Agent Kassia Krozser is glad to see them go: you won't read a longer more impassioned post on her blog.
At first I was amused. Now I read articles decrying the cutting of newspaper book reviews with barely-contained impatience. I am tired of the hand-wringing, the bemoaning of “loss of culture”, the sense of entitlement many of these articles present. Rather than leading the way to the solution, the writers behind these pieces show, sometimes too clearly, why they were the problem.The quality has fallen starkly since I began reviewing in 1974 and is now guaranteed to drive readers away. Consider reviewers at the Boston Globe and Washington Post, no less. In considering This Mighty Scourge, they simply could not distinguish between the anthologized James McPherson, in his role as a book reviewer, and the authors whose works he was reviewing in the anthology (have a laugh reading point two here). It was beyond them.
Given the cut back in their own reporting staffs and the increased dependence on wire copy, many local papers have for some time carried only canned reviews offered by their syndicates. Not only have these represented an offhand, dismal kind of hackwork, but many reviews are not even by critics but by the syndicate's own news reporters earning a few extra bucks on their day off (for a high school level article).
A final word on the book page editors. Is there a more hidebound class of laborer? They seem bereft of ideas: every book page everywhere looks exactly the same. They may work on recruiting good writers for their pages, budget permitting, but they will not tamper with a formula that may produce (worst case) a grand total of two or three articles on an entire broadsheet.
The book page can be lively: a single broadsheet page can carry many short reviews and perhaps scores of capsule listings. There are author interviews to publish, there's book news to recap.
You may think I'm harsh but Kassia has a message for book page editors and reviewers:
You never ask yourself how your opinion came to be so valued. You never ask yourself how new generations of thinkers displace the old. You never once consider that you sound like a petulant child. Worst of all, you never consider the role you played in your own demise.