review 300-400 of them at best. Now that the book review section of the newspaper is becoming increasingly smaller, it is becoming more and more difficult for publishers to find someone to write a review for their book, which is why publishers are so supportive of book bloggers.

There is quite a bit of debate, however, about the effectiveness of book blogs compared to print reviews. Print reviews have a formal format that includes the basic skills of book reviews. It’s less about the writer’s opinion and more about the non-biased judgment about the book and how it compares to the author’s previous works, etc. As Lissa Warren said in her blog, Can Blogs Save Books? “I think book reviews on blogs — particularly those of the Blogspot variety — tend to be self-indulgent. Book-reviewing bloggers need to move away from opinion in favor of judgment.

Others disagree with Warren. Ana Grilo and Thea James gave a rebuttal in their blog Boldly Blogging Where No Newspaper Has Gone Before. “Book review blogs encourage discussion. Much less formal and stuffy than print reviews, blogs provide a more relaxed, personal view of reading experiences that allow readers to connect with each other and have dynamic discussions via comments. There is also a much greater accessibility via blogs—especially in terms of creating contact with publishers, and authors themselves.”

Many bloggers do not see themselves as trying to replace print reviews. They just love books, and they want to share their opinions and their favorite books with others who share their passion. That means the people who are now writing the majority of the book reviews are not professionals but amateurs. (Professionals in the sense that this is their job, and they have an editor that keeps them in line.) Sven Birkerts says in his blog, Lost in the Blogosphere: Why Literary Blogging Won’t Save Our Literary Culture, “While more traditional print-based standards are still in place on sites like Slate and the online offerings of numerous print magazines, many of the blogs venture a more idiosyncratic, off-the-cuff style, a kind of “I’ve been thinking . . .” approach. At some level, it’s the difference between amateur and professional. What we gain in independence and freshness, we lose in authority and accountability.”

The debate between book review blogs and print review is the same old school vs. new school battle that has been seen countless times throughout history. Just as older generations looks down at the “wild” ways of the younger generations and purse their lips, so, too, does print media look down upon the unbounded blog reviews. Bloggers have little desire to step into the outdated shoes of traditional print media. So is this a question of blogging being in the adolescent phase of growing up or is this the start of a complete change to the world of literature? Only time can tell.


4 Responses to “Literary Reviews- Old School vs. New School”

  1. Mary Drennon July 27, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    *Sigh* Not only are writers working for free, but EVERYTHING is online these days. And now we celebrate with a book bloggers convention???

    Will this online madness do away with the old-fashioned book store, I wonder? Call me lazy or call me lame, but sitting at a computer reading a book review is not my idea of fun … I would much rather relax and stretch out while reading anything …

    I sit at a computer all day long. I am swamped with e-mails, websites to browse, Facebook, Twitter, etc., etc. Enough already!

    I cannot help but wonder what our younger generation will look like when they get to be my age. My guess is they will all have very thick glasses, hunched backs, and permanently curled fingers from sitting in front of computers day in and day out.

    Now excuse me, I have to get back to my computer. Have all these stories I need to write 😉

    • sheilatstc July 29, 2010 at 9:10 am #

      Cute, Mary! It’s fun to have a job where we read, read, read no matter what the vehicle is….

  2. rosness July 27, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    I don’t think that the problem is so much the difference between professional and amateur is it is between limited and unlimited flexibility in choice.

    I have read many blog reviews that are quite professional, and I have come across far more expert and interesting opinions regarding specialty subjects. It is not the presence or absence or frequency of good or bad book reviews, but simply the problem of any interpretation-based media on a large-scale.

    I have seen this mentioned as a problem with news and other sources of information as well as with book reviewing online: instead of thinking about reviews, readers and publishers (traffic, hits, ad revenue) will be more likely to highly rank opinions and reviews that agree with their own thoughts. Analysis is secondary to popularity and accessible content. It’s not a positive or negative thing, simply an aspect of the way interconnected media works.

    It’s not a problem that literature faces alone, or something that’s been repeated for generations: it’s not the difference between young rebels and old conservatives. While some people are resistant or excited, the real issue for us here is how to separate the reliable and terrible book reviewers when they all use the same sites to publish their content. It’s a problem that, yes, even existed in print media,though on a much smaller scale.

    I’m a blogger, and if print media offered me a place, I’d jump at it. There is still a veracity and recognisable status to printed articles and reviews that very few bloggers can boast of in their portfolios and CVs. I don’t think that being more employable is outdated at all, even if blogs do overwhelm newspapers and magazines in number.

  3. eileen townsend October 24, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    I am interested in getting a book review for my book America’s Role in Revelation. Do you offer this service? If not maybe you can suggest a good company that can do this for me. I am new at writing books so any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time and efforts. Eileen Townsend 832-723-0061

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