Privileging neither the "fans," nor the critics.
One of the many amazing things about The Complete Review is a reasonably calibrated scoring system. Gives you a real sense of which books really stood out. And at some point you realize a book getting B+ shouldn't put you off reading it. And then there are at least amazon/goodreads reviews. Authors really despite them for understandable reasons, but sometimes the emperor has not clothes. I've found myself reading the 1/2 star reviews just to see if I'm not just hallucinating a sense about a book. It's really a shame when blurbing/reviewing makes a lot of publishing feel like some kind of mid level marketing scam.
Quite frankly, I don't know how anyone could write something good without being able to make strong value judgements such as deciding when something is badly written/uninteresting/boring. Or just mediocre. And to be fair, a lot of lit-fic can feel like a kind of show and tell where people are bringing very personal stuff about their lives and identity, and on a social level it's just inappropriate to point out that book might be a bit of a self indulgent chore.
Interesting piece, John. Without getting too deep, I'll just share my initial thoughts. When talking about reviews, POV seems important.
For critics, reviews are obviously important -- it's what they do.
For consumers, reviews are important as supplementary opinions that may or may mix well with their own opinions -- or inspire them to check something out (or not).
For artists/creators, though, reviews seem natural byproducts of their work, but byproducts that they need not interact with or even acknowledge. The power is in the artist's hands when it comes to deciding if they want to allocate brain power toward a review or not. A review is just a person's reaction to your artwork: take it or leave it, and keep going. Likewise, to call a review "unfair" is just the artist's reaction to the review -- a review of a review. It's just, you know, a bunch of reactions to a work of art -- and IMO the artist always comes out ahead because they were brave enough to TRY SOMETHING, else the critic would have nothing to do.
Rogen's point seems above all this. It's just that: should the artist decide to acknowledge a review, it can hurt -- personally, even though it's not personal. And that's maybe something reviewers don't think enough about as they attempt to write as sharply as they can. That seems very valid and true.
I wonder: Does "The cultural ecosystem need both creative work and the critical commentary about that work"? The model now seems: feed people the stuff that other people are enjoying, and let them decide. There's no critic in that model, and I much prefer it. I literally cannot recall the last time I relied on a critic's review for anything. (Which makes you wonder . . . it's possibly only the artists'/industry reading reviews in some kind of anxious circle jerk, where as real people are pretty open to just trying stuff out . . . and let's not even get into all the BS that becomes an "NYT Bestseller").
I do wonder if traditional criticism is really "the work that must be done." For consumer goods, like cars etc.? Yes. But for art? It's so damn subjective. I always like to think about the hundreds of rejections and haters Bukowski accumulated, and still he's a beloved cultural icon.
The caveat to all this? Perhaps, in Litrahchah, critics serve as power brokers from a marketing/promo standpoint more than they do in TV/Film. But that's bad. I'd like to see more of a Netflix model for books. Let the people decide with a thumbs up or thumbs down -- or simply by the amount of "views" / "reactions" a work receives. Again, a critic is only one person, however "astute" they may be.
Off topic perhaps, but the local Charleston paper used to have an excellent restaurant critic who regularly enraged chefs and customers because she was forthright and unflinching. I didn’t always agree with her but trusted her commitment to her craft and depth of research. There are film and book critics who affect me in a similar way and who can induce me to give a work a chance that I might otherwise have dismissed or been sure I’d dislike. Sadly, the food critic is gone along with her insights and detailed reviews.
I was thinking about you when reading about AO Scott’s transition this week. If you were not writing about books, what would you want to write about?