September 26, 2012

The “bionic bookworm” bashes bloggers


Sir Peter Stothard, the subject of a profile in The Independent today, is the former editor of the Times Literary Supplement and a Man Booker Prize judge. The feature reveals a shocking fact: Sir Stothard reads so many books and has so little time for any other form of entertainment that he has only seen six films in his entire life. 

That qualifies someone for some serious literary cred. Sir Stothard wastes no time capitalizing on it, as he explains why bloggers and other non-professional writers are detrimental to the book industry:

“It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same.”

Resisting temptation to characterize him as elitist, perhaps Sir Stothard has a point. Not every opinion has the same value, particularly as people are being hired by authors and publishers to write something like 70 book book reviews a week, as a recent New York Times article revealed. But Sir Stothard continues:

The rise of blogging has proved particularly worrying, he says. ‘Eventually that will be to the detriment of literature. It will be bad for readers; as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain’t so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off. There are some important issues here.’

The bloggers who attended BEA’s Book Blog Expo last year are indeed grappling with issues like plagiarism and transparency about publisher relationships, but book blogs that offer smart, insightful reviews can’t be as harmful as Sir Stothard suggests, especially when authoritative places to find criticism—like book review sections of newspapers—are shrinking.

Yet one has to admire how dedicated Sir Stothard is to holding books to high standards: they must “renew the English language” and “offer a degree of resistance.”

As chair of the Man Booker Prizes, he is said to have been chosen for that position to settle tension and conflict in last year’s committee that apparently erupted when a judge suggested the winner should be a book “people would read and enjoy.”


Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.