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This week the National Books Critics Circle started what it’s calling its Campaign to Save Book Reviewing—-an admirable, if likely futile, attempt to get daily newspapers to somehow spare books sections from the cutbacks that have affected every other department. (Details on two recent examples of those cutbacks are here and here.) NBCC president John Freeman promises to use the group’s blog, Critical Mass, to “feature posts by concerned writers, interviews with book editors in the trenches, links to op-eds by critics, novelists and other NBCC board members, Q&As with newspaper editors and owners.” So far it’s followed through, gathering extended comments by, among others, Dale Peck punching bag Rick Moody, Washington Post Book World editor Marie Arana, and Andre Codrescu, who proposes that papers simply fire everybody and start over with “hungry” writers. Perhaps he’s is unaware of how much the average daily-newspaper book review pays; rest assured, Mr. Codrescu, hunger abounds among book reviewers.
I don’t have anything brilliant to add to the conversation, except to argue that by gutting review sections, daily newspapers undermine their mission twice over: cutting back doesn’t just hurt arts coverage, it lessens the papers’ ability to catch up on reportage that found its way into book form because their news budgets got slashed. And I hope that “marketing heads of book publishers” gets added to the mix of people the NBCC taps for comment. As C. Max Magee reminds us at litblog The Millions, one source of the problem is that publishers don’t bother taking out ads. “The disappearance of book sections isn’t a book section problem,” he writes, “it’s a newspaper industry problem, and the solution to book section woes will come with the solutions to the larger newspaper industry problems.”