Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Please, help....the New York Times book review editors

by Libby Sternberg

This week, the Public Editor at the New York Times has addressed a question about why the paper publishes several reviews and/or stories about a single book when there are so many "deserving writers out there" (to quote the Times's theater and books editor, Scott Heller, interviewed in the Public Editor post). The question came up recently, apparently after the Times had reviewed a book by Nathaniel Rich twice in April and also published an essay by the author and other related pieces.

But in 2010, the same question was raised  by authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner when the Gray Lady ended up giving similar treatment -- several reviews, at least -- to Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom.

Said Picoult at that time:

"When in today's market you only have a limited review space for books, I wonder what the rationale is for the New York Times to review the same book twice, sometimes in the same week."

Picoult and Weiner had more expansive complaints about how commercial fiction is generally ignored by the Times and how women writers of commercial fiction don't get much coverage at all there. Said Weiner in the 2010 piece:

"I think I remember seeing one review of (romance author) Nora Roberts once, whereas (thriller writer) Lee Child can count on all of his books getting reviewed. This strikes me as fundamentally unfair."

That women's issue aside, the Times's public editor addressed the duplicative reviews a few days ago. And...the reason might surprise you:
(Books Editor Scott Heller) explained that The Times’s three staff book critics — Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin and Dwight Garner — make their own decisions about what to review. They do so without regard to, or knowledge of, what the editors of the Sunday Book Review, a separate entity, may have assigned or have planned. The Book Review has its own editor and staff.

Holy Intraoffice Memo, Batman! The book critics are monks who've taken a vow of silence? They can't talk with each other? 

Perhaps a rare photo of a NYT book review editor?
This is a problem that the best minds in America surely can resolve. I have some suggestions (cough:: whiteboard::cough cough:: email::Morse Code...), but would welcome others. In fact, I'm particularly fond of any steampunkish ideas, so please feel free to comment with those types of suggestions (mechanical pigeons with messages in their claws? Yeah, I'm feelin' it.)  And to ignite your inner creative fire, here's some fuel: By the end of Friday, April 26, 2013 (Eastern time), I'll choose at random a winner from comments, and you'll get a free digital copy of any Istoria book of your long as you promise to review it (honestly, of course) on Amazon, Goodreads, or elsewhere!

Please, the New York Times needs your suggestions--how can its book reviewers avoid reviewing the same book multiple times?

Libby Sternberg is editor-in-chief of Istoria Books.


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