12.10.2014

The difference between literary criticism and what I do

By Loui Jover
Finding a good book site is harder than finding a good book to read*. I've found a few I enjoy, but so many review sites out there cater to a different reading audience. There are so many sites that only review young adult novels or romance or novels in translation—things I don't usually read. Or the reviews are so skimpy that I can't figure out if I should read it or not because I don't know what the reviewer liked or didn't like about it.

(I plan on writing a post about some of my favorite book sites this week. Stay tuned.)

The majority of the bookish Internet does not contain literary critics. We're enthusiastic amateurs. We read widely and try to share our love of books with our followers and people who stumble onto our sites.

Writing a good book review is not as easy as it sounds. But taking the next step to write criticism is daunting. I recently started reading Public Books. The wonderful articles reminded me of how far I am from being a literary critic.** J. Keith Vincent's article, "What Makes a 'True Novel'?" is a wonderful example of literary criticism online.

As I see it, a literary critic takes a wider view than a book reviewer. Instead of writing about why they liked a book (or not), a critic places the book in context. They connect it to what has come before. They deconstruct it for us. They psychoanalyze it for us. A good literary critic will bring scholarship to bear and not just rely on the authority of their platform.***

I'm so happy to find a source of criticism outside of academia because it inspires me to be a better reviewer, in addition to reminding me of the good old days I spent picking apart novels as a young English major. It's easy to get into the habit of delivering a quick review. I've fallen into the habit more than once. But I suspect that, outside of the bookish Internet, criticism like Public Books delivers constantly runs into the TL;DR problem, unfortunately.

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* If you can't find one on your own, I can recommend one or two (or lots).
** Not that I had any such pretensions.
*** I have some issues with The New York Times.

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