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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Still more on the demise of the newspaper book review

Former L.A. Times Book Review editor, Steve Wasserman, was interviewed on Monday's NewsHour segment about the demise of print book reviews.

As GalleyCat on comments, "Now that there are only four papers with separate book sections including the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, does online book coverage have the authority, nay, gravitas that book sections lend?"

According to Wasserman, they don't. He said:

I have no problem with the vast democracy wall that the Internet provides on which everyone, every crank and every sage can post his or her pronunciamento.

But what's lost here is the discriminatory filter provided by people who have embraced journalism as a craft. What has been lost here is the authority, such as it ever was, of newspaper people trying to do a job well done.

I do not see foreign coverage being replaced by the activity of individuals on the Internet bloviating about this or that.

And despite the robust nature or at least the very excited nature of the conversation on the Internet, the best criticism still being written today is being published, say, in magazines, James Wood in the New Yorker, or Leon Wieseltier in the pages of the New Republic, or Christopher Hitchens in the pages of the Atlantic.

And it will be a long time before the Internet gives us a forum in which such people unsupported by institutions can deliver us that kind of literary criticism. At their best, the newspapers were an exercise in delivering to us that kind of informed criticism, which was the work of professionals who had devoted a lifetime to the consideration of literature.

I say, Granted. Excellent point. But do these people review the books a lot of people read, or is there a literary filter? My impression, too, is that papers like the Boston Globe are publishing commentary on the books that are exciting a lot of discussion out there, which people do read.

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