nytimes book review

nytimes book review

The Importance of Book Reviews in The New York Times

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1. The Influence of Book Reviews

Millions of dollars every year are spent on books, far more than what is allocated to music, films, DVDs, or video games. Yet, in reviewing a book, it seems a sorry fact that the majority of attention from media and readers is on the authors themselves and not their creations. Predominantly, it is known that book reviews are a necessity in the promotion of a book. They give the reader an unbiased critical view, are a form of self-regulating the literacy culture within a society, and are, as Wayne C. Booth states in his journal “For Those Who Want to Lead Literary Lives,” a means of making the author accountable to the readers. Without that regulation, our culture of what is accepted as literature and as entertainment becomes blurred. Despite that, and due to a fearful trend of the illiteracy of modern society and the simple fact that a book can be a far greater time investment than a film or music CD, the book review is a dying art and has become increasingly marginalized. All too often, one will hear stories of a journalist given a mere few hours to read a book, write a 500-word review, and then told to make space for it by cutting it. The stress here is on saving space, for it implies that the book review is not what will sell the paper, and this is not a mere problem with the publishers, it is the readers themselves. With the plethora of books available, many feel they would rather spend their time reading than reading about reading. The book review needs to reclaim its important place as a guide to a good book in an era of information overload. That is not to say, though, that the book review does not already have its influence, but that with the media shifting trends, ads, and celebrity culture becoming ever more prominent, unless its influence is used now to reaffirm what are good books and accumulate a literary culture, the influence could be in the wrong areas. A survey carried out by the Australian Publishers Association in 2001 set the importance of book reviews as the third highest form of book recommendation, below word of mouth and prior knowledge of the author, and equal to bookstore displays and staff recommendations. This shows that despite all the efforts and expense by authors to promote themselves rather than their creations, the reviewers are still having an impact in getting people to buy and read books. An impact that, if refocused, could mean the difference in the shaping of our literary culture.

2. The Role of The New York Times

All in all, we can say there are three main purposes for a review section in a general circulation newspaper or newsmagazine: to effect sales of consumer products (in our case, books); to enhance the reputation of the publication as being an authority worth using and indeed worth spending money on; and to provide employment for writers. The first and the most cynical supposes reviews are what publishers want from a newspaper as opposed to say ads or cover stories; the second has to do with demographics and the social class of the readership a publication wishes to have; the third is obvious. It is important to note that the separation of the first two from the third is in no way absolute. The employment of writers will further the legislation of the reputation that goes with the employment of certain sorts of writers and so forth. And the impact upon the fortunes of publishers will freely mix with the matter of what sort of books it is reputable to read and what sort of readers an editor wants to cultivate. The role of The New York Times, America’s journal of record, is to provide a comprehensive cultural history of our time for a cultivated, if not an intellectual, public. A very large part of such a history will have to do with which sorts of books were and are being read and what was thought about these books. These are quite often the same as asking how and what certain well-defined groups of people were reading, and what certain important people were reading in their less guarded moments. The Times has internalized a cultural authority such that no other agency, public or private, need issue explicit instructions as to what is to be reviewed, in what manner, and with what frequency for the reviews to treat have treated the question as to coverage as a live issue. And so the material conditions of the coverage of books, which have been the booking of resources, and the question of what does a paper like the Times think worth looking into have been and can be taken as a rough index of the importance of book reviewing in American cultural and intellectual life. Evidently, the news is not all bad.

3. Criteria for Reviewing Books

Another aspect of comprehension is to know the writer, about his past books. This knowledge is the comparative values is objective. Many people say not enough (or too much) information is known about an author when reading the current book being viewed. As a reviewer, a good background knowledge of the author will be very advantageous. If the book is one of a series of books, often times it is good approach to read the past review of the last book and then compare with the current book. Normally the real direction or purpose of series is continuation portraying another story in the same setting or plain continuing the last story left off. Many were often unsatisfied with Sean Russell’s “The Isle of Battle,” feeling that the first book built up to something great, however the second change of settings dropped the tension. However, the purpose was to continue the story left off from the first book, and by knowing the plan this can be further understood. Any knowledge that can be an asset in understanding a book should be used, and again this requires no insertion of writer or reader traits. A fortune many writer reviews should be here a pure listing.

