It would be shame if the event at PEN was eclipsed by my Dublin visit and events since, so plans have been developing in my mind to try and bring some of that fascinating debate onto here for anyone who wishes to read and engage with it all.
The suggestion that Everyone's a Critic throws up interesting ideas about what 'is' a book critic, what do we expect from the review pages, how are those pages compiled, what are the pitfalls and where do the blogs sit in this no longer new but very democratic world of the internet. It's an endlessly fascinating topic and one that has most certainly moved on since John Mullen and I shared a platform with Mark Thwaite and John Carey to discuss this same subject at the Oxford Literary Festival almost three years ago now. Everyone expected blood to be spilt then and it wasn't but there may have been tensions, and John Mullen mis-hearing my blog name as Tough Gay Reader threw me ever so very slightly back then I must admit.
The evening's discussion at PEN between myself, Professor John Mullen, Sam Leith (freelance reviewer) and Erica Wagner (Literary Editor of The Times) and chaired by Alex Clark was most enjoyable from where I was sitting.
and I think John Mullen enjoyed himself too.
Obviously I couldn't take notes but a couple of bloggers Hannah Stoneham and chasing bawa did, as we ranged across the subject of reviews and critics, blogs and reading and publishing in general, and for me what became evident is that if there is any supposed animosity between the blogosphere and the establishment then perhaps it's drummed up elsewhere by those who fancy a publicity-seeking spat.
I sense in the world of books we are almost batting for the same team and complement each other well, covering all bases as it were ... a simplistic argument I know, but we all love books and reading and we all want to share that in some way, we just have different ways and means of doing it.
That passion for books was never in doubt and perhaps the assumption is that because the bloggers are doing this for the love of it we are somehow entitled to be more passionate about books and reading than the paid critics or academics.
The evidence for all to see reveals that the bloggers are not handcuffed by the rules, can range subjectively across their reading and share those thoughts and can be innovative about how they do that.
The expectation is different for the professional reviewer who must adopt an objective and detached position, to my mind much more difficult to do. A position that I would now find quite frustrating having been able to give free rein to all those years of pent up subjective thought after thirty years of objective clinical writing.
An interesting question from the audience... would Erica Wagner and I like to do a job-swap for a week, drew an instant yes from Erica and a much more hesitant and eventual no from me.
I was watching a history programme on BBC 4 the other evening and the presenter was eulogising over documents that cited the views of the 13th century peasant, rare to know what Joe Public thought in those days; well there will be no shortage of Joe Public's valuable opinions from the 21st century, a point that Professor John Carey made so eloquently on that panel in Oxford three years ago and one that has stuck encouragingly in my mind ever since.
Sadly not a point of view appreciated by 'those who shall be nameless'.
It was lovely to meet quite a few of you at the event and I'm only sorry I didn't have longer to chat afterwards. I was taken off to a dinner with the panel and more bookish and literary chat which left me with a list of books to look out for, the courage gathered to finally read Philip Roth and I threw in a few of my own suggestions too.
So a few weeks on, and having pondered all this I have set up a few dovegreyreader asks... interviews , some detailed questions to allow the debate to find its way on here for the record and for you to contribute if you want to.
Amongst those I have asked about book reviewing in all its guises are the Author, the Literary Editor and the Professional Reviewer and I have a Blogger lined up too because I can hardly ask myself to answer my own questions, plus I'm working on a few more so watch this space, they will all be appearing soon.