Just two weeks after sending a memo to staff denying a NY Post story that the paper is in the midst of weighing cutbacks that include “ending the print edition of its Sunday magazine, folding the Metro section, making the weekly book review section online-only and leasing out space in its Midtown headquarters,” comes news that the story was at least partially true.
The story notes, “The move also has heightened anxieties on the Times culture desk that reassignments or cuts in the department’s full-time staff are imminent.”
The move also raises concerns about whether more changes will come to country’s last remaining standalone newspaper book section, beyond the recent announcement that all book coverage, including daily and Sunday, is now consolidated under Pamela Paul,
While the paper often assigns high profile authors to review high profile titles in the Sunday Book Review (Michael Connelly just reviewed Caleb Carr’s newest for example), Jemisin’s role is a bit different as she gets space to comment on a range of books within her genre specialty.
What kind of reviewer is she? A very precise, demanding, and appreciative one; a critic writing with vibrant engagement who is not willing to let much slide. What kind of reader is she? Based on her reactions to the works covered thus far, one that is interested in meaningful content rather than plot, values beautiful language, and appreciates in-depth characterizations.
For example, in her opening column she tries to figure out what China Miéville’s This Census-Taker (PRH/Del Rey) is all about, jumping from one possibility to the next before concluding, “This is a novel in which the journey is the story — but for those readers who actually want Miéville to take them somewhere, This Census-Taker may be an exercise in haunting, lovely frustration.”
Similarly, of Keith Lee Morris’s Travelers Rest (Hachette/Back Bay) she says the story is “not fresh” and thought “It’s beautifully written … Beautiful writing just isn’t enough to save any story from overfamiliarity.”
Pamela Paul, NYT Photo Credit: Earl Wilson, The New York Times, April, 2012
But there was something afoot. Yesterday, the NYT announced that all book coverage, including Sunday and daily book reviews, as well as publishing news, will now be under the direction of the Editor of the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Pamela Paul.
Until now, daily reviews and the Book Review have been separate, with separate reporting structures and approaches, making them virtually sister publications. Daily coverage is handled by a group of three regular critics, Michiko Kakutani, Dwight Garner and Jennifer Senior, with occasional contributions by Janet Maslin who retired last year.
On the other hand, the editors of the Sunday section do not act as critics, but as assigning editors, selecting titles to be reviewed and selecting writers to cover them. In some cases, the reviewers are celebrity authors, like Michael Connelly who reviews Caleb Carr’s new book on the cover of this week’s issue. In other cases, they are scholars or authors of similar books to those under review, a practice that has been regarded as open to both professional jealousies and back-scratching.
In a memo to staff about the change, NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet calls Paul “one of our biggest stars.” That star has had a fast rise at the Book Review. In 2011, she was named the Children’s Book Editor. Just two years later, she took over as Editor, when Sam Tanenhaus left to become a writer-at-large.
According to the memo, Paul will be responsible not only for book coverage, but for recommending changes in direction. It appears that shutting down the Book Review is off the table:
It will be Pamela’s job to think about how our coverage should change and, of course, how it should not change. (We will, for instance, maintain our Sunday Book Review. It is hard to imagine the paper without it.) Above all, we believe we have a significant opportunity to expand the audience for our books coverage.
Also off the table is shutting down daily coverage:
And I want to make clear that under Pamela’s leadership, books and book reviews will be a consistent and significant part of The Times’s daily culture report.
One change is already in the works, under a single reporting structure, coverage can be coordinated to decide “which books are so important they deserve both a daily and a Sunday review” rather than that happening, as it has to date, by coincidence.
There is still reason to be concerned about the NYT‘s book coverage. Consolidation rarely results in expanded coverage. Most often, it goes the other direction.
UPDATE: Please note this, from the comments section, which gives some hope:
The story in the Post was completely debunked by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., The New York Times Publisher. In an email to staff today he wrote: “…The New York Times Magazine and our Sunday Book Review are two of the most successful and popular products in our very powerful arsenal. We will not cease producing them in print.”
Also, the New York Times‘s David Leonhardt tweeted the following today:
In email to newsroom, Arthur Sulzberger debunks bizarre NY Post story claiming @nytimes may shut Book Review, Mag, Metro. Crazy talk.
