Sam Tanenhaus has responded to my open letter in the comments section. I reproduce his reply here.
Point taken. Here’s our reasoning. First, we’re trying to make the Book Review a timely and lively publication that connects books to the broader culture in the best tradition of American literary sections going back to Partisan Review, the New Republic, and the Nation in the 1930s up through The New York Review of Books today. Our hope is that by making the Times Book Review more relevant week to week we'll draw more readers into the world of books. Beyond this, the back page has historically been a place to widen the discussion and explore different aspects of the literary-intellectual life. That life, I might add, has many dimensions, no less so today than in prior eras, and we want to do justice to that multi-dimensionality in our pages (not only on the back page). This is why we did an issue on music books a while back and followed up soon after with an issue in which prime space went to four short-story collections. We also recently published a “Chronicle" on first novels (and then singled out two of those novels for our Bear in Mind feature). And stay tuned: you’ll see fiction prominently reviewed in the weeks to come. Thanks for watching us so closely.
New York Times Book Review
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. We'll continue to watch and see what happens. And thanks for watching us, as well.