Thursday, May 10, 2007

Demise of Book Reviews

An Essay
by Carter Jefferson

The newspapers are gradually dumping their book review pages. Of course, newspapers are on their way out, which is sad, but the book reviews are among the first things to go. This means the end of literature--maybe. Is this a crisis, or another fake terrorist attack?

Don Quixote is out tilting again--see this exhortation by David Kipen in Salon. That article is such a waste of space I'm amazed that Salon included it. Because book sales are down Kipen thinks nobody reads, and book reviews can be saved by public clamor. He ought to buy a computer and an Internet connection. But by all means read the "editor's choice" letters that column produced. There's where the intelligence is, along with more reactionary dreaming.

One correspondent says this:

"The print newspaper is dead, long live the online media.

"People are reading more than ever, but as words on screen. Not necessarily books as usually defined, but reading. That's where I read my book reviews: at Salon, at the online NY Times, at the online NY Review of Books, at Arts and Letters Daily, at 3 Quarks Daily, and several dozen other blogs. Mailing lists. Usenet newsgroups. It's like drinking from a firehose. There's no dearth of reviewing."

He's right.

Somebody has to organize this: Produce a Web book review index. Include e-books in that index. Find out what sorts of books are not getting reviewed, and arrange for that lack to be remedied. There's even money to be made through online ads. These things will happen.

I suspect buggy whip makers shouted about the end of the world, but I know smart coach manufacturers switched to automobiles. Writers don't have to worry--their books will be reviewed, and nobody will miss the publicity machines that until recently controlled the book market.

1 comment:

Gary said...

I've been thinking about this issue since it was first raised on the IWW's Writing Discussion list.

I began paying attention to book reviews in the local newspaper, a Gannett publication. The reviewers are identified as Gannett writers. The reviews are ... prosaic.

I have not read one Gannett review that would move me to buy a book. It's rare a review is done for a new writer. More likely, it for the latest from Janet Evanovich.

"Not that there's anything wrong with that," said Mr Seinfeld.

I do read the reviews in the weekly NYTIMES "Books" newsletter, which often features a newbie, but, even there, I find myself reading about Cormac McCarthy's latest.

That's good, I suppose. Cormac, that supposedly reclusive soul, ain't never gonna appear on Oprah.

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