Christopher Dreher adds to the already considerable commentary about Bill Keller’s plans for the New York Times Book Review:
Author and critic John Leonard, a former Times Book Review chief whose reign from 1971 to 1975 is often remembered as a high-water mark, found Keller’s comments especially troubling. “To seriously propose not paying attention to first novels is ludicrous,” he says. “It amounts to rampant stupidity. Criticism is discovery, not a book report or news. It means someone is doing something with language that will change the way we think and see.” He continues: “Brilliance comes from the peripheral or from the margins. You have to listen for it and call it to the attention of the readers.”….
Keller may believe that the Book Review should cut back the space given to first novelists, but Cader notes that first-time novelists aren’t exactly overexposed right now. He calculates that during the last six months of 2003, debut fiction accounted for roughly 12 percent of the Sunday section’s full-length fiction and poetry reviews. (And that included first novels from established figures such as Jimmy Carter.)
No one disputes that the Times has long practiced a sort of affirmative action when it comes to literary fiction. “There’s no question the Times reviews more fiction than is statistically justifiable,” says Leonard. “And you can’t run it as a high-minded quarterly. But it has to have principles.”
For him, the increasing commodification of culture and the consolidation of the publishing industry have affected book coverage, at the Times and elsewhere. The mentality of the industry focuses on blockbuster sales, which propels a few famous or infamous authors into the spotlight but leaves behind many mid-list writers and in no way assures any sort of quality.
(Thanks to A for the link.)