I have been a book critic for more than 10 years now. In these long years of experience, I came across many authors, many kinds of books and many types of criticism from those authors. The experiences have always been varied. It did never feel like an easy task! However, it has been fun, fabulous, and always an addition to learning a new intellectual exercise. I love what I do. And I have a suggestion, if you have studied literature in college, you are an ideal candidate to be a measured book critic compared to those who read literature for fun. It is because you have the ability to study literature… do you get the catch?
I believe studying literature is different from reading it (for pleasure). Studying a work of literature allows us to learn many things by reading the work. However, reading for recreation or pleasure helps us regain our concentration and get ready for the job at hand. Reading is for weekends. Studying is for weekdays. If that helps you understand things in a better context.
In the beginning, students of literature in any language might find it difficult. Once they understand how to cope with the pressure, a whole new world opens up to them. Well, if you are still beginning and want to learn the best ways to sail across your syllabus, you can read this wonderful article to help you understand the nature of the course and also the best ways to deal with it. It is for English literature students only. (Anyone can take help and plan his or her journey.)
Now, coming back to the business of criticism. It is always wise to use one’s abilities to make a living. Literature students can understand the work in a smaller as well as a broader context. That also helps understand the significance of work for the time being and assume its place in the future when the taste for the time changes. For example, critics like Dr Jonson and Matthew Arnold often had it right when they appreciated or fixated on the works of their time (and also from the past). Arnold praises the works that have timelessness. Jonson does the same. In modern literature, nothing like timeless exists. Be it Hindi literature or English literature. Nevertheless, there are books that defy the current trends and try to settle for a while.
The job of a book critic is to identify the qualities in a book and bring them out to the readers who want to understand the same. Also, at the same time, a critic is supposed to highlight the shortcomings and put them in front of the readers (and authors). Having the positives and negatives about literary works may help a reader make an informed choice, and also help the authors understand the areas they need to improve. Ideally, this is what a book critic must do. However, having a literary background makes things easier. Noting down the prose and cons, understanding the aesthetic set-up, identifying the qualities in characters, comprehending the motifs, and simply understanding the works of literature as a whole helps a person with a literature background (academically) to bring out the best possible critical essay (known as a book review). Others might hit a few and miss many.
I align my thoughts in this direction. What do you think? Is book criticism open to all? Or it is for those who are serious about it and understand literature a little better than those who casually read literature and suggest others the same? Tell me your thoughts in the comments, and I will surely respond.
By Chitra for The Book Blog