The New York Times today has an interesting story on the death of traditional book reviews which mentions the petition (see below) and the NBCC. The reason I know about this article is that I bought the newspaper today, along with the Times-Picayune, while having a cup of coffee. The Times reporter argues--with a lot of talking heads concurring--that people need to let go of traditional venues for book reviewing. And it is true that bloggers and websites are able to address books in a way that physical publications cannot. But reading these two newspapers today reminded me of the way in which we can discover things on the physical page that we would miss in any other medium. In the New York Times today, I discovered articles on a gelato renaissance in Manhattan, the behind the scenes struggles of the James Beard Foundation, the voiceover work of Liev Schreiber, and lots of opinions on the takeover of Dow Jones by Murdoch (don't even get me started.) In the New Orleans paper, there was a great cover story about the meeting of two descendants of the Homer Plessy segregation case, which began in 1892 on the train tracks just a few blocks from my house. And there were stories on the artists selling work at Jazz Fest this year, and a great story on Walter Issacson by our own book review editor, Susan Larson.
All of these stories are available online--but I doubt I would have clicked on the links to them if I hadn't thought ahead of time that I'd find the stories interesting. In fact, I wouldn't have predicted much interest in any of these stories, but there they were, spread out in front of me, with great photos luring me in to the text.
When I was growing up, in the middle of Pennsylvania, I read the New York Times Book Review each Sunday. And through those reviews, I first read a number of books I would have never heard about growing up in the middle of Pennsylvania: Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York; Jean Stein's Edie; Julian Barnes History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters;etc. I suppose if the internet were alive back then, I might have learned of them, or I might have found even better books in their place. Or...I might not have been introduced to the idea of actively reading at all, beyond the books that were assigned to me in the classes I took at a public high school. So, what kind of life would I have had? Maybe a more practical one that what I've got now--but certainly not more interesting.