Having stumbled through the door (with sunburn in tow) I'm still catching up on all book-related news, but please do check out the National Book Critics Circle blog today as they have kicked off a campaign to Save Book Reviewing:
Over the past five years, one by one, newspapers have begun to forsake books and their readers. While book review sections at the Washington Post and the New York Times continue strongly, many other newspapers have begun packing up and winnowing down their book coverage. And it started at the top. Not long ago, the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, which has readership levels in excess of fifty percent, was folded into another part of the paper. The community protested, it was restored, but just recently the section was cut in half in order to make space for an advertisement.
Elsewhere at the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dallas Morning News, the Sun Sentinel, the New Mexican, the Village Voice, Boston Phoenix, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and dozens upon dozens of other papers book coverage has been cut back or slashed all together, moved, winnowed, filled with more wire copy, or generally been treated as expendable.
And we're getting tired of it. We're tired of watching individual voices from local communities passed over for wire copy. We're tired of book editors with decades of experience shown the exit. We're tired of shrinking reviews. We're tired of hearing newspapers fret and worry over the future of print while they dismantle the section of the paper which deals most closely with the two things which have kept them alive since the dawn of printing presses: the public's hunger for knowledge and the written word.
So the board of the National Book Critics Circle has launched a campaign to try and beat back these changes. Over the next six weeks, in a new series on our blog Critical Mass, we will feature posts by concerned writers, interviews with book editors in the trenches, links to op-eds by critics, novelists and other NBCC board members, Q&As with newspaper editors and owners who will explain the business context for these changes, and tips for what you can do to help save book reviewing.
For the past three decades, the National Book Critics Circle has believed that the best argument for the importance of book reviews was well-chosen literature itself. So we have put our energy into a prize honoring the best books of the year, and singling out critics who have consistently helped us find them. But it turns out that's not enough -- that the professional arguer has to argue for his own existence now as well. We hope you join us in that fight, because it is a fight that benefits us all -- readers, publishers, critics, booksellers. Everyone.
Sign the petition. Read the NBCC's dedicated section which already features a lengthy interview with LATBR editor David Ulin, commentary from authors Stewart O'Nan and George Saunders and much more. It's only a start, but one that can snowball into greater action so long as the word spreads.
UPDATE: Now having had a chance to digest this some more, I'm inclined to agree with a lot of Ed's contrarian-only-on-the-surface viewpoint. At the moment - and for entirely understandable reasons - the NBCC's nascent campaign is highly reactive. Newspaper book sections are being cut; something must be done about it. And as I said above, it's a good start.
But i do think that in order for this snowball effect to take place, the NBCC must be proactive. Change assumptions from hoping and praying that newspaper sections will stick around to finding viable, financially sound alternatives for good existing criticism and even better, emerging talent to shine in all publications, print and online. Seriously step up fundraising, grant-applying and scholarship-soliciting efforts so that people with money realize that the new pockets of thriving arts culture - and by that, I mean blogs, I mean upstart print publications, you name it - deserve proper renumeration. At the moment, we are (and I can say that, being a member and all) depending on third parties to decide our critical fates. Instead, the real objective is to make literary criticism matter directly to the readers - no matter where the source.