At the end of June, Politico said that Leonhardt was “overseeing a sweeping strategic review by a team of seven Times journalists known as the 2020 Group.” They quoted him saying, “The Times has changed enormously in the past few years, but it still hasn’t changed enough,”
In another gloomy indicator of the lack of value newspaper owners place on book review sections, the New York Post reports that theNYT may discontinue the print edition of the Sunday Book Review, publishing it online only.
It is just one of several possible cost-cutting measures under discussion. Others include ending the print edition of the Sunday magazine and folding the Metro section.
The NY Post reports that the potential cuts are in response to a fall in print advertising and the continued shift of readers to digital sources. Back in April, the paper reported on the financial troubles of their much larger rival (but did not mention the Book Review as being under scrutiny), causing Vanity Fair to take a dim view of the story and NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet to dismiss it on NPR as nothing more than “cheap guess work.”
However, Vanity Fair admitted in an update to their story, that “A portion of the Post‘s report was validated … as the Times said it was closing its print production and editing operations in its Paris bureau … About 70 staff members will be laid off or relocated.” The journalism site Poynter reported in July that “At least 49 journalists at The New York Times have accepted a standing buyout offer from newsroom leadership and will leave the paper in the coming months.”
If the changes to the Book Review do occur, they will follow a long sad march of such contractions.
In 2007 author Michael Connelly wrote about “The folly of downsizing book reviews” in a story in the LA Times, which had just merged its own standalone book review into the Sunday Opinion section. In his piece, Connelly recited the litany of shuttered or reduced book review sections at newspapers across the country, including the Raleigh News & Observer, the Dallas Morning News, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Connelly was looking at an already reduced reviewing landscape. In 2001, Salon published a story titled “The amazing disappearing book review section.” At that time the San Francisco Chronicle was cutting back, following in the footsteps of many other papers, Salon noted “The Seattle Times, the San Jose Mercury News, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Boston Globe have all put their papers on a diet by cutting back on book reviews.”
The NYT Book Review currently publishes as a stand-alone pull out section each Sunday that includes dozens of reviews. If it becomes digital-only, it is likely, based on the experience of other such moves, that the number will decline.
This, of course, is part of a larger problem facing newspapers, a subject John Oliver addressed in his HBO show this week:
For 40 years, the host of NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross has connected listeners with the people that fascinate her, many of them authors.
In celebration of that anniversary, The New York Times Magazine turns the tables on Gross, interviewing the interviewer.
In a story enhanced by several photos (our favorite; Gross as a young woman working an enormous 70’s tape deck), writer Susan Burton offers an ode to NPR’s iconic questioner, reviewing her history and career trajectory, and discussing her acuity as an interviewer.
In particular Burton stresses Gross’s depth of knowledge on the subjects she discuses and her ability to create an intimacy with those she interviews, calling her our “national interviewer” and saying:
… think of it as a symbolic role, like the poet laureate — someone whose job it is to ask the questions, with a degree of art and honor. Barbara Walters was once our national interviewer, in a flashier style defined by a desire for spectacle. Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy. In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions … she’s deft on news and subtle on history, sixth-sensey in probing personal biography and expert at examining the intricacies of artistic process.”
This American Life‘s Ira Glass, no slouch as an interviewer himself, tells Burton:
There’ve been times when I’ve relistened [to an interview], just to hear the order of the questions and to figure out what was planned and unplanned. Like a magician sitting in on another guy’s act for two nights so he can figure out the trick, to steal it … [it is] not surprising that she loves jazz artists and stand-up comedians so much. She’s their journalist peer.
Being interviewed by Gross is a frequent fantasy of those who eventually make it onto her show and the process of talking to Gross is “a wish not for recognition but for an experience. It’s a wish for Gross to locate your genius, even if that genius has not yet been expressed. It’s a wish to be seen as in a wish to be understood.”
As an example, Burton highlights Gross’s 2011 interview with Maurice Sendak. The conversation turned to his death and Sendak said to Gross “I’ll go before you go, so I won’t have to miss you.’’
The news arrives in the paper tomorrow, in the form of a sidebar to a review of a nonfiction title currently hot in the media, Becoming Nicole, about a teen who transitioned from male to female, while her identical twin continues to identify as male.
The sidebar reads,
Meet Our New Critic
Jennifer Senior is the new daily book critic for The New York Times. For most of the last 18 years, she was a staff writer for New York magazine, where she wrote profiles and cover stories about politics, social science and mental health. She is also an author herself: All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood was published in 2014. You can follow her on Twitter: @JenSeniorNY
While the daily NYT now returns to a roster of three full-time book critics, this appointment still leaves a void. Maslin focused on popular fiction and, reflecting her roots as a movie reviewer, made an effort to be the first to review titles she thought would be hits, getting behind books such as Gone Girl.and The Girl on the Train.
