Welcome to the book review slums

You would think I would automatically hail the advent of a new interweb book review site, especially one created by a well-respected national magazine. But I can’t say The New Republic did much to entice me when it announced its new online book review, The Book.

In an online letter to “Friends of Books and Writers,” executive editor Isaac Chotiner tells readers that the site is a supplement to the magazine’s print material. Why is TNR adding such a supplement? In part because of “the absence of any site for the serious consideration of serious books is also a fact of the web.” Now it doesn’t really bother me that much if, for whatever reason, TNR doesn’t think I seriously consider serious books. But evidently Mr. Chotiner has never heard of sites such as the 10-year-old the complete review, my friends at Words Without Borders or even the more recent Barnes & Noble Review.

Yet that isn’t what really bothers me. Rather, it’s this portion of his letter: “We are not slumming here, or surrendering to the carnival of the web. Quite the contrary. We are hoping to offer an example of resistance to it. … Here you will find criticism, not blogging; pieces, not posts.” Nor does Mr. Chotiner appear to be the only one at The Book with such view. In an October introductory letter sent by email, the TNR‘s literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, announced that the site’s reviews “will not be blog posts. Again: They will not be blog posts.”

So, we have a twist on the longstanding print v. “lit blogs” discussion. A print outlet launches a lit blog but, of course, because of who and what it is, it isn’t really a lit blog. It has serious material and is inherently superior. After all, even if I review the same books, I do not do criticism, I “blog.” I don’t write reviews, I write “posts.” Because of those distinctions, anyone coming here to read a review or about books is “slumming, or surrendering to the carnival of the web.”

Now I realize my lit crit skills pale in comparison to Messrs. Chotiner and Wieseltier or many, if not most, of the contributors to TNR. I have frequently called myself an “illiterati.” I also realize things aren’t always all that serious around here. But thank goodness the status of book bloggers has been confirmed by the powers that be. Thank goodness TNR will “offer an example of resistance” to what I and others do. Thank goodness it will rescue readers from tawdry book bloggers.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that the demise of dedicated print book reviews means we need and should welcome additional online book reviews. The more the merrier (although I’d have hoped TNR didn’t have such preconceived notions about the subhuman status of book bloggers). I guess all I can really hope for now is that The Book doesn’t plan on destroying the slums in order to save them.

Look in the mirror, and don’t be tempted to equate transient domination with either intrinsic superiority or prospects for extended survival.

Stephen Jay Gould, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin

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1 comment to Welcome to the book review slums

  • The snobbery exhibited by in this instance by The New Republic is precisely why I seldom read the book reviews there or in similar publications. I suppose I should not be insulted by their attitude about lit bloggers, however, since it is so much like my own attitude about literary snobs. Oh, well. Call it a draw.