Share & Connect
It is no secret that we live in an age where it gets easier and easier to share our opinions with the world. It’s not just a matter of using Twitter to tell the world what you had for breakfast, or uploading duckface pictures of yourself to Facebook. Now, thanks to sites like Amazon and Goodreads, anyone can be a literary critic from the privacy of his or her bedroom.
Naturally, not everyone is thrilled by the brave new literary world we inhabit. The chairman of the Man Booker Prize judging panel, Sir Peter Stothard, recently made headlines when he launched an outspoken attack on amateur reviewers, claiming that readers would be better off listening to professional critics.
Sir Peter, who is also the editor of The Times Literary Supplement, was quoted in Britain’s Daily Telegraph saying that “[t]here is a general trend- and it’s certainly very prevalent online- for replacing argued literary criticism that allows you to compare books, to put them in context, to analyse how they work. That kind of traditional criticism is very easily replaced by unargued opinion.”
“Storytelling is fine but it doesn’t require Man Booker judges to decide what people are going to enjoy taking on holiday and reading on the beach,” he continued. “Books that are not immediately easy to read- the books that in the end will last, that reward you most- do increasingly require the Man Booker Prize judges to identify them so that people will find the pleasure and reward of reading them.”
It is not just established literary critics who have expressed concerns about the new frontier of social media-driven criticism. Some authors have sought to highlight the negative aspects of online reviews, claiming that they are being subject to campaigns of cyberbullying by disgruntled fans. Earlier this summer, there was a kerfuffle in the literary world over a website called StopTheGoodreadsBullies.com.
Writing in a guest post over at the Huffington Post’s blog, the people behind the site claimed that they were trying to fight back against people who used Goodreads to “destroy [an] author’s reputation and career for either their own personal amusement or for vengeance.”
“We want the toxic, bullying atmosphere at [Goodreads] to stop. And we want these people to be held accountable by public opinion,” they continued.
StopTheGoodreadsBullies itself has proved to be controversial. Because it often attempts to unmask individuals who are accused of engaging in bullying behavior, some critics have accused it of waging its own bullying campaign. As author Foz Meadows pointed out on her blog, “any public figure, regardless of whether they’re an author, actor, sportsperson or journalist, must resign themselves to a certain amount of public criticism. Not everyone will like you, your work or even necessarily your profession, and nor will they be under any obligation to protect your sensibilities by being coy about it.”
“Simply disliking a book, no matter how publicly or how snarkily, is not the same as bullying. To say that getting a handful of mean reviews is even in the same ballpark as dealing with an ongoing campaign of personal abuse is insulting to everyone involved,” Meadows continued.
But over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, SB Sarah summed it up best when she pointed out that negative reviews are just part and parcel of being an author.
“We may have the most meanest critique partner in the world, but she is nothing to the reader who paid $9 for a book and was disappointed,” she said.
“This is what happens when readers read books: we get irate sometimes and giddy other times. Now we interact more about the giddy and the irate, and that interaction, positive or negative, is valuable. More importantly, it’s normal.”