Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sutherland, Logic and the Bloggers

Funny thing, debate: the way whatever you say gets coloured for listeners by one extreme position or the other. Katy Evans-Bush has left a comment on my last post which prompts me to make my position clear on the furore surrounding Susan Hill's blog about John Sutherland's comments on web reviewers.

Although I do have my opinions about newspaper reviews, I haven't in fact voiced them so far on this occasion. The thing which concerns me is the lack of logic (or knowledge) which appears to be leading Sutherland to assume that (at the risk of repeating myself) all blog reviewers are untrained, that all untrained reviewers are not be trusted, and that readers cannot be expected to discriminate between good and bad reviews (or biased and unbiased reviews) and should therefore only trust the establishment (his word), ie newspaper reviews.

As it happens I think, like Scott Pack, that there is a place for both types of reviewing. Much has been made by bloggers in this debate of the fact that web reviews are written by 'book lovers', which I think can lead to a tendency towards positive reviews. This is of course a generalisation, and there are critical reviews on the web, but I know that many people think that recommendation is more positive and healthy than detraction. Personally I am interested in looking carefully at how books do and don't work, and so think that there's a place for the critical and (potentially negative) review - which newspapers do give space to.

Maybe this is all that John Sutherland was trying to say, but an injudicious phrase or two swept him away into the fury (and derision!) of bloggers. He did sound uncomfortable, I thought, on Radio 4 and further divested of his characteristic incisiveness and logic.


Ms Baroque said...

Elizabeth, of course you're right: I think separate points are being conflated. And it would also help considerably if one had been able to read the original article by Sutherland, but I didn't see the paper and it's not on the web - or wasn;t when I searched.

I wonder if - like so many people knowing nothing about what actually is on the web - Sutherland simply got on his pet hobbyhorse and then came a cropper? He may well have found out by now that the blogosphere (and also the thriving ezine universe) are full of informed reviewers. The fact is, there are more people capable of writing a good review than there is space for reviews in the papers.

I also missed the Radio 4 thing (so who am I to be talking) but he may well be hurriedly looking us all up even as we speak, trying to find out what the real position is.

To clarify my own position, I'm hardly interested at all in reviews that just say someone loved the story, or whatever. As such, I'm not realyl interested in "readers' reviews," but I don't think they take away from serious criticism, which is an inherently different enterprise. The only danger would be of people forgetting they are different. Which may, largely, possibly, be happening, to some extent.

Elizabeth Baines said...

There's a transcript of the Radio 4 clip on the web:

Ms Baroque said...

Thanks for that, I'll check it out.

Debi said...

I like the balance you're providing on this debate. The missing original article may be partly to blame but I think it's crucial to keep sight of what's really important here.

I agree - room for both (or more) types of reviewing.

If nothing else, JS and his ilk will choose their words with more care in future. Unless he really did mean what we are assuming - in which case he deserves all he gets!