Everybody's A Critic. Not.
The Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), knew something about criticism. A brief excerpt from "On Being an American" illustrates this nicely:
Here the business of getting a living ... is enormously easier than it is in any other Christian land—so easy, in fact, that an educated and forehanded man who fails at it must actually make deliberate efforts to that end. Here the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head, and is thrown willy-nilly into a meager and exclusive aristocracy. And here, more than anywhere else I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.
Wow. Now that is what happens when one writes with a sharpened skewer. Mencken is entertained, and so am I. I love his lists. Also, the Sunday-school superintendent crack is just wonderful. Oh how I wish my daily Internet reading had anything written so brilliantly. And forget about that stack of grey newspapers. But I digress.
The May 2 New York Times ran an article Are Book Reviewers Out of Print?" The Atlanta Constitution, it seems, eliminated the job of its book editor, and the Times bemoans this as part of an extremely dangerous trend. The danger is probably limited to soon to be former book editors, and doesn't seem to reach readers or writers or bloggers:
The decision in Atlanta — in which book reviews will now be overseen by one editor responsible for virtually all arts coverage — comes after a string of changes at book reviews across the country. The Los Angeles Times recently merged its once stand-alone book review into a new section combining the review with the paper’s Sunday opinion pages, effectively cutting the number of pages devoted to books to 10 from 12. Last year The San Francisco Chronicle’s book review went from six pages to four. All across the country, newspapers are cutting book sections or running more reprints of reviews from wire services or larger papers.
To some authors and critics, these moves amount to yet one more nail in the coffin of literary culture. But some publishers and literary bloggers — not surprisingly — see it as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books.
Another "nail in the coffin of literary culture?" Talk about self importance. The Times article does however come off its high horse to notice various literary blogs (not this one), most of which you can find to the right of this posting, which provide the "new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books." Well, thanks, I guess. The fact is that the lit blogs are much more plentiful and much more fun than newspaper book reviews.
The lit blogs are consistently a much better crafted, more interesting read than the daily newspapers, too. Part of that may be the lack of profit motive. Part of that may be that these are labors of love. And part of that might be blog tone. I don't have that "audience confusion" I see so regularly in the papers, nor am I trying to impress you or anybody with my literary erudition.
For erudition, well, you can just click on the right and follow the yellow brick road. And if you want to find out about books you'll like, whether or not they are now in print, and hear intelligent discussion about books, the blogs are providing a daily 12 course repast. Enjoy!