I read an interesting article this morning about whether “book bloggers” are destroying the art and validity of literary criticism. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, ever since the Pulitzer was not awarded this year.
Who should get to decide what makes a good book? What is the criteria for a good book?
I hear about books most often through awards, and publications like The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Reviews, and ArtsATL. If a book has been short or long-listed for an award or mentioned in a magazine or newspaper known for a good book review section, chances are, I’ll pick it up. This is because I tend to read literary novels, and literary criticism, of course, focuses on literary novels.
Having said that, I very often don’t enjoy reading books that are critically acclaimed by prestigious publications. Jonathon Franzen is a good example. I think he’s very talented, and he seems very smart, but I had to force myself to finish The Corrections and I couldn’t get past the first few chapters in Freedom. The same is true for Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot. I had such high hopes for it after The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. But fifty pages in, I put The Marriage Plot down for good.
The problem with literary criticism, is that often a critically acclaimed book does not translate to an enjoyable read. I’m willing to bet that most readers who pick up a book want to be sucked into it. They want three-dimensional characters with creative plots, with suspense and surprises thrown in along the way. You don’t necessarily get these types of reads from what’s picked up by the Big Wig Critics.
What do you think? Where do you find your books?