Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Read more about people reading more

In this world of crumbling economic everything, convincing anyone to buy anything in physical form is at best difficult and at worst a soul-crushing reminder of why the entire human race it utterly and completely doomed (the same sort of effect when you read the comments thread to any Washington Post political column). But I will make a pitch anyway - more people should be reading literary supplements and book reviews.

Yes, they are a dying breed, the Washington Post's book section was swallowed/merged/smushed with the Sunday Outlook section resulting in something that was neither Outlook nor Book World, but the real book reviews that remain are worth reading. The heavy hitters are the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books (it's a different publication, I swear), the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. They're all leftward slanting (the TLS is less so) but hey, back in the dark ages before the internet, folks used to read up with less disdain for the other side of the aisle.

So here are a few reasons to subscribe to these fine publications -

* Review Aggregation is Still Worthwhile - To switch tacts a bit, there's a reason why a publication like Pitchfork exists. Most people, even those who really like music, don't have the time to wander the internet endlessly looking for mp3s of the newest, hippest, most Brooklyn-ist bands. It's nice to have 5 competently written reviews in one place five days a week. And this holds for most forms of media that exist in great numbers - reviews are still worthwhile to warn people about the crap and steer people to the gold.
Can we get by without movie reviews? Perhaps. The number of movies showing in national theater chains is pretty limited, and most people know if they want to see Saw IV without reading A.O. Scott's dissertation in the NY Times. But for books and music, there's still way more of both out there than any one person can consume, and so reviews are still valuable.

* Great Writers Read and Write About Other Writers - A regular criticism of the NY Review of Books is that it's just a group of like-minded writers writing about each other. But that's too simplistic - it's valuable because there are a diminishing number of places where one can find the sort of mini-dialogue that comes from a great review.
Many of these reviews also offer up fine jumping off points to broader reflection. While some reviews focus intently on the work at hand, others leap from one book to another in order to present a broader coverage of the topic at hand.

* You Can Get A Lot of Info Even Without Reading the Books Reviewed - Although I get ideas for books to look for from these publications, what's just as valuable to me is that they offer a lot of information on things that I'll probably never read. I don't see myself reading any author's diaries or much ancient history in the near future, but I'll certainly read through and enjoy a review of these things.

* Reflection is a Good Thing - I like blogs, I read blogs, I write for this blog, but there are times when I don't want to read a dozen speedy quips or opinions. A carefully researched piece is still a worthwhile enterprise. I don't know what will happen to newspapers, but magazine style research and review will (hopefully!) always have value.

* Retro is Always in Style - And nothing is more retro than reading words on printed paper, right?

1 comment:

Jstone said...

As a student of a university with a large, digitized, collection of journals I know I scan Jstor for book reviews of any book I'm interested in. It gives you a leg up on what's worth reading. Also it's mandatory if you're going to write any paper in a graduate level seminar.