new yok times book review

new yok times book review

The Importance of Book Reviews in The New York Times

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1. Introduction

At the same time, the output of book reviews is itself geared to a particular outcome. We know that few historians read every article in the leading historical journals. By contrast, reading and reviewing a recent book in light of a broader field can offer an intellectual payoff which is more immediate, and, perhaps more important, more substantial. An ungraded compilation of book reviews may never be looked at again. But a conference session or graduate course meeting on recent Topic X in light of new monographs by Y and Z can potentially redefine historians’ engagement with X, and this can inform even those who are not specialists in X. This is the sort of outcome which a book review can fruitfully serve.

Book reviews are important inputs into a wider system of academic publishing upon which the academic profession is symbiotically dependent, and in a previous career advice column I argued that all scholars – not just young ones – need to be thinking about publishing. That is, book reviews are a vital element in the ecology of academic “book culture,” a field in which historians and other humanists participate actively. The New York Review of Books, for instance, is a collection of essays on books and literature, and book reviews are an essential ingredient of essay its publisher, the Center for Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago, hopes to cultivate in this forum.

2. The Role of Book Reviews in the Literary World

Book reviews offering critiques and opinions are an essential factor in the world of literature. They help guide perspective readers in their choice of books while giving them feedback that might help improve the quality of their reading. With hundreds of books being published every week, the average reader is unlikely to even hear about the majority of the titles available and will have to pick from a very small selection. With the help of critics, readers can often sort through available titles by scanning a list of reviews. Critics may often recommend specific titles and thus readers can feel confident that they are making an appropriate choice when choosing a book. Nowadays many people have a limited amount of time for pleasure reading and book buying. It is an investment of both time and money to purchase a book and so individuals can narrow their choice down to only the most proven titles. Those that choose books based on recommendations also save time spent picking from the large selection at a bookstore. Book reviews can also bring about an increased public interest in specific books and their authors. This will often spawn more discussion about the book and thus enrich the experience for those who do end up reading it. Reviewing is not for everyone, but it is an opportunity to contribute to the literary world and pass judgment on work that is in most cases very thought provoking. This is especially true for academic style book reviews and they offer a means of peer interaction with the text and a chance to understand and evaluate its deeper meaning. For the author and publisher, reviews provide an assessment that can be used to improve or promote a book, or in some cases, convince the author to continue writing. High praise from a reviewer can often act as a confidence boost to an author who has been laboring over his work for a long period of time. Although it is also quite possible that an author will feel discouraged by a negative review, in which case he may choose to abandon his project. Not everyone will agree with a certain review, just as not everyone enjoys the same style of book. Nonetheless, the proliferation of book reviews is an overall benefit to the literary community.

3. The New York Times Book Review: A Trusted Source

Spanning back to 1851, when The New York Times published its first issue, there were not many literary works, and if there were, barely anyone read or critiqued them. Within a decade of its first issue, The New York Times began to garner respect amongst those who enjoyed quality literary works. As The New York Times gained popularity, its critique did as well. 100 years ago, prior to the implementation of the Review, books were rarely critiqued. Once in a while, an editorial or a highbrow article would appear that would delve into a book in great detail. But there was no fixed place where one could read recurring critiques on new novels. Without the implementation of the Review, book critiques would not be as detailed as they are now, and evaluations on novels would be more spread out. New novels would have to endure limitless months of press and public opinion before any analysis of the work could be confirmed. The New York Times Book Review lifted the literary critique to a higher level, as it is today. Although no new books were evaluated 100 years ago, books such as War and Peace, Wuthering Heights, and The Scarlet Letter were being critiqued. Over time, critiques for these novels vanished, and The New York Times has brought new evaluations for these novels and still does for more current novels today. Without past critiques replenished, evaluators of these novels were forced to make their own assumptions on the book in comparison to that of public and author opinion. Today, patterned questions about a novel are proposed to the author, which lead to a consensus of opinion from the public. With the use of The New York Times archives, evaluations on novels from the past century can be compared in any amount of detail. It is not rare to see a critique on a present novel compared to that of a novel written one hundred years ago. The New York Times Book Review has nurtured both past, present, and future evaluations on literary works.

4. The Impact of The New York Times Book Review

In the 1950s and earlier, literature was a booming market with small publishers, little critical interest in the arts, and educated patrons who could afford highbrow books written for an elite readership. Today the literature market is a complex entertainment industry. Books have become a consumer item mass-marketed to all educations and income levels. The quality of writing, storytelling, and learning has been indiscriminately mixed, to the dismay of professors and educators. Today’s educated American and certainly any professional in writing or the liberal arts cannot ignore being “cultural literate” in American popular culture. Required reading lists no longer consist exclusively of classics. The New York Times best seller list both reflects and perpetuates this situation by combining high and midbrow literature in a single list—frequently reviewed with little discrimination as to qualitative differences—juxtaposing authors who otherwise would not consider themselves competitors.

The New York Times is an American newspaper and institutional voice in the U.S., which expands its influence beyond national audiences. It gives extensive space to discussing serious literature and some American midbrow fiction. The New York Times provides much more space and much more notice than they do to serious books. It includes a weekly book review, important in determining which books receive the most critical attention. The important factor today is its role in redefining the literary market since the 1960s. In 1963, when The New York Times started printing paperback best-seller lists, few in the book industry regarded it as a significant venture. Today the paper backs its importance to the industry with the assertion, “The New York Times has always been a prime mover in the world of books…”. This is no overstatement considering the historical shift in attitudes towards the literary market and its evidence in the socio-political climate of the 1960s.

5. Conclusion

To conclude, book reviewing is an industry that has spread to the internet, radio, and TV. No longer restricted to print, in some media organizations, the reviewer is consistently ubiquitous, lending expert advice across a range of leisure platforms. This only makes the role of the critical reader all the more important. Consider all the books that are stocked in libraries, shelved in stores, or mentioned online. In a climate of consumer choice overload, universally accessible reviewing can direct readers towards the literature which best suits their taste. With the current trend of the general reader to regress from press pages to digital text, the plethora of online reviews is ample evidence of book reviewing’s growth industry. The future of reviewing is, as such, a contentious issue. Some argue that increased digitization will further debase literary culture as the heavily informed book critic is ousted by the casual commentator. Others optimistically seek a return to public intellectualism as the sixth century BC did. The fact remains that the book review is a forum of discussion. This alone stands it in good stead for readership in an increasingly fragmented global society.

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