... a couple of weeks ago, as it happens, that I would have more to say in reference to this post: Dick Margulis sends along ... Now's as good a time as ever to make good on the promise.
When I became The Inquirer's book editor in 2000, about 125,000 new books a year were published. This year that figure is likely to be 175,000. Usually, the month of August is a slow one in publishing. Not this year - at least in terms of the number of books sent to me. I spent yesterday trying to catch up on all the books that had piled up in my office (at one point there was something like 40 or 50 bins of unopened books outside the book room).
Back in 2000 I had a full-time assistant. Later it became a part-time assistant. Now it is a sometime assistant - and the sometimes are increasingly rare.
I mention this for two reasons. One is to show that the volume alone is obviously more than one human can master in any but the most superficial manner. The other is that there are obviously plenty of books worthy of consideration than are ever considered. Which is why I get so annoyed whenever I am told - and I am told it frequently - that a particular book ought to be considered for review because .... the New York Times wrote admiringly of it recently. The idea that the only books worth considering - or at least the books most worth considering -- are those the Times considers worth considering is, quite simply, a stupid idea, every bit as stupid as the idea that the Times is still the newspaper of record for anyone except too many journalists.
There are some books that have to be reviewed, because their appearance is an event - Thomas Pynchon's forthcoming novel comes immediately to mind. But how pick fresh and interesting choices from all those others?
Well, the first thing anyone in my position has to do is resign himself to the fact that you can only review a fraction of what is out there and will therefore miss many books that deserve better and review plenty of books that ought to have been ignored.
That said, I pay attention to what others tell me, especially my reviewers, many of whom have more expertise in some areas than I will ever have. I also read my fellow lit bloggers. That's how I chose to have Jane Gardam's Old Filth reviewed.
One of the things you would notice if you had to, as I do, spend the greater part of the day opening one book package after another, is the lack of imagination on the part of publishers. Book after book decrying the Bush administration (which has but two years left), book after book announcing some social, economic, or environmental disaster looming on the horizon that only reading this book can help stave off, book after book in imitation of - mirabile dictu! - The Da Vinci Code.
At any rate, I look to review books that seem interesting and in danger of being overlooked. I also make sure that books of poetry are reviewed as, well, books. The idea of a poetry roundup - giving each maybe a hundred words or so - betrays a complete lack of understanding of what poetry is. I also pay a good bit of attention to genre fiction because (a) a lot of people read it and (b) a lot of it is very good, better than much that calls itself "literary."