I’ve also tried to supplement my education by checking out the Literary Blogs. I’ve got links to a number of them on this site and I’m getting a lot from the essays and reviews. Lengthy, thoughtful pieces of the type posted on these sites are relatively new to me. My favorite so far is Conversational Reading. Scott Esposito posts fresh content often that’s interesting, informative and even when he’s critical, it comes off as professional and objective. June is Reading the World month and in the short time I’ve been reading his posts, he’s had a focus on books translated into English. Interviews with translators have brought me a new perspective on foreign writers and even on reading books originally written in another language. For each new book I discover and for each piece I read that provides a new insight I’m growing and learning. Now and then I read something on one of the Lit Blogs that gives me that “odd man out” feeling. The criticisms on a few sites come across as personal and harsh. The comments can also be pretty outrageous – at least to me. Today I read a review by a reviewer of another reviewer’s review. Yes, I said the word review four times in that sentence. Most of these people are full time reviewers, essayists and editors, and some are novelists and professors. Books are their lives so it’s understandable some of them get pretty passionate. In those moments, I feel like I’ve accidentally wandered into a private party where I’m not welcome. I wonder if the Lit Bloggers are writing only for each other. Maybe they are. I’m a lurker only in these environments and sometimes I have questions about what I’ve read, but I’d never consider asking them. At least not yet. Sometimes what I read makes me feel a little dumb. I'm not familiar with all the references. I know I shouldn’t feel dumb – it’s my ignorance that’s making me feel insecure and that can be cured, but I don’t like the feeling.
That really got me thinking about literary fiction and the audience for it. It’s no secret that it’s a tough space for an author and that most literary fiction will never be read at all or at least not by very many people. I find most of it very accessible and I enjoy reading it – it’s the reviews and the essays about the books and the authors that are sometimes tougher to get through. What I’ve learned on the LitBlogs has introduced me to even more that I think I’d like and it’s given me greater perspective on it. But the sense that group discussing this type of work is somewhat exclusive and elitist is hard to shake. I wonder if the tone of these pieces actually makes some of the books and writers sound less accessible than they really are.
There’s been a lot of discussion about newspaper critics, bloggers criticizing books, who should be considered credible as a critic or reviewer and who shouldn’t. How do you feel about it? Do you read essays and reviews about authors and books or do you ignore them? Do you have an opinion about the ongoing discussion and debate between the in-print and online critics?