The Columbia Journalism Review‘s daily section offers this, ahem, interesting perspective on the difference between blag-writing and book reviewing. It comes from Richard Schickel, who reviews movies for Time and occasionally books for the LA Times.
Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.
Mm-hmm. Refresh my memory: is this called “begging the question” or “assuming the answer”? Why can’t a middle-aged, pony-tailed white male sitting in his boxer shorts and writing for free have the same historical knowledge as a middle-aged, tweed-jacketed professor of TwenCen Literature? The expertise of the latter comes from reading books — primary, secondary and n-ary sources — and discussing with other people both more and less knowledgeable than he. What in blazes requires this to happen within the Sacred Halls of Academia and nowhere else? (One fun thing about the Wobosphere is that academic politics is turned inside-out, and the spats which once occurred in slow motion across books and journals can now happen in real time for all to see.)
Quality is a multi-dimensional thing, and all types of writing are distributed widely along these many axes. There are good books with bad parts, bad books with interesting pages, dumb books by smart people — and the same holds true for blogs and pages within Wikipedia. Live with it. (Another fun thing about the Wobosphere is that examples of all these genera can be found and compared.)
I swear. Some people make a hat of ivy and wear it like a crown of thorns.
If Schickel were a weaver of theological arguments rather than a book critic, he’d be offering us a Courtier’s Reply.