And I Thought Canadians Were All So Cheerful

In Canadian Notes & Queries (“Adventures in the Reviewing Trade: A Cultural Primer“), Alex Good offers a lively, if grim, assessment of the state of book reviewing. It’s somewhat more aboot Canada then elsewhere, but the bulk of his observations ring true for the UK and the U.S., too, at least. The long piece took me so long to read that I don’t really have time to do much more than pull a couple of quotes (see the part about blogs as parasites), but let me just say that I think he’s right on the money:

Typically, attacks on reviewing today see it as either being too democratic or too elitist. That these contradict each other should suggest that they are probably both wrong. I would suggest a more accurate understanding of the situation would be to simply call it capitalist. There is really nothing either democratic or elitist about it. It’s simply a case of money talks.

Book reviewers are often loathe to talk about their role as cogs in the economic machine. After all, our love of books has nothing to do with money (see our paychecks) and our often-inflated notion of ourselves as cultural arbiters becomes too quickly demystified when we start talking about the job in too-realistic terms. But the ongoing arguments about what ails the industry can only benefit from this kind of brave look in the mirror.

Though this essay’s length strikes a formidable blow against the very notion of reading online (I had to put in eyedrops twice), it’s well worth the time and exceedingly quotable. And I’m not just saying that because of this:

One has to keep in mind these space restrictions when lining up to bash the reviewers. The ability to speak competently and interestingly on a given book is a rare enough skill. To do it in 300 words is the equivalent of mastering the form of critical haiku.

If only I had the luxury of 300 words!

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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