Reader vs Reviewer

After last week’s final Terry Pratchett release, there was several reviews. There was also an article by a certain reviewer in a certain paper that called Sir Terry Pratchett a mediocre writer and that we should all stop reading him. (I’m not naming the writer or paper as I’m not giving him any more publicity).

What did he base this on? Had he read a few Pratchett books, to get a fair overview? No. Had he read at least one? No. He had once picked one up in a bookshop, read a few lines, disliked the quality of the prose, and put it down again.

Well, this may be one way to choose a book to review – but to call a whole oeuvre of a writer based on this seems wrong to me. In fact, it seems unfair. In fact, it seems less that he is basing his opinion of Terry Pratchett less on his work, than on the fact he is popular. He really hates the idea that he’s popular. He probably hates the fact that he writes fantasy and he is funny too. I bet he’s annoyed that everyone’s laughing at a joke he just doesn’t get.

He started off the review by telling everyone he’d just read Mansfield Park to prove his intellectual qualifications. (He seems to have missed the incredibly filthy joke Jane Austen slipped in there. I bet he never even noticed it.) But he has missed a vital point about the classics.

Novels we often regard as classics now were not generally well received in their lifetime. The Brontes got reviews calling them coarse and disgusting. Dickens and Wilkie Collins were dismissed as potboilers. No-one liked The Hobbit. It wasn’t the reviewers that decided these books were classics that would be read forever. Oh no, it was the readers.

The readers loved the Brontes, and Dickens, and Austen. If it wasn’t for the readers who wanted to read these book over and over again, and pass them on to their children, Mansfield Park wouldn’t be around for him to read.

He may decide Terry Pratchett is mediocre, if he wishes. I would suggest he read at least two of his books before deciding that. If he wants his opinion respected, I suggest he doesn’t base his opinion on two lines from one page. (I should mention, my love of Terry Pratchett started with two lines from the beginning of Wyrd Sisters, so I guess a couple of lines can make a difference – but I did go on to read a lot of his books to confirm my view). I would suggest that he doesn’t decide that an author is mediocre just because he is popular. (I notice the Austen novel he chose to illustrate his intellectualism is her least popular one. I bet he secretly despises Pride and Prejudice).

But I should also urge him to remember – reviewers don’t decide what books are classics. In twenty years time – ten – no-one will care or remember what he said. It is readers who decide what books become classics.

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