Preach it!

What Larry said:

… worth considering is the comment that Martin Lewis made in an earlier post of mine. In response to a comment Aidan Moher made about how “the problem doesn’t lie with the bloggers making the list, but rather with the genre as a whole and the manner in which publishers,” Martin said, “It is pretty pathetic to abdicate all responsibility like this.” There is much truth to this. If someone is going to construct a list and presume that said list will have value to others, then that list constructor better damn well be more proactive and thus basing his/her selections on what s/he receives passively from others. While there are certainly some valid arguments that could be made to the notion that reader/reviewers have the right to choose their “favorites,” once any list is presented as reflecting any sort of “authority” (and publicly posting decade’s best list, especially those derived from several who have a privileged relationship with the publishers compared to the average reader), then those reader/reviewers have certain obligations to meet in regards to considering more than their own personal tastes if they want their lists to hold any authority and if they don’t want to be called out for putting blinders on and failing to see just how diverse and wide-ranging speculative fiction (or other genres of literature and material culture, for that matter) really is.

15 thoughts on “Preach it!

  1. I think that this links back to some of the discussions that were had in the wake of Readercon last year : How important is expertise?

    If you go to sites like the ones Larry speaks of expecting expertise then clearly you will encounter nothing but fail. These are lists compiled by people who are passive in their selection criteria and who, on top of that, appear to be entirely lacking in curiosity. For me, those two habits are not in any way compatible with the idea of expertise.

    However, if you go to those sites as an incurious person who wants suggestions of books to read that are broadly in line with what you have liked in the past then they undeniably have value.

  2. Yes, I’ve got no problem with either approach in the abstract — the problem comes when you start trying to pass one off as the other.

  3. I’m jumping into this without really knowing the background and the sites that are being referred to, however that never stopped me…

    This argument irritates me. There’s an assumption that because you blog you take on some “authority”, that there’s some moral obligation to be unbiased and professional. Well, no. Because blogging started off as the indie way for everyone to get their voice heard and as far as I’m concerned it remains the same. There’s so many people blogging now who cares? It’s like saying that when you’re down the pub talking about books you have to be balanced and professional.

    I review the books I get my hands on, whether they are sent to me, or bought as presents, or bought myself, and I’ll review them honestly. When I do my end of year lists they are precisely that, the list of books that I have read over the year. (I didn’t do a decade list because I couldn’t remember what I had read!). I don’t feel any obligation to find books for “my readers” (ho ho). I do however try and read books that sound interesting from reviews and chatter, because *I* want to read them.

    I’ve never claimed to be an “expert”, whatever that means.

  4. James, I don’t think that Larry is saying that blogging automatically takes on “authority”. Rather, I think his argument is that if a blogger lays claim on any authority, e.g. publishes a list of “the ten best …” rather than “my ten favourite …”, then they have to start to up their game significantly. You’ve mounted a perfectly legitimate defence of your approach, but your approach is not really what Larry is attacking.

  5. Tony, okay, I understand. But a bit pedantic I think.

    No one can ever read everything published. So any best list is going to have holes or produce arguments. Besides, that’s what the lists are there for isn’t it? Arguments == traffic!

  6. I’ve never claimed to be an “expert”, whatever that means.

    I don’t think what an expert might be in this context is that mysterious or deserving of scare quotes: someone who has read broadly and deeply, someone who has thought critically about what they have read, someone who has considered other perspectives on what they have read, someone who considered the wider context of what they are reading. So it is very easy for anyone to become an expert reader.

  7. My quotes implied that a definition was required. And that definition is subjective. Your definition seems a reasonable one for an expert critic (although in your definition there are subjective terms).

    But as a blogger can you be an expert reader, without being an expert critic? “Expert” is so loose and woolly that it hardly seems worth using the word as it doesn’t add anything.

    And back to my core point: I believe that if you have a blog you have the right to make a Top 10 Books EVER! list if you feel like it, even if you have only read 10 books.

  8. Hell, you have a right to make a Top 10 Books EVER! list even if you’ve only read none books. Or no books. Nobody’s questioning that. The internet is an awesome machine for making a fool of yourself, and only Michael Gorman would try to stop you.

    Do you have a right to be taken seriously? Unlikely. And if you don’t seem to know the difference between Top 10 Books EVER! and My 10 Favorite Books, you shouldn’t be.

  9. I have a vague memory of trying to get that before, and failing, but can’t remember why. (Something to do with it being hosted on rather than a wordpress install, maybe?) I’ll have another look.

  10. I also think that if you are the kind of person who regularly writes reviews and even has a blog then you are also the kind of person who thinks that their opinions are, in some way, worthy of the time it would take to read them. Doubly so if you’re one of those people (and James is) who works on growing the audience for his blog using social media and stuff like that.

    ‘Expert’ is a loaded word, much like ‘fan’ but if you’re writing about books for an audience then you are assuming a certain degree of expertise.

    The real issue here is not whether or not book bloggers assume the role of expert, but whether the role of expert must include a certain degree of cosmopolitanism and agressive open-mindedness when it comes to taste. I would argue that it probably does. Of course, you are then free to return to your comfort zone for the best of the year lists but you should be familiar with what is out there before deciding you don’t like it.

  11. Okay, I agree with Jonathan that I may have gone off at a slight tangent and the argument is really about open-mindedness.

    My irritation is that I started blogging for fun and started doing reviews so that (a) I could remember what I’d read and seen (b) My mates could read it if I didn’t get to see them for a while.

    So, David, when you talk of making a fool of yourself, or being taken seriously, or Jonathan, when you mention the “W” word, that sounds very… well, serious. (That’s in contrast to my fiction writing, which I would love people to take seriously.)

    As a reader, personally, I sift through the voices (blogs) and find the ones I like and discover what they like and take it from there.

  12. As a reader, personally, I sift through the voices (blogs) and find the ones I like and discover what they like and take it from there.

    Well, yes, and I think that’s what everybody’s been doing. Me, I like blogs that don’t take themselves seriously, and I like (sometimes) blogs that take what they’re talking about at least as seriously as they take themselves; but the ones that take themselves more seriously than they take their work, I mostly ignore till someone else points and laughs.

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