Are English Bloggers Nicer than Americans, or Do We Read Worse Books?

business-woman-writingSometimes I come up with a completely ridiculous idea for a blog.

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?

Yes, indeed.

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.

11 thoughts on “Are English Bloggers Nicer than Americans, or Do We Read Worse Books?

  1. I know everyone loved it but I couldn’t finish The Interestings. Adored Stoner by John Williams and The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton. Both NYRB. Their books are wonderful inside and out. I’m really looking forward to Lively’s new book. I’m glad to hear it’s so good.


  2. The British press is basically a right wing mess – ’nuff said! I tend to read what I hope I’ll like, which is why my reviews are usually good – however, if I don’t like something I will say so, but not usually in a fierce way – simply because someone has put a lot of work into a book, which I haven’t. But life is too short for readings things you don’t enjoy!


  3. Jen, I’m looking forward to the Penelope Lively.

    Cynthia, I did like The Interestings very much, but I can see your point. I reacted like that to Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and in some ways those two books are alike, meaning the characters are not always likable. I loved The Slaves of Solitude! Can you believe I haven’t read Stoner after all the fuss?

    Karen, it is always best to read what you like, and you obviously like yours. I try to read what I want, but sometimes a book lets me down… and if I’m well into it, I finish anyway (but why?). I don’t think they even allow comments at The New York Times anymore (at least I don’t see them), probably because they’re too vicious!


  4. I’ve gotten to the point that I won’t go on if I don’t like the book. Just not enough time with all I want to read. I can’t wait to read Patrick Hamilton’s other books. Luckily, S.O.S. was recommended to me or I never would have known about it. Oh, and I didn’t love The Middlesteins even though I did finish it.


  5. Cynthia, I adore Patrick Hamilton. I very much liked Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky. I wasn’t able to finish Tao Lin’s Tai Pei, in which a young man spends his time snorting psychiatric drugs for pleasure. First I’ve heard they do anything like that at all for anybody–and it was very, very boring. He’s a good writer, but it simply wasn’t for me.

    And if I could find it I’d give it away! (And by the way, I haven’t mailed out your Mrs. Humphry Ward yet because of the weather. I promise I’ll get to it, thoughl


  6. Please don’t even think about it. We had more snow overnight.
    I just asked the library to order Twenty. I can’t wait to read it. A nice big one.


  7. Thank you for the mention! I’m not sure it’s an English thing particularly. For myself, I only feel inspired to write about book I enjoyed. I don’t take a lot of pleasure in writing about books I disliked – and their are plenty of those, but I rarely even finish them let alone write about them.

    I have written two or three “stinking” reviews but after a while I kind of think, heck, these words are going to be there forever as a rebuke to the author and so I delete them. Nowadays I just don’t write about bad books!


  8. Tom, I’m sure I can’t divvy it up like that! It was a ridiculous idea. I love your blog, because you write very well and about unusual books that I would not normally find out about. While the rest of us are reading Dave Eggers’ The Circle (oops! did I say I couldn’t read that one either?), you’re reading books in translation and taking chances on new books by literary writers. I do have some books to catch up on. So much easier to write silly things than to write about books!


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