In case you’ve not seen enough reblogged excerpts of this great New York Times piece by Dwight Garner:
The sad truth about the book world is that it doesn’t need more yes-saying novelists and certainly no more yes-saying critics. We are drowning in them. What we need more of, now that newspaper book sections are shrinking and vanishing like glaciers, are excellent and authoritative and punishing critics — perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star.
In a smart article in Slate earlier this month, Against Enthusiasm, Jacob Silverman nailed the way that Twitter, at least for writers, has become a mutual-admiration society and thus is filled with peril for literary culture.
If you spend time in the literary Twitter- or blogospheres, Silverman wrote, you’ll be positively besieged by amiability, by a relentless enthusiasm that might have you believing that all new books are wonderful and that every writer is every other writer’s biggest fan.
This isn’t just shallow, he added, it’s untrue. And the constant fake fraternizing has made genuine, honest opinion feel unduly harsh, a buzz kill from the gods. Reviewers shouldn’t be recommendation machines, Silverman added, yet we have settled for that role, in part because the solicitous communalism of Twitter encourages it.
Swap literature for music, and I agree wholeheartedly. Particularly in certain sections of the British music press, there’s so much pony-riding of mediocre bands, gamely trotting along while - and this is something Garner’s piece didn’t mention, perhaps it’s not such a thing in the literary world - the PR person leads the way. With regard to “[singling] out the voices that matter for legitimate praise,” too often the bands that are the most interesting, with the greatest stories and inventions, are not the ones that have powerful PR representation. Their stories fall by the wayside in favour of more choreographed, palatable and milquetoast tales that are carefully structured by a publicity company. It’s easier to repeat a story than write a new one.
And oh, to lessen the ruddy tirade of amiability. Jacob Silverman’s point about “fake fraternising” making “genuine, honest opinion feel unduly harsh” is spot on. Twitter is great for establishing communities of a type, but too quickly they transform into pack wolves when even reasonable dissent permeates their comfort zones. The constant squeal of and for mutual approval is deafening.