May 9, 2012

“Can someone save criticism from The Atlantic?”


So asks Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading, in reply to a new essay by Sarah Fay — “Could the Internet Save Book Reviews?” — published on the website of The Atlantic. Beginning with Orwell’s 1946 essay “Confessions of a Book Reviewer,” Fay asks if the web might help produce more long-form reviews, since:

The digital age has transformed the physical act of reading and will alter journalistic literary criticism… According to a Pew Research study published in 2010, over half of all Americans obtain news and information—including book reviews—on digital platforms: online editions of newspapers like the New York Times, email, Twitter, RSS feeds, etc.

But Esposito cries agony over the simplicity and tonnage of the piece, which mechanically indexes various online review venues, few of them new. As he writes, “It’s amazing that in 2012 The Atlantic can still publish something so clueless as this.”

I know the imperative to fill up cyberspace with metric tons of prose never abates, but is this really the best you can do? This post is an insult to anyone who actually gives a damn about literary culture and the honest critics who try to promote it. I know you can do better than this, I really know you can.

Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.