The two other daily NYT critics have different approaches. Michiko Kakutani tends toward literary fiction (even though she reviews J.K. Rowling’s “Grizzly Crime Novel,” Career of Evil this week) and Dwight Garner tends toward nonfiction about popular culture, particularly music, (switching that it up today, with a review of David Mitchell’s Slade House.)
Coming on the heels of cuts in book coverage by People magazine and USA Today, those looking simply for something “good to read” have fewer places to turn. Here’s hoping that Entertainment Weekly continues to consider books an important component their coverage of popular culture.
Alan Cheuse, author of Prayers for the Living and NPR’s All Things Considered book reviewer, has died at age 75, from injuries resulting from a car accident.
A creative writing teacher, a working writer, and a beloved voice on the radio, Cheuse inspired a deep appreciation of good writing and rich reading. His daughter, Sonya Cheuse, director of publicity for the publisher Ecco, told NPR that her father passed his love of literature down to her entire family: “My dad is the reason I love reading,” she says. “This is the family business.”
Many are assessing their favorite books of the year right now, but imagine summing up your favorites from an entire lifetime?
Jonathan Yardley, long-time Washington Post book critic takes on that task in his final, farewell column before retiring.
Only one of the total of 30 titles was published this year, Ward Just’s American Romantic (HMG), which Yardley counts as “perhaps his best, though the competition is fierce” (he also lists Just’s 1990 novel, The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert).
In a separate column, Yardley looks back on his career with the Washington Post.(many of you will recognize the headshot, above, that once ran above his column), and resolves to “make one last attempt to read Ulysses, the gargantuan novel by James Joyce that was admitted to this country by my great-great uncle, federal Judge John Woolsey, whose famous opinion authorizing its admission I regard as considerably more engaging, witty and intelligible than the novel itself.”
Jonathan Yardley, the nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post since 1981, is retiring. Known as an iconoclast (if you’re not a fan of Salinger’s, you’ll enjoy his reassessment of Catcher in the Rye as “a maladroit, mawkish novel” that is suffused with “cheap sentimentality”), he also won a Pulitzer for criticism.
Interviewed by Poynter.org yesterday, Lozada talked about his plans, which are focused on “building a digital audience,” by using “author interviews; short posts that highlight key nuggets from new books; deep dives on trends in nonfiction,” such as his piece, “The End of Everything” and adds, “while I know that lots of people use reviews to help them decide which books to buy and read, lots of them also see reviews as a substitute for reading the book. I certainly do – there isn’t enough time to read everything, right? And I want to respect those readers and their needs, too, which is where I hope these other forms can help.”
Asked whether he will cover book selling (the interviewer notes, “I can think of a company that might be really interesting to cover!”), he says that he’ll leave the business used to the paper’s “great business/financial writers.”
“While we’re sorry to lose Deirdre and Carol, USA Today‘s commitment to books coverage remains unwavering. Later this year we’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of our famous book list with a host of new coverage, both print and online. Books editor Jocelyn McClurg and reviewer Bob Minzesheimer remain committed to books coverage and, with senior editors, will be actively recruiting new book reviews both inside the staff and outside.”
Bob tweeted the following yesterday:
On day my kids begin high school, I’m among 25 staffers laid off at USA Today. I’ll keep reading & writing. New email:firstname.lastname@example.org
As we noted last week, People magazine’s redesign under new Editorial Director, Jess Cagle, subsumes book reviews into the new upfront “People Picks” section.
In the second week of the new design, “The Best New Books” rate a bit higher than last — they are now at #6, up from #9, and feature 3 titles that are slightly more below the radar than last week’s, plus three books by “celebrities” (including “Twitter phenom” Jenny Mollen’s book of essays, I Like You Just the Way I Am; former Days of Our Lives star Alison Sweeney’s’ novel, Scared Scriptless and Fox News anchor Bret Aailer’s memoir about dealing with his son’s congenital heart disease, Special Heart).
But you can’t keep books out of popular culture; they sneak into some of the other picks:
#2 Movie: How to Train Your Dragon 2. Book Connection: Based on the kids series by Cressida Cowell, the movie opens this week (see our roundup of tie-ins). Variety calls it, “DreamWorks Animation’s strongest sequel yet — one that breathes fresh fire into the franchise, instead of merely rehashing the original. Braver than Brave, more fun than Frozen and more emotionally satisfying than so many of its live-action counterparts, Dragon delivers.”
Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, Paul Raeburn, (Macmillan/Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux) — We’re guessing that the answer is “Yes.” This is one of the issue’s many nods (including the cover story) to Father’s Day.
Euphoria, Lily King, (Grove/Atlantic, June) — Librarians have buzzed this one on GalleyChat, recommending it for fans of Horan’s Loving Frank and McLain’s The Paris Wife. It’s loosely based on Margaret Mead’s journals (if a novel based on the anthropologist’s life doesn’t sound like a promising readalike, consider that it involves a love triangle). People calls it “transporting.” Early readers we trust say, “King’s language is as lush as the landscape.”
Books also sneak into the features features, in the form of an interview with Mary Rockefeller Morgan, the twin of Michael Rockefeller, who disappeared in New Guinea in the early sixties. She recently updated her book about the loss, an eBook from a devision of Open Road Media, When Grief Calls Forth the Healing.
Open Road ebooks are available for library lending.
Another book on the story (which Morgan say prompted her to update her book), Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman, (HarperCollins/Morrow), was published in March.
When opening the new issue of People magazine, you may wonder where the Books section is.
Unfortunately, along with the other reviews sections, it is gone. Books, movies, TV and music will now be combined in an upfront section, “People Picks,” where they will also have new competition from apps, games, viral video and other entertainment.
In the inaugural “Picks” section, books appear towards the end (ahead of the DVD of the HBO series, True Detective and the streaming musical, Side Effects), with just three new hardcovers, all of them by well-known authors — Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, and Lisa See’s China Dolls — as well as three paperback reprints, also from big names.
The last issue with a Book section
This is the first major change to the magazine under the new Editorial Director, Jess Cagle who took over in January. It seems his predecessor, Larry Hackett, had considered making changes to the sections, but kept them to support upfront fractional advertising pages.
The book business has had to suffer the diminishing, or closing, of many book review sections. Given People magazine’s extensive reach, this may be the worst blow of them all.
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:
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”?)
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.”
Winning an award for a hatchet job may not sound like a good thing. The Ominvore (not to be confused with Omnivoracious, Amazon’s book blog) begs to differ. They created “The Hatchet Job of The Year” award in 2011 for the year’s most scathing book review, in an effort to “crusade against dullness, deference and lazy thinking. It rewards critics who have the courage to overturn received opinion, and who do so with style.”
So, congrats to one of EarlyWord‘s favorite reviewers, the Washington Post‘s Ron Charles, who is one of eight nominees for the “Hatchet Job 2012” for his review of Martin Amis’s Lionel Asbo. His review is one of just two that appeared in American publications (the other is Zoë Heller’s review of Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie in the New York Review of Books).
Here’s hoping that Ron wins a well-deserved year’s supply of potted shrimp (supplied by The Fish Society, the “UK’s premier mail order and online fishmonger,” which sponsors the award — we leave it up to you to speculate on why).
A new site called I Dream Books is being called “Rotten Tomatoes for Books,” a reference to the movie site that rounds ups critics responses to movies.
The founders tell Publishing Perspectives that although there are several other book review aggregators, their site is different because their user interface is better, “it’s made for discovery: there’s an emphasis on covers and images. The site is like looking in a shop window.”
After examining it, we’ll stick with our favorite aggregators; Bookmarks magazine’s web site, which lists the reviews for the week from 25 publications, as well as the most-reviewed titles for the past 8 weeks and the subscription service Publishers Marketplace ($20/month, which includes a host of other services). The latter indexes reviews from over 40 publications, with a brief excerpt and a simple indicator of whether each review is “Generally positive” or “Generally negative”.
In comparison to those sources, I Dream Books is not as timely. The latest reviews we could find are from May; no reviews are listed for Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (published by Macmillan, one of the Big Six publishers that I Dream Books is currently focused on). Bookmarks shows 14 reviews for the title and Publishers Marketplace, 13. In addition, some of the information is perplexing; several titles are listed by their paperback release dates, with no mention of the hardcover.
I Dream Bookshas an advantage in the number of sources they cover, including several book blogs. As print coverage of books shrinks, this could be very useful. However, since many book blogs are by genre fans, they skew the listings. For instance, Jinx, a new graphic novel version of the ArchieComics, is listed as the #2 Top Rated fiction title of the year.