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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Who has the right to review?

I was reading an interesting blog called the Emerging Writers Network this morning. In it, the blogger addressed the new traffic that had been flocking to his site because of an L.A. Times writer. There was an op-ed piece in which the writer scornfully referred to the blogger as an "auto parts guy" who was slapping book reviews up on a blog. From the sounds of it, he seemed to think Web reviewers were of a lower class who didn't have the critical knowledge to truly review books.

Having attended a critics conference earlier this year, I understand on a certain level where the frustration of the professional critic is coming from. He's lashing out because his job is threatened and there is great danger that he's going to become extinct. Unfortunately, responding with arrogance is not a good answer either. That feeds into the belief that professional critics are often out of touch with their readers and with what people want.

Ultimately, there is value in both types of reviews and neither have to replace each other. There is the value in the knowledgeable professional who brings expertise to a review. This is the person who has studied the craft, who understands the breadth of work, and who immerses himself/herself in the profession. There is also value to the everyman voice who can share the initial impression experience. When the "non-expert" is erudite, he or she is able to share things that the more detatched, professional critic can not.

Another thing worthy of pointing out is that there are many outstanding reviewers out there who don't happen to work for the L.A. Times or the N.Y. Times. Nor is there any shame to having worked a blue collar job. It is a very coastal point-of-view to assume that the color of one's collar says anything at all about one's intelligence. The rest of the country knows better.

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