NBCC's campaign to save book reviews is allowing us a peek into the minds of America's pre-eminent book editors. The latest post is by Bob Hoover, the book editor of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. He begins by acknowledging the real problems facing books pages:
Appealing to the better nature of the management and stockholders about the value of books and literary coverage in a petition campaign might make us feel good about ourselves, but isn’t going to move that bottom line. It’s not the desire that’s missing; it’s the money and the readers. Those factors aren’t going to go away soon.
In my view, we need to stop looking at papers as commercial enterprises which must follow forces of the market to justify their existence. Since early teenage, when I started reading book reviews in Indian papers like Indian Express and Hindustan Times, the thought of their ending one day never crossed my mind. Granted, the Indian media scene is thriving and newspapers here have no fear of closing shop, yet my knowledge of the book sections never closing had its basis in another belief.
Too often, the reductionist argument of book sections being a conduit between the publisher and the reader is offered to give a consumerist spin to the profession. But to my mind, book sections are not really a conduit betwen the publisher and the reader, but one between the writer and the reader. Good book reviews probe the writer's meaning to a depth that is not imaginable otherwise. They tell us the history of the genre, and its attendant similarities with others. To that extent, they are an important addendum to the overall arts and culture coverage in the newspaper, like sports in a different context.
So, it's not so much the commercial underpinnings of the newspaper trade that had me hoping the book section would go on for ever, but the promise of being taken into a whole new world in the span of 750 words. That accessibility, the magic of it coming my way every Sunday!