‘A good deal of reviewing, especially of novels, might well be done by amateurs … whose ideas about [the novel] would surely be worth more than those of a bored professional,’ wrote George Orwell in 1946. With this simple remark, Orwell anticipated the rise of the amateur literary critic.
‘Today we have an internet forum where anyone with an opinion about a book can start blogging about it for a global audience,’ says Murray.
For Murray, amateur book reviewing technologies like Goodreads have democratised the practice of literary criticism. Where criticism was once the exclusive domain of the learned professional, book review websites have enabled everyday readers to take part in the critical conversation.
‘We’ve got away from the situation of an old-style enshrined critic who, like the voice of God, would declare whether a book was any good or not,’ says Murray. ‘We now have a situation where there can be a whole plethora of voices … and a whole range of views on a particular book.’
The rise of the amateur critic has also seen changes in the nature of contemporary criticism. Murray has detected a new mode of online critique that privileges the emotional responses of the reader. ‘Professional literary criticism often downplays the emotional response readers have to a novel. Yet emotion is front and centre in a lot of these amateur reviews … that’s something to really enjoy about reading them.’