The brothers Goldberg have been covering the just-reported news that Steve Wasserman, book editor of the LA Times, may be leaving to explore other options. Lee isn't all that sorry to see him go based on his personal experience with Wasserman:
It's not unusual for the Book Review to finally get around to reviewing some major hardcover mysteries around the time they are about to come out in paperback (not that you'd call what mystery critic Eugen Weber writes "reviews," more like senseless ramblings).
I had lunch with Wasserman when I was president of the SoCal chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. I came armed with months worth of local and national bestseller lists. I wanted to convince him that they should run more reviews of mysteries and thrillers because those were the books his readers were actually reading. But he told me that he felt the mission of the Book Review was to educate people about what they should be reading... which wasn't mysteries and thrillers.
His smug superiority might have been easier to take if he didn't spend most of our lunch drooling over the fact that Brian Grazer was at the next table.
Tod takes a broader view, wondering if Wasserman's exit may signal changes not only to the Book Review, but to reviewing in general:
[T]his brings into question the larger issues of relevance and where Sunday Book Reviews still fit in this burgeoning world of blogs and websites, where reviews and reviewers are typically more timely and often more incisive and have the potential to reach larger audiences. The cache of a review in the NY Times or LA Times or Washington Post still matters to authors, or at least this one, because that's what I grew up seeing. And perhaps Wasserman's exit from the LA Times will auger a shift towards a more vibrant sense of reviewing, if indeed his exit is imminent. I'm heartened somewhat by what seems to be a shift in the industry, perhaps best exemplified by Sara Nelson taking over Publishers Weekly, that seems to show that the times are changing and new ideas on how to review and cover books need to be examined. Even still, if Wasserman stays, the Book Review needs a make-over that allows it to be as compelling and entertaining as their trademark event, the Book Festival, which somehow manages to marry high brow literacy and whimsy in one package.
If the recent hubbub surrounding Sam Tanenhaus's hiring as the NYTBR editor shows, it's that people are both accepting and resistant to change and are willing to make their views heard (like, for example, the recent switcheroo back to having the reviewers' bios accompanying the review instead of in a separate section.) And I do agree with Tod that the challenge of any Book Review is to examine books that people want to read or should know about, and not just bandwagon or start lecturing to its readership. It isn't, or shouldn't be, about what books necessarily matter, but which ones are truly relevant and newsworthy and are worth that extra look in a bookstore.
But I can't really imagine a world without Sunday book review sections. Hell, if they all went away, there goes a good-sized chunk of my blog content (never mind opportunities to freelance.) Of course -- and I think this is a problem that must be addressed -- the LAT is pay-only, so as long as they keep it that way, I won't be linking.
Still, I think there are signs of change already, specifically with crime fiction. The last two weeks have seen reviews of Peter Moore Smith's new novel LOS ANGELES which fleshed out in greater detail exactly why I loved the book, and Denise Hamilton's look at Stella Rimington's AT RISK was insightful and detailed. But that same week was a (very) late review of Ken Follett's WHITEOUT which struck me as odd -- why wait so long?
And all the speculation might be moot, since Wasserman could stay, and nothing could change with the LAT after all...