Saturday, March 05, 2005

Literary email

Jill Walker sends me an annotated list of email narratives that I've found online and it is very interesting. As I told Jill in an email, I don't know if this blog is doing anybody else any good, but I'm sure learning a lot from it.
It also seems people are interested in knowing more about what goes into newspaper book reviewing. So I'll continue with some behind-the-scenes info.
I get, on a good day, maybe 200 emails (not including the deluge of spam). Most are from publicists, some are from authors, others from reviewers, still others from those who would like to review, and some from readers. I actually have hundreds in my inbox that are as yet unread. Almost all of those are from publicists of one sort or another. I pretty much know what they're about and plan to get to them ASAP (of course).
I could spend every day doing nothing but responding to email. Then there's the regular mail. Conservatively estimated, about 500 books come into my office every week. Bins of letters and catalogs as well. But : I have to read a book and review it every week. I have to edit reviews and articles. Go to meetings. I have to figure out what to review and when and who to ask to review it. And so, lamentably, I am always behind. I hope that some of those who have tried to get in touch (I haven't even mentioned the phone) read this and understand that I do eventually look at it all and will almost certainly, eventually, get around to responding in some way, shape , or form.


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  3. I have utmost respect for those in a public trust who guide the populace on influential ideas when being so inundated. I think most of us would not know how to respond in such a demanding profession. I do wonder about this: with so much being tossed onto the desks of reviewers how is it that they can determine what is good and bad in books and ideas? How can the public gain a sense of what might be of potential cultural worth or any understanding of contemporary ideals if reviewers are bombarded by so much material that they are only able to review a tiny bit of what is out there? How is it that America will even know of what should be included in its cultural repository if so much is never seen and never reviewed.

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  5. The fact is, they can't determine what is good and bad in ideas to any great extent, for the simple reason that they can't possibly look at all of it. Looking at some of it isn't enough, because what you miss may well be more important than what you see.
    So you do the best you can, which is little enough. I make a point of keeping my eyes open for the offbeat that I think is worthwhile. Miles Gibson's "Einstein," which I reviewed a few weeks ago, is a good example. I'm reviewing one now, "The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims," which is another. If all the book review editors in the country set out to review at least some books that no one else reviewed, that would be good. And I suspect that happens a good deal more often than we suspect. But if it's reviewed only in locale A, will anyone is any other locale ever hear about it? If they're all posted online, maybe.
    And I think it's online that this will play out.

  6. Your entry on how much a book editor has on his plate is invaluable for all concerned with books. And I applaud your effort to review books that the other mainstream media will overlook. A gripe I often hear is that the major book reviews--NY TIMES, NY REVIEW OF BOOKS, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS and the review sections of national magazines--commonly review the same books and authors. Maybe after an Updike, a Roth, or an Ashbery publishes his, say, fifth book, thereafter only something particularly outstanding by that author should merit a review; less-substantial books could be listed in a column for the reader's information, and review space could be saved for new writers.