If the above headline had any foundation, I’d have enjoyed writing a post about it.
“Are English bloggers nicer than Americans?” I asked my husband one morning at breakfast. “Or do they read better books?”
He looked at me over his glasses. He doesn’t read blogs, so he doesn’t know.
I enjoy playing around with my blog, and this was one of my wilder ideas. Last week, I was appalled by attacks on the classicist Mary Beard in comments at English newspapers before her LRB public lecture on “The Public Voice of Women” (a subject apparently too radical for many readers). And I began to think how different English bloggers are from these cold-blooded commenters. I wondered if English bloggers are so very nice to compensate for this viciousness.
English bloggers tend, in my experience, to be very positive. Often they seem nicer than American bloggers about books. Tom at A Common Reader, a very intellectual reader and writer, reviews fascinating, little-known books in translation and contemporary classics by Kazuo Ishiguro and D. J. Taylor. Dovegreyreader, another good writer, has never lost it over a book except over J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy (which we liked at our house). Our friend Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings is enthusiastic not only about Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, but about Beverley Nicholson, whose books are not widely available here.
And then let’s look at my American friends.
Yes, we are zealous book lovers, but we occasionally bash books in our earnest American fashion. Ellen at her three blogs (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, Under the Sign of Silvia, and Reveries under the Sign of Austen) was very critical of the beginning of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, though she loved it by the end; Tony at Tony’s Book World didn’t hesitate to admit he wasn’t keen on Richard Powers’ new book Orfeo; Nancy at Silver Threads didn’t care for Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum; and even my refined friend Belle at Belle, Book, & Candle, has been known occasionally to dislike a book (Margaret Drabble’s The Witch of Exmoor).
As for me, well, I love books, but I have a tendency to write about the bad as well as the good.
But I had to throw out this thesis comparing English bloggers to Americans. I’m not a sociologist.
And is it possible that I did absolutely no research? And is it possible that there was no evidence whatsoever to support it?
And is it possible that I rejected the idea very, very fast?
This thesis goes out the window 10 minutes after formulating it.
One more thing I’m wondering about: Is there a difference between English and American newspapers?
The Guardian often seems to take a more negative stance on book news than does The New York Times. Take the recent VIDA statistics on women reviewers and women authors at book review publications. The New York Times published a traditional article reporting on the stats. The Guardian published an article along with a blog entry attacking the London Review of Books for its poor stats (and, by the way, the blog mentioned Mary Beard).
But in general, generalizing doesn’t work, even if one compares American book reviews. Take Lorrie Moore’s new story collection, Bark. Heller McAlpin in The Washington Post gushed, while Michiko Kakutani in New York Times found it “disappointing,” “heavy-handed and forced.” Obviously there is no national consensus.
So, everybody, what is the best, and what the worst book you’ve read this year? Mine? Best book: D. J. Taylor’s Derby Day. Worst book: Mary Renault’s The Friendly Young Ladies.