Sunday, May 20, 2007

Would You Like A Scone With Your Book Review?

Whenever there's a new movement in writing, the establishment gets scared. Actually, whenever there's a new movement in human community, the establishment gets scared, but let's stick with writing for now. I've just read an article that sounds like the dying battle cry for "the old way of doing things" in journalism and writing.

This article from the LA Times is infuriating. The author, Richard Schickel, attacks the rise in literary blogging, specifically book reviewing online. I believe this is in response to an article from a few weeks ago on the rise of book review blogs. He says that a rise to a democratic reviewing of books will lead to the degradation of quality in book reviewing as an art. He claims that book reviewers need to be educated in literary history, criticism, and the author's oeuvre of work. He picks specifically on a reviewing blogger who is also a car parts salesman.

Now, I agree that book reviewers should be knowledgeable and educated. But just because the book reviewer doesn't publish in the New York Times, doesn't mean that he or she is uneducated in the literary arts. I would like to remind the author of the scores of writer who must work another job to support their art. (Hmmm, the author of 9 to 5 Poet and the spouse of a fledgling book reviewer is a little biased in this regard.) Most people who get undergraduate and graduate degrees in English do not necessarily walk off into the sunset to write beautiful reviews for famous newspapers. We teach at community colleges, work at retail emporiums, and are no less dedicated to the literary arts than someone who has more opportunities.

When Mr. Schickel writes lines like, "a purely 'democratic literary landscape' is truly a wasteland, without standards, without maps, without oases of intelligence or delight," he seems just a bit elitist, which is his whole point. But is this truly an elitism of quality or of social standing?