For any good review, it is required to comprehend the book. Understanding the book enables the writer to express their thoughts and understandings of the book. Without understanding, many reviews would tend to not make any sense and become just a page of meaningless statements. This is crucial because the review is providing information to those who have not read the book. If there is no understanding at all, the review will provide wrong information, which is the reader’s worst enemy when looking for books to read. Characteristics of the writer and the reader should not be put into the interpretations of the book. This is because everyone has different interpretations. If there are similarities between the reviewer’s and the reader’s a light bulb will just click and the reader will complete relate and understand what the reviewer is trying to say. The power of simple quotes or paraphrases to show illuminate a point or an understanding is very effective. The best one lately I can think of is, “It’s very Mad Max.” This statement to a certain article indicates that it is very chaotic, in a good way, similar to the settings portrayed in the Mad Max movie series.

In The New York Times, book reviews are the main big idea. You can have the idea, or a hint, of the idea, before the book. But, after you’ve read the book, the review helps bring what you read out of the book, clear, and then you get new perspectives and ideas of what you read. And what’s the best way to review the book? Are there different ways of doing so? Was the reviewer being fair? All these questions are answered into one, according to Sam Tanenhaus, “We ask the question, what is this writer doing, and how he’s doing it?”.

4. The Impact of Book Reviews on Readers

Now, this is the sort of thing no author can take lightly. He is vitally concerned with anything bearing on the communication of ideas, the clarification of accepted attitudes, the creation of new attitudes. And if a reviewer is going to attack a book frontally and attempt to impede its movement, the author has a right to expect equal treatment. All this is quite irrespective of the self-interest involved for in and around the book itself. A trade book exists insofar as it is bought and read. The author needs steady encouragement. And while a bad review is better for a book than being ignored, what he is really after is a good review not simply in kind but in degree of entertainment or provocation of thought offered the reader. A literary man has less reticence on this particular score than a practitioner in any other art. The novelist would be singularly lacking in self-knowledge and in knowledge of his craft if he failed to be interested in criticism of the novel, and critical essays have been written on the art of poetry.

Book reviews exercise an irresistible force in whittling down a reader’s selection while still in the bookstore and helping to shape his thinking about what he has read. The books pages of the old and significant Saturday Review assumed that the reader had already made up his mind to read a certain book. The New York Times Book Review assumes nothing of the sort. Its reviewing staff has to act as salesman and missionary, not simply as a consumer guide. Specifically, The Times tries to eschew the ritual of the lead book review. Whether or not a book in fact merits a full-scale review and The Times’ idea of what the reader ought to read are not synonymous. But the hope is that the reviewer will explain his judgment in enough detail so that the reader can judge the reviewer as well as the book and will be stimulated to argue, either in agreement or dissent. At its best, a review in The Times (and here we are going to use the phrase “book review” in its broadest sense, inclusive of the daily book news and comment in the Review) does far more than pass critical judgment on its subject. It becomes an essay using another man’s book as a pretext and an occasion. An editor once characterized it as simply an informed and authoritative opinion.

5. The Future of Book Reviews

“Obviously we’re passing through one of these historical moments all industries now and then experience, where transformational forces are disrupting old habits and familiar arrangements. Probably the most unsettling of these—because it involves fundamental decisions that affect professional integrity and financial security—is the fate of what we still call, for better or worse, ‘print journalism’.”

The U.S. print news industry has been facing a recession and a number of papers have folded. This has caused some anxiety about the future of book review sections at newspapers. In 2007, the Times considered whether book review sections in newspapers were becoming obsolete. It was noted that books coverage at newspapers was on a decline and many newspapers were drastically cutting book review space. It was thought that book reviews did not attract enough advertising and were not drawing readership. Books editor at the Time, Sam Tanenhaus, remarked:

The New York Times book reviews have been a staple of the Sunday paper for decades. They have become an American institution and have been imitated by other papers in the U.S. and abroad. It is easy to take something that has been a part of cultural fabric for granted, but predicting its future can be useful in understanding our culture at large.

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