Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Question: What Reviews Do You Read, and Why?

In case you don't read any blogs but mine, let me first clumsily sketch the current issues raging in the blogosphere at the moment, and in the world of book culture at large.

The National Book Critics Circle has launched a campaign to preserve newspaper book review sections, beginning with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which recently fired its full-time book section editor. You can read their reasons and their strategies here on the NBCC blog, Critical Mass.

Some periodicals (like the New York Times) and many bloggers, have picked up the story and interpreted it in terms of the rise of literary blogs. Some opinions (with which I risk offending someone even by summarizing):

- book reviews are suffering because blogs are cheaper and easier to produce.
- blogs represent contemporary, passionate criticism, while mainstream media reviews have gotten staid, elitist, boring, or irrelevant.
- professional reviewers represent an educated opinion on books, while bloggers are often amateurish, reactionary, uninformed, etc.
- the elimination of book review sections has more to do with the flagging fortunes of newspapers, and/or with corporate policies, than with literary blogs.

At this point, the roars of debate are dying down a bit, but the issues remain. I have opinions, of course, but I have a horror of going off half-cocked, and I need to process them a little more.

So first I'd like to ask you, readers, what you think. Especially if you're NOT in the book industry, or a reviewer (professional or amateur) yourself -- though I'd love to hear from everyone, I've been wondering what book readers in particular think. Since you're reading this blog, you're obviously a specific subset of the reading population, but I still think it's worth asking.

Where do you get book reviews -- if at all? Blogs? (What kind?) Newspapers? TV? Magazines? Online versions of "mainstream media"? Bookstores? The opinions of readerly friends (the "Trusted Fellow Reader", as one of my commenters cleverly calls them)?

Which of those, if any, makes a difference in what books you're interested in, and what books you buy?

What effect, if any, has the emergence of literary blogs had on your reading of other sources? What other changes have affected what you read in the last couple of years?

What do YOU think is the reason for cutbacks in newspaper book reviews? What do you think will be the effects? Do you think it's important?

This is one reader poll/question I'd really, really like to hear from you all upon -- a sentence from you would be worth more than a lot of time spent in my head. Respond anonymously if you like, or let me know exactly where you fit in the literary world. I'll attempt to summarize and synthesize your responses in the coming days.