9.20.2007

"The Case of the Vanishing Book Review"


There's an amusing report by James Marcus of a recent panel discussion, sponsored by the Columbia Journalism Review, on the state of print-media book reviews. Posting in his blog, House of Mirth, Marcus tweaks all of the participants equally , from Steve Wasserman espousing his views on the "anti-intellectualism" of Americans, to Elizabeth Sifton's (former editor at 3 major publishing houses) death-knell comment that "books [are] no longer central to print culture."

Wasserman, a literary agent and former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, suggested that the spate of commentary on the cut-backs in book review pages has been way too nostalgic: "There was never a Golden Age of Book Reviewing.... It was always a sideshow, even at the newspapers that chose to support it." The CJR, he noted, gave him the opportunity "to natter about this problem at great length" in a recent article, in which he wrote:
"It is through the work of novelists and poets that we understand how we imagine ourselves and contend with the often elusive forces--of which language itself is a foremost factor--that shape us as individuals and families, citizens and communities, and it is through our historians and scientists, journalists and essayists that we wrestle with how we have lived, how the present came to be, and what the future might bring....if you want to reduce crime, teach your children to read. Civilization is built on a foundation of books."
In sharp contrast, here's the close of Marcus's report, in which he describes a portion of the Q&A that followed the panel discussion:
"The climax: a 22-year-old Columbia student declared that nobody in his generation read any books, hence the very idea of reading a book review section was "an absurdity." In fact, he continued, he and his peers didn't even watch television, because every time they turned on the tube there was a story about Iraq. (What about Entourage?) Half the audience must have been wondering whether this guy was a plant: a cautionary figure in tennis shoes, a glimpse into the radiant future. Dude, if you’re reading this, text me right away and let us know you were kidding."
Sigh...

You can learn more about the vanishing book review, and how you can make your views known, at the National Book Critics Circle Campaign to Save Book Reviews.

1 comment:

The Hodges said...

That's like saying... "Who needs Art Criticism? It's only been a side show. There's never been a Golden Age of Art Critics." Talking & Communicating about art in a community is LEARNING! Criticism helps the historians gather information from the work itself. In a sense, it's choking our recording of history. Future generations will not know how this generation thought and acted like if it's not recorded... even if it is in a review section of a newspaper, at least it will have been recorded for people to see now or later.