What do we want from the NYT Book Review? Often discussed, that question takes on added interest now that Sam Tanenhaus is leaving his post as Editor after nine years.
He will be replaced by Pamela Paul, who has been the children’s books editor and the features editor for the Review. She is only the second woman to hold that position (Rebecca Sinkler was the first, from 1989 to 1995).
We have a simple (which is NOT synonymous with “easy”) request: do what good librarians do, approach books with passion and excitement:
Every week, make people say, “I gotta read that!”
Don’t be afraid to show your hand and champion certain titles (like the NYT Magazine did for George Saunders’ book of short stories, Tenth of December, with their cover declaring it “the best book you will read this year“)
Make people look forward to each issue, wondering, “What’s going to be on the cover?”
Develop reviewers that people actively follow
Surprise us with a range of titles and don’t be afraid of the popular
There are reasons to think Pamela Paul may be up to that task:
She is a passionate reader — in an essay on YA books, she went way beyond the cliché of being so engrossed in a book that she missed her subway stop; she admitted to nearly ignoring her new-born because she was in the midst of The Hunger Games.
She appreciates a wide range of authors — her weekly Q&A column, “By the Book,” ranges from authors like Edward St. Aubyn to household names like Jackie Collins (who would have guessed that her favorite genre is ” tough male fiction”?)
She enjoys controversy — She stirred the waters by publishing a much-talked-about piece by Meg Wolitzer on the status of womens fiction
And, she clearly has stamina. In addition to her duties on the Book Review, she has written for many other sections of the NYT, as well as other publications, and writes a weekly column on children’s books for the daily newspaper. She has also written three books and is raising three children.
She will need that strength. Previous editors have complained that it is a thankless job. When Chip McGrath left that position on 2003, he admitted to The New York Observer, “I have too thin a skin for this job … A lot of people feel that part of their job is to let you know in various ways how unhappy you’ve made them. That’s wearing.” John Leonard, the editor in the early 1970’s, often regarded as the “golden age” of the publication, chimed in, saying, “The job wears you out. I lasted five years. It’s not so much that the books keep coming, but the complaints keep coming.”
Pamela Paul begins that thankless job in May.