A few months ago there was this charitable reading idea going through the librar* blogosphere. When somebody writes something that you find insulting or offensive, the best reaction is to pause, take a step back and try to find if there's a more charitable way of interpreting these words or if it's possible that the words have been taken out of context or allowing for the possibility that the person has misspoke.
It all sounds very reasonable, but it's not so easy to actually do after reading so insulting that you wish there was a way of invoking the wrath of the blogosphere against the perpetrator.
When I first read Sheila Kohler's remarks about bloggers reviewing books, I admit that I was quite annoyed. Oh no, I thought, here's another elitist Michael Gorman or Blaise Cronin. If I was a more active blogger, I might have written about it right then, fanning the flames of this controversy. But I did end up pausing and that's when I remembered the charitable reading idea, which prompted me to write to Sheila Kohler, telling her how people were reacting to her words and asking if she really believed that. I just thought it would be really sad if she alienated a lot of people based on a misunderstanding.
I wasn't expecting a reply to my email, but a couple of days afterwards Sheila Kohler did write back, telling me that she hadn't intended to offend anyone, she wrote, "I'm sure there are literary bloggers--brilliant bloggers, bloggers who have read more than I have."
She asked if I might be able to mention this statement about bloggers:
I respect their opinions and that I'm delighted when anyone reads and writes about books. I'm certain they play a very important part in all of this. My words were unfortunate, I now see, but my intentions were only to celebrate books in the most useful and constructive way. I wanted to honour all of those who make literature their livelihood and who spend long hours reading and studying books, putting them in context with those great writers who have come before us and those who will carry the torch. I was trying to help those who were losing their important jobs, those pages which keep our books alive. Would you post this to the bloggers many of whom I admire and who have written about my work in a generous and constructive and thoughtful way. Indeed, one of my wonderful students from City College, Maud Newton, is a terrific blogger for whom I have nothing but respect. Sheila Kohler.
Just for the record, I have no connection with Sheila Kohler. I haven't even read any of her books. I'm not so naive to think or hope that these words will resolve the current debate on the role and future of literary criticism in the mainstream media.