Letter of Protest from Previous LAT Book Review Editors

LA Observed reprints an open letter sent by former book review editors Digby Diehl, Sonja Bolle, Steve Wasserman and Jack Miles protesting the termination of the LA Times Book Review as a standalone section after publishing one last edition this Sunday, July 27. And since it’s better to read the entire thing in full, I shall reprint the letter’s entirety here as well:

LOS ANGELES, Calif.–As former editors of the Los Angeles Times Book

Review (1975 through 2005), we are dismayed and troubled at the

decision by Sam Zell and his managers to cease publishing the paper’s

Sunday Book Review.

This step signals the end of an era begun 33 years ago when Otis

Chandler, then the paper’s publisher and owner, announced the debut of

the weekly section. Since then, the growth of the Los Angeles

metropolitan region and the avidity of its numerous readers and writers

has been palpable. For example, every year since its founding in 1996,

the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has attracted upwards of

140,000 people to the UCLA campus from all walks of life throughout

Southern California. Four hundred writers from all over America

typically participate. The written word is celebrated. It is the most

significant civic event undertaken by the Los Angeles Times to deepen

literacy and to strengthen the bond between its news coverage and its

far-flung community of readers. But without the Book Review itself, the

book festival will be a hollow joke.

The dismantling of the Sunday Book Review section and the migration

of a few surviving reviews to the Sunday Calendar section represents a

historic retreat from the large ambitions which accompanied the birth

of the section.

To be sure, no section of any newspaper can remain hostage to past

ways of covering the news of the day. We are convinced, however, that

the way forward is to increase coverage of our literary culture — a

culture that every day is more vibrant and diverse in the thriving

megalopolis of Los Angeles.

Angelenos in growing number are already choosing to cancel their

subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review,

a philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of the city and

the region, will only accelerate this process and further wound the

long-term fiscal health of the newspaper.

We urge readers and writers alike to join with us as we protest this sad and backward step.

Sonja Bolle

Digby Diehl

Jack Miles

Steve Wasserman

Asking Zell & co. to see reason is akin to the magical sprouting of working wings on a pig, but it does beg a related question: whither the Festival of Books?

UPDATE: In related news, PW reports that Carole Goldberg, the Hartford Courant’s books editor since 2002, was laid off today as part of the current round of cutbacks.