Some Good News: A New Book Section!

I’ve been wondering why Tina Brown’s news site, The Daily Beast doesn’t have a book section. Brown, former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair and founder of the short-live Talk magazine, has always had a keen interest in books, or at least, authors and the site’s very name is a somewhat obscure literary reference, so it seemed odd that it didn’t have a section devoted to books.

This week, the other shoe drops as The Book Beast debuts.

But, oh, that name! Wasn’t he a Muppet’s character?

How influential the section will be may be a function of how well the overall Daily Beast does (on the other hand, as NPR discovered, the book section is their site’s biggest draw, so maybe this is being added to help the overall site). A New York Observer piece yesterday, works hard to prove that the Beast is not doing as well as Michael Wolff’s Newser, but real stats seem hard to come by. 

In comparison to other online book sections, The Book Beast is already more lively than most and takes a greater advantage of what the Web offers. Since it’s not based on a print model, it doesn’t have to be beholden to the print source, like the New York Times site, with its confusing mix of the daily reviews and the Sunday Book Review (never recognizing that the same book is often reviewed in each and quite differently).

Of the newspaper online sections, the Wall Street Journal site tries the most consistently to add new elements beyond the print, like slide shows and video author interviews, but the section ends up feeling tacked together, with no overall editorial strategy.

The Book Beast is much more coherent, with various formats well integrated. It gives the sense that books are relevant and even, gasp, fun. I like the “Xtra Insight” post-its next to the articles. It’s a device the Beast uses for other sections, but it seems to work particularly well for books. Take a look, for instance, at the Cheat Sheet on the “hot debut novel,” The Vagrants, by Yiyuan Li.  


In just a few lines, it makes the case for the book’s hotness, while the “post-it” lets you link to the reviews. The post-its aren’t limited to print sources; many include links to online video and audio.

How “hot” The Vagrants will be with readers is another question. Library ordering for the book, which PW called a  “magnificent and jaw-droppingly grim novel,” is light, with holds ranging from none to 24 in large libraries I checked.  


The Vagrants

Li, Yiyun 

  • Hardcover: $25; 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (February 3, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1400063132
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400063130

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