... to adapt to changing times, they should pay more attention to the kind of people I had the priivilege of spending some time with last night in Manhattan. Not just the people who were on the platform with me - though Lizzie Skurnick, Laurie Muchnick and Maud Newton are as sharp as they come (now that I've heard in detail what Laurie's gone through at Newsday, I don't feel sorry for myself anymore) - but the people in the audience as well at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. These are not just people who read, but people who are passionate about books, words, ideas. Put out a paper that consistently appeals to people like that and it'll sell out every day. And no, these are not people who are only interested in high-falutin' lit'ry issues. They are people who are interested in all that is going on - in City Hall, Yankee Stadium, the Metropolitian Opera, you name it. But they're interested in seeing these things treated with something more substantive than sound bites and cliches.
NBCC president John Freeman (full disclosure: he reviews frequently for The Inquirer) organized the panel and moderated it with characteristic aplomb (somebody get John on TV; he could be a star). The topic was the connection between newspaper and magazine books reviews and book blogs. The conclusion (roughly sketched): They're not the same and shouldn't try to be; there's no reason for any antagonism to exist between them - or between bloggers and critics - because they can both complement and supplement each other.
The word most commonly used by all participating was conversation: Thanks to blogs, literary discourse is no longer a one-way street, with reviewers having their say and the rest of us having to listen. Anybody who wants to can have their say now. So reviewers can expect that what they write is going to be, well, reviewed online. Why? Because people are interested in books and reading.
Here is, perhaps, a case in point: My review this Sunday is of Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. I loved it. Laurie Muchnick did not like it at all. She wasn't going to review it, but may do so now. I hope so, because as soon as she does, I'll link to her review from my blog, so readers can see an altogether different viewpoint. Who's right, Laurie or me? I'd say neither and both. I'm right for me and Laurie's right for her. As Michael Allen has pointed out, what gives me pleasure doesn't necessarily give anyone else pleasure, certainly not everyone else. But two contrasting viewpoints will make discussion of the book richer for everybody.
I met a number of people last night I had only known, as it were, electronically: James Marcus, Michael Orthofer, Scott McLemee, Jane Ciabatteri, Jessica Crispin (didn't get a chance to chat with her, though; drat!). At dinner I had a really great talk with David Orr, whose On Poetry column in the NYTBR is one the best reasons - among many - to read the NYTBR .
Everyone last night was younger than I - but that's becoming an unavoidable circumstance - which may be why I felt younger riding home on the train that I had riding in. Or maybe it was just the fasctinatin' rhythm of Manhattan.
Update: A more comprehensive account of the event can be found, not surprisingly, at Critical Mass: The review and blog panel recap