Just as there are people who think that Wikipedia is wrecking our civilization, so Sir Peter Stothard, chairman of this year's Man Booker Prize panel of judges, thinks that book bloggers are wrecking our civilization:
"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."
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..."
I think Sir Peter could do with getting off his high horse. People can read book blogs or indeed blog about books themselves without believing, or implying, or lending support to the thesis, that one opinion is as good as another. Nor is it credible that the overall effect of a more widespread discussion of books will be that more books of lower quality will be read. One might think that before the advent of book-blogging, when critical discussion of books was more confined, nobody read any literature of the sort Stothard would regard as inferior. It is much more likely that the relative democratization of opinion-sharing about, and critical discussion of, books will be a beneficial one.
There is a measured discussion here of Stothard's remarks, by John Self. But Self concedes too much, for my taste. He goes along with this lot:
"The novel is more than a story. Storytelling is a great art and not to be knocked."
"Yet, If the English novel does nothing to renew the English language, then it really doesn't do anything. The great works of art have to renew the language in which they're written. They have to offer a degree of resistance."
Storytelling a great art, but unless the novel does something to renew the English language, unless it offers 'a degree of resistance', it does nothing. Oh, please! What about the aforesaid art of storytelling? What if a given novel merely tells a good story well and without offering resistance? So, then, it may not be at the cutting edge or a 'great work of art', but it could still be an excellent novel. If it tells a story, if it makes you think, if it shows you something about the world, about people; it might do these things in a fresh way or in a traditional way, exploring new forms or sticking with old and recognized ones; if it's part of the great continent of fiction and wins readers and holds them, that is good enough and plenty. Sir Peter Stothard's requirements are narrow and stultifying.