Sunday, August 17, 2008

Greetings from the Mosh Pit

I’ve already done my Salon post for today, and ordinarily that would probably be just about all I could manage on a Sunday. But I just read Chris Bohjalian’s guest essay in this week’s Washington Post Book World wherein he writes about online reviews of his novels, and just had to get my two cents in. He doesn’t exactly savage web reviewers, but he does use a few of the obviously less articulate examples from Amazon to make his point – which seems to be, as he says:

“. . . all critics are equal, but some critics are more equal than others. I confess that I put more stock in the opinion of the novelist who questions whether an ending in one of my books is fully earned in a Washington Post or New York Times review than I do in ‘Bic Parker’ at Amazon, who wrote about one of my novels, 'Stoopid.' ”
He says he appreciates “the way that the Web has made possible an intimacy with the public that didn't exist 15 years ago,” but he certainly doesn't demonstrate it. And he also claims to believe that “there are plenty of critics – and I am not using that term facetiously, I promise – who understand a book in precisely the fashion I intended” and that “a lot of people who are far smarter than I have said things about my books – both good and bad – that left me humbled.”

Well, I can understand that his ego might have been injured. But you’d think he might have shown his appreciation by including at least a few examples of the more thoughtful reviews from some of the many book bloggers out here in the blogosphere. We, after all, are the ones actually buying those books – accounting for those sales he’s so interested in.

I’ve never read any of Mr. Bohjalian’s works, but I can’t say this piece makes me terribly eager to sample them. And the most annoying part of the essay is that it’s occupying the spot regularly filled by one of my favorite critics, Michael Dirda.


  1. Ooh, I've liked some of his work, but this doesn't make me particularly like him as a person!

  2. jen--
    Yes. I've heard good things about his books, but I'm not sure if I want to leave them on my TBR list now.

  3. Wow, that irritates me. I can understand that a novelist could provide more useful criticism than some of us, since they know what it takes to write a novel and I know I don't, but you're right, we are the ones who are actually purchasing books and steering others in their direction, and I've read plenty of intelligent book reviews online. Not cool to disdain all of us, especially those of us who put in a lot more effort than the "Stoopid" reviewer.

  4. To some degree, though, I think Bohjahlian has a point. Personally, if I was a novelist, I wouldn't take stock in many of the reviewers either, who are extremely inarticulate...and I wouldn't judge Bohjahlian by these comments. I mean, if we judged authors by their words and actions all the time, what would we think of Lewis Carroll who took pictures of little girls? Or I think of Roman Polanski, whose works as a movie director I love, but his personal life, eh, not so much a fan. Personally, I read The Buffalo Soldier by Bohjahlian and it was very good. I definitely would recommend it.

  5. meghan--
    Yes, that's just the way I felt. It just seemed like a bit of a slap in the face for all web reviewers and book bloggers. And anyway, I'm not completely sure that just because someone writes a novel that makes him/her any better a judge of someone else's writing.

  6. justareadingfool--
    Yes, you have a point. And I agree so does Bohjalian to some extent - a lot of the blurb-type reviews on Amazon are pretty slapdash. I was just put off by the fact that he really seemed to be saying that unless you’re a professional author or critic, writing for a major publication, your opinion wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) carry any weight with anyone. And that’s just not true anymore, as we all know.

  7. Why does it seem like all of the sudden people are patronizing book reviews on the web?

  8. literatehousewife—
    I’m asking myself the same question. I guess it has to do with the fact that web reviewers and book bloggers are becoming more and more prominent and more of a force to reckon with. I’m sure many professional authors and critics are very nervous that the book publishing and reviewing business is changing so rapidly. They feel threatened and have to lash out at someone. But it does seem a lot like biting the hand that feeds you, doesn’t it?


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