This probably says more about the type of conversations I have when I’m not sitting behind a computer than anything, but I’ve spent plenty of time in bars debating whether book reviews are of any value to anybody, from the reading public to the author who might look to critics for notes on what to improve. (If you are that special kind of literary masochist, then good on you. Go on doing what you’re doing). As someone who writes about books, as well as the type of person who enjoys reading criticism — to the point where I’ll read books full of book reviews from decades ago — I’m always going to stick up for book reviews. I’m always going to want to read them, and I wouldn’t mind always writing them. Reviews are important. Without them, the literary balance is thrown off, and the bar can be lowered to astonishing levels.
The thing is, people really don’t talk about reviews all that much. They might read them, but for the most part, unless it’s some intense Michiko Kakutani takedown over at the Times, discussing reviews doesn’t really compare to talking about which Stark was killed on the latest episode of Game of Thrones in terms of culturally relevant conversation topics. I wish that wasn’t the case, but in this tweet-a-second world, book reviews have had to fight really hard to stay in the conversation, especially on the Internet, where an Amazon review can make any casual reader feel like they’re John Leonard.