Category Archives: literary criticism

I’m Helping to Harm Literature? Cool!

There is an article today The Guardian that is too good not to poke with a sharp stick.  It quotes the head judge of this year’s Man Booker prize, one Peter Stothard, as saying “If the mass of unargued opinion chokes off literary critics…then literature will be the poorer for it.”  He went on to say, “There is a great deal of opinion online, and it’s probably reasonable opinion, but there is much less reasoned opinion.”

Now, aside from the fact that the previous sentence doesn’t make any sense when examined closely, Stothard’s views smack of elitism.

As further evidence they do, here’s another quote:

If we make the main criteria good page-turning stories – if we prioritise unargued opinion over criticism – then I think literature will be harmed.

He thinks literary criticism exists to tell us (that would presumably be the unwashed masses of genre readers, as opposed to readers of litfic) what is good and why it’s good.  He says that.  I’m just too lazy to quote him again.

Excuse me, Mr. Stothard, but are you aware that “good” is a subjective term?  That what two educated, intelligent people regard as good can differ widely?  I don’t need you, or anyone else for that matter, to tell me what is good.  There are critics and bloggers whose opinions I value and seek out because I understand their tastes and how those tastes compare with mine.  I have a pretty good idea if I’m going to like a book or story based on what they think of it.  And no, I don’t have the same tastes and likes as they do.  Just the opposite in some cases.  But because I know their tastes, I can make an informed decision regarding whether I want to read (or watch or listen to) a particular work.

And I really don’t understand why “good page-turning stories” aren’t the main criteria.  Most people read for pleasure, at least as far as fiction is concerned.  (The reasons for reading nonfiction can be complex, so I’ll restrict my comments to fiction.)  That means their primary goal is mostly likely to be enjoying  a good page-turning story.

The majority of adults, at least those who bother to read more than texts on their phones or the National Enquirer, do not have as their primary reason for reading to be improved, enlightened, made socially aware, or because it’s good for them.  The people who read for those reasons are in school.  Come to think of it, people in school don’t read for those reasons either.  They read because it’s required.

We read to be entertained, Mr. Stothard.  We read because we want page-turning stories, as you so arrogantly put it.  Any improvement, enlightenment, or social awareness is secondary to that goal.

I blog because I want to share the page-turning stories I’ve found.  If blogging harms literature, or rather a narrow view of what literature is, as defined by an exclusive and elitist club, then fine.  I’m guilty as charged.

And completely unrepentant.