NBCC’s Campaign to Save Book Reviewing

Having stumbled through the door (with sunburn in tow) I’m still catching up on all book-related news, but please do check out the National Book Critics Circle blog today as they have kicked off a campaign to Save Book Reviewing:

Over the past five years, one by one, newspapers have begun to

forsake books and their readers. While book review sections at the

Washington Post and the New York Times continue strongly, many other

newspapers have begun packing up and winnowing down their book

coverage. And it started at the top. Not long ago, the San Francisco

Chronicle Book Review, which has readership levels in excess of fifty

percent, was folded into another part of the paper. The community

protested, it was restored, but just recently the section was cut in

half in order to make space for an advertisement.


at the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Minneapolis

Star Tribune, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Cleveland Plain

Dealer, the Dallas Morning News, the Sun Sentinel, the New Mexican, the

Village Voice, Boston Phoenix, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and

dozens upon dozens of other papers book coverage has been cut back or

slashed all together, moved, winnowed, filled with more wire copy, or

generally been treated as expendable.

And we’re getting

tired of it. We’re tired of watching individual voices from local

communities passed over for wire copy. We’re tired of book editors with

decades of experience shown the exit.

We’re tired of shrinking reviews. We’re tired of hearing newspapers

fret and worry over the future of print while they dismantle the

section of the paper which deals most closely with the two things which

have kept them alive since the dawn of printing presses: the public’s

hunger for knowledge and the written word.

So the board of the National Book Critics Circle has launched a

campaign to try and beat back these changes. Over the next six weeks,

in a new series on our blog Critical Mass,

we will feature posts by concerned writers, interviews with book

editors in the trenches, links to op-eds by critics, novelists and

other NBCC board members, Q&As with newspaper editors and owners

who will explain the business context for these changes, and tips for what you can do to help save book reviewing.


the past three decades, the National Book Critics Circle has believed

that the best argument for the importance of book reviews was

well-chosen literature itself. So we have put our energy into a prize

honoring the best books of the year, and singling out critics who have

consistently helped us find them. But it turns out that’s not enough —

that the professional arguer has to argue for his own existence now as

well. We hope you join us in that fight, because it is a fight that

benefits us all — readers, publishers, critics, booksellers. Everyone.

Sign the petition. Read the NBCC’s dedicated section which already features a lengthy interview with LATBR editor David Ulin, commentary from authors Stewart O’Nan and George Saunders and much more. It’s only a start, but one that can snowball into greater action so long as the word spreads.

UPDATE: Now having had a chance to digest this some more, I’m inclined to agree with a lot of Ed’s contrarian-only-on-the-surface viewpoint. At the moment – and for entirely understandable reasons – the NBCC’s nascent campaign is highly reactive. Newspaper book sections are being cut; something must be done about it. And as I said above, it’s a good start.

But i do think that in order for this snowball effect to take place, the NBCC must be proactive. Change assumptions from hoping and praying that newspaper sections will stick around to finding viable, financially sound alternatives for good existing criticism and even better, emerging talent to shine in all publications, print and online. Seriously step up fundraising, grant-applying and scholarship-soliciting efforts so that people with money realize that the new pockets of thriving arts culture – and by that, I mean blogs, I mean upstart print publications, you name it – deserve proper renumeration. At the moment, we are (and I can say that, being a member and all) depending on third parties to decide our critical fates. Instead, the real objective is to make literary criticism matter directly to the readers – no matter where the source.