I'm currently taking a Literary Criticism class, and I recently wrote a paper on Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism. While doing the research necessary to write the paper, I felt like sometimes he was speaking right to me. The essay mostly attacks critics by saying that they are not worthy of being a critic because they are not knowledgeable enough in writing, the author, and the classics. His expectations were high.
We are all critics, and I now realize what an important role that is. I'm a member of Goodreads, and I enjoy posting my thoughts on the books I read. I noticed the other day that my average star rating for the books I read is 3.32 out of 5. That disappointed me. Why am I so harsh? I noticed that I had not given one book 5 stars, even my favorites. (I have since went back and reevaluated some of my original ratings.) I could chalk up my defiance to giving a perfect score to the fact that I'm an English major, and I've had very few teachers ever give perfect scores even when I've had a mark-less paper. BUT I'm not going to go the easy route. I'm going to evaluate myself. I am a perfectionist, as much as I hate to admit it. I always see room for improvement. The worst part of it all is that this makes me my own worst critic.
It's so easy for us to flash our stars, not caring about what that recommendation may do to the work itself, not to mention the author. A critic's job is so important. What a critic says can make or break a book and its author.
The author of the dictionary, Samuel Johnson once said:
Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense. He whom nature has made weak, and idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his vanity by the name of a critic. (The Idler no. 60)
Those are some strong words. As critics, there is "very small expense" in judging harshly; however, I believe that those who love books lovingly review them. The lesson that I take away from all this study on critics is that we should chose our words, ratings, and recommendations very carefully, and if you're a writer, like me, you know that at some point you will be sitting on the other side of the table.
Photo by Photl.