On the Newspaper Review Controversy

I’ve been silent about the whole subject of the disappearing book coverage in newspapers so far. Usually, I’d be shouting loud and clear about it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll explain. A few weeks ago, the Atlanta Journal Constitution announced that they would be eliminating the position of book editor. The National Book Critics Circle then announced a campaign to save book review pages. Each day they post comments from well known authors and editors about the value of book reviews. And of course bloggers got on board as well, not without a bit of controversy of their own. Today Motoko Rich has an article The New York Times about the print versus online divide, that includes comments some of my friends Mark, Ed, Maud, Dan, and Jeff.

I haven’t weighed in on this issue yet for a few reasons. One, it feels odd to try and save pages that I regularly complain about (I’m specifically referring to the Boston Globe. I do not want the book review section to disappear, but I lament the often boring nature of the section. I want to save it though. It needs to exist here, as do all review pages, but this should be a chance to for change in the review industry (I hesitate to use that word, but can’t think of a better term). Reviews have gotten stodgy and boring and I don’t blame the internet either. I think people have gotten lazy. Just as scholarship evolves, so shouldn’t criticism. But again, I’m all for saving the review pages.

The other reason I haven’t spoken out yet reflects more of a uncomfortableness that comes from having a blog. The newspapers certainly don’t seem to love the literary blogs and online community. That’s changing I know, but it’s hard to read about saving these pages when meanwhile, they’re trashing what I do, eg Richard Ford’s comments at the end of today’s NYT article.

Mr. Ford, who has never looked at a literary blog, said he wanted the judgment and filter that he believed a newspaper book editor could provide. “Newspapers, by having institutional backing, have a responsible relationship not only to their publisher but to their readership,” Mr. Ford said, “in a way that some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute maybe doesn’t.”

I’m not sitting in a basement Mr. Ford. I’m in a book store, where we actually sell your books on a daily basis. So thanks for that. Regardless of how those comments make me feel, I do think it important to state for the record that I believe book reviews should be saved and I’ll do what I can to help.

4 thoughts on “On the Newspaper Review Controversy

  1. Chad

    I would almost be excited to see book reviews go straight to the bloggers. There is this grass roots thing that happens with litblogs that actually brings good books to the surface instead of ones that have had their reviews paid for. Anyways, who cares in the end, the entire newspaper is going to be eliminated by 2025.


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