Why Professional Book Critics are Irrelevant
We've all seen them. The New York Times publishes an incendiary book review with such academic insults that they hardly qualify as insults---things like "So-and-So has written a novel that MFA students will analyze until the end of the decade" or something to that effect. Or, as has become popular lately, so-called "think" pieces on how kid lit just isn't as literary as it was back in the days of the writer's great-great-grandparents.
Well, I'm about to tell you why that shit don't fly. (And I'm sticking it to snobs by telling you in laymen's terms.)
Professional book critics---those who are paid by publications to, essentially, be a book snob---are irrelevant. Now that we're in the information age, we don't seek out book critics to tell us about new books published because they're privy to fresh news from the publishing house. We can find that on the publishers' websites, social media, and book blogs worldwide. We can even get our own advanced readers' copies of books from NetGalley. So, really, who are book critics to tell people what they should and shouldn't read? Especially when it comes from a place of "my opinion is better than yours and you can't form your own opinions without my super special insight" instead a helpful place that actually promotes a love of reading.
The problem with professional book critics is that they have their own best interests in mind, not the best interests of their readers. They frequently write snobby, sarcastic, or degrading pieces that get circulated as clickbait---which, of course, benefits them. While there's nothing wrong with not enjoying a book, if you don't like it, why would you talk about it at all? What's the point in saying, "Hey everyone! Look at how eloquently I can hate this book over here!"
In all seriousness, if one of the goals of being a book critic is to be known and respected for your supposedly impeccable taste, why bother talking about things you don't like? Having impeccable taste relies more on identifying things you do like rather than lambasting things you don't.
If professional book critics really cared about their readers (and, gasp! were actually good at their jobs), they'd be able to look at a book and say, "You know, this isn't to my personal taste, but I can see how fans of XYZ genre and readers who loved ABC novel would really enjoy this" then talk about that.
Furthermore, when you're considering going to see a new movie that's out or buy a new fitness tracking bracelet or try a new restaurant, do you consult someone who's paid to tell you about these things, especially when that means someone who enjoys bashing them as fodder for their own ego? No.
You ask your friends. You ask your friends because you trust them and know that they're just going to tell it to you straight. Why should reading and buying books be any different? Whose opinion do you trust more: your down-to-earth book nerd friend and/or your friendly neighborhood book blogger, or a stuffy wannabe-intelligentsia critic?
And while you're questioning authority, ask yourself: What's the crossover between successful author and professional book critic? I can't help but wonder how many book critics have written successful novels. Okay, Joyce Carol Oates is clearly one of them---she writes bestsellers and award-winners, and reviews books for major publications. And you know what? Every one of her pieces I've seen has been positive. That's probably because she knows what it's like to have your creative work shot dead on the internet by some duel-thirsty critic.
Sure, you can argue that being an author and a book critic is a conflict of interest. But if someone is supposedly such an expert on criticizing books, shouldn't they know how to write a hell of a novel? I should hope so.
I'm not saying we should all stop reading book reviews in major publications. I'm just saying sometimes you have to consider the source. If someone's reading taste isn't similar to yours, it's entirely possible that they may hate the books you love, or they're so opposed to reading them that they'll never find out what they think about them. I think there's something to be said for finding someone---whether that's a critic, book blogger, friend, family member, anyone---who shares similar taste in books and asking that person for recommendations.
That being said, I realize that there are huge gaps in my book coverage on this blog. I rarely talk about mystery, horror, romance, erotica, YA, and LGBT and other major genres that are absolutely valid and worthwhile. Admittedly, my taste is willy nilly and I read a lot of random stuff. So if you're reading this blog and there's a book coverage area that you'd like to see more, let me know. And if it's an area that's just not my thing (like Westerns---no offense), I'll comb through my fellow book blogger friends on the interwebs and see if I can match you with a book blogger you'll love. (Of course, that doesn't mean you have to stop reading this book blog. I just want to throw some love to the other book bloggers I know who are doing awesome things.)
Got feedback? Comments, concerns, colloquialisms? Requests or suggestions? Or have you just recently read something that you LOVED and you think I should check it out? Tell me in the comments below!
***Note: There are some really good book reviewers out there who want to share the news about the books they love and they happen to be paid by publications to write those reviews. That's definitely not who I'm talking about when I say that professional book critics are irrelevant. I'm ONLY referring to the snobby people. In fact, one of the people I most respect is a professional book reviewer for BookPage and she doesn't lambast authors and their works. (So if you see a review by the incredible Carla Jean Whitley, know you're in good bookish hands.)