|A newspaper book review editor's office.|
These cuts have an effect. This year, 11 of the books I've read came to my attention from book reviews. Book reviews, whether positive or negative, publicize books.
The New York Times Book Review is touted as the most influential book page. I no longer depend on it personally, though. I've been burned, not by critics, but by novelist reviewers writing too kindly about other novelists. It's not that I want unkindness, but neither do I want to rush out to buy a flawed book because I am too easily influenced by big-name reviewers. In other words, I have passed Book Reviewing 101 and have become impervious to reviews. Book reviewing is a tough job--it's no fun reading bad books--but, all the same, we look for the reviewer's true opinion and assessment of how well the writer has succeeded in achieving his or her goal in his or her genre.
The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker still have energetic book sections. They recognize reviewing and book news as an art, and also publish articles about old or out-of-print books.
The Guardian is eccentric, never afraid to eviscerate even a famous writer's book (and these negative reviews often send me searching for the book). The Washington Post has an excellent crew of in-house critics. The New Yorker is, well, The New Yorker.
Of course there are other venues. Many bloggers take contemporary literature seriously. But sometimes they are "compromised." (Have I been watching too much "Battlestar Galactica?") Sometimes they're doing obvious PR, out of naivete or to return a favor. Some may actually be PR people. If they're bookstore affiliates, watch out. Every time you click on one of their links to a bookstore and buy something, anything, they profit. It may not be by much, but it's something. (By the way, I'm not a bookstore affiliate.)
What would I do if I had to do without book reviews for, say, a year? I suppose I'd go back to the system I had in the old days. Most of the new books I read, by the way, are not the result of reviews. A few new books are bought on impulse, a few inspired by recommendations at Amazon or The Barnes & Noble Review, a few from prize longlists. The older books I pick out according to my own system.
We need our book reviews, though.