Would somebody remind me please that there’s no reason to expect every author who writes a good book now and then to refrain from saying stupid things? I came across this quotation from Ian McEwan (via):
Publishers seem to be very keyed up to embrace the Internet, but I don’t have much time for the kind of site where readers do all the reviewing. Reviewing takes expertise, wisdom and judgment. I am not much fond of the notion that anyone’s view is as good as anyone else’s.
He wrote this at Time.com back in June, in response to a reader who asked what he thought about disappearing literary reviews in newspapers and magazines. Now, how many problems in logic do we see in his claims? Do I even need to spell them out? Well, why not.
Okay, first of all, why separate “readers” and “reviewers”? Aren’t all reviewers automatically readers? I would hope so. And if what he really means is to distinguish between regular old amateur readers and professional reader/reviewers, I’m not sure there’s such a clear line between the two. I don’t really know much about it, but maybe somebody can fill me in: what are the entry requirements for becoming a professional reviewer? Is there a class you take, a degree you get, a test you pass?
When he says that “reviewing takes expertise, wisdom and judgment,” I agree completely. And, the truth is, I agree with his last line too: “I am not much fond of the notion that anyone’s view is as good as anyone else’s.” I’m just not sure how these sentences fit together. To take the first line, aren’t there multiple ways to gain expertise, wisdom, and judgment, and couldn’t a regular old “amateur” reader have those qualities? And, to address the second, can’t you read “amateur” reviews by “amateur” readers and still believe that one person’s view is better or worse than somebody else’s? I think so. To read the work of nonprofessionals is not necessarily to give up one’s right to make critical distinctions. Quality reviewing does not always correspond with whether one gets paid for those reviews or not.
There’s an underlying idea to McEwan’s claims that is not quite so objectionable: that it’s quicker and easier to find quality reviews in traditional sources than it is to find quality reviews online. If you don’t want to spend time hunting down websites you like and filtering out the ones you don’t, perhaps print reviews will do just fine for you. But I’m not sure that it’s that hard to find the good stuff — read a few book blogs and you’ll see the top ones linked to over and over again. Start there and see what you like.
So, to return to my opening question about good authors and stupid comments — I should just forget dumb stuff like this when I’m reading his novels, right?