Blogs and Literary Criticism

A salon-like discussion of the "demise" of literary criticism on Salon (subscription prob. required):

Louis Bayard: The problem with arguing for cultural gatekeepers is that, if you're a professional critic, you inevitably look self-serving -- "Hey, that's my job!" -- and yes, elitist -- "Don't try this at home, guys." I myself don't have any particular training or qualifications to be a reviewer, other than my own experience as a reader and writer, so I feel silly arguing that someone else isn't qualified to deliver an opinion. And believe it or not, I've learned things from Amazon reviews, from letters pages, from literary blogs, from all sorts of non-traditional outlets. The quality of writing is certainly variable, but then so is the quality of traditional journalism.

Laura Miller: I don't think there's a real causal connection between the blogosphere and the withering away of newspaper criticism, actually. It has more to do with the economics of newspaper publishing and management and editors feeling that criticism is disposable because it's not reporting, which they see as a newspaper's core product.

I think of blogs not as alternatives to reviews or essays, but as a forum for short items, news and remarks, as well as links and responses to longer pieces posted on the sites that commission them. I could be wrong, though, as I'm not really a reader of blogs. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the book review sections of the New York and Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, Bookforum, the Atlantic, Harper's, TLS, the New Republic, etc., as well as the British newspapers like the Guardian and Independent, which I read online. Yet even in those publications I often find that the pieces I'm excited to be reading are the exception rather than the rule. I'm all for cultural gatekeepers because there's way more out there than I have time to read and it's not always easy to find the best of it.

One feels kind of sorry for Laura Miller, who isn't a bad critic, having to slog through all that gatekeeper criticism that she doesn't like when she could just google around and find out what people are saying about books she's interested in (or that she doesn't know about yet). A critical eye for the Web is far more valuable at this point than having the stamina to read every established organ from the last century.