Friday, November 17, 2006

Welcome to an Orwellian World

Can you believe this?

On reading Susan Hill's blog about newspaper books pages, the literary editor of a national newspaper has emailed her to say that no books she publishes or writes will now be reviewed by that paper! (She won't name him/her.)

And, as Scott Pack points out, John Sutherland on Radio 4 was claiming the high ground of impartiality and ethics for newspaper reviewing! Surely it's a joke. Surely our worst suspicions haven't really been confirmed. Surely we're not really in that Orwellian world....


Ms Baroque said...

But even according to Susan Hill the article by Sutherland was more about "reader-reviewers" on Amazon, etc. She then goes on to list all her educational credentials and the number of books she's written (though if she really believed in this democracy of reviewing none of that would matter), while talking in extreme terms about the newspaper reviews... etc... it struck me as rather wilful misinterpretation. As such, it took something away from what I htought she was trying to talk about, and what you are talking about, and what Scott Pack was talking about, whcih is that book reviews in the major papers are favours to be bought.

And even that may be getting worse, I don't know. But it was always there. Publishing has always been a business; you have only to read about how people like, say, John Clare got published, edited to death, lionised for a season, and dropped like a stone.

And it's true, there are some pretty lame reviews out there. Many are in the Guardian, and many by reader-reviewers.

In the poetry world, which I know more about, there is a general consensus that there is not enough good criticism around now. Is that the same thing?

Of course, poetry books by small presses do get reviewed, because small presses are a lot more important in poetry publishing. But if the problem Susan Hill was talking about was that the papers didn't review novels from small presses - what Scott Pack says (as well as the failure of bookshops to stock them) - the better thing might be, not to go on abouty how morally superior and highly educated one is, but to maybe - eg - start a site dedicated to reviewing small-press work.

Sorry. I just find the tone of this debate extraordinary.

Elizabeth Baines said...

I think, as always when a lot of people are joining in a debate, lots of issues get confused.

On this occasion I haven't actually commented on the quality of newspaper reviews, I'm simply concerned with the lack of logic or maybe knowledge which seems to lead Sutherland to assume that all blogging reviewers are untrained, that all untrained reviewers are not to be trusted, and that readers cannot be expected to discriminate for themselves between good and bad reviews (and that therefore only the establishment, ie newsapaper reviewers are to be trusted).
In fact, on Radio 4 he did appear to conflate Amazon comments with all other web reviews, ie he did not appear to be aware of or to acknowledge the difference.

As for Susan Hill, I think the reason she listed her own credentials was to counter this suggestion (ie that all bloggers are untrained and therefore not to be trusted.) That's always the trouble with listing your credentials, though... very hard not to look elitist.

As for what I do think about newspaper reviews, well, like Scott Pack I think there's a place for both: one problem with reviews by book-lovers is that there's no place for the negative review, which some people might think a good thing, but I happen not to: I'm interested in looking at why books do or don't work. I think maybe this is really what Sutherland may be trying to say, but he's got caught up in something that's run away with him. He did sound pretty uncomfortable on Radio 4, to my ears.

I do like your idea of starting a site dedicated to small presses, but for my taste it would have to be truly critical.