The long arm of the law has found us in our lair, and we report this morning for jury service in the city of Beverly Hills. Which, if you've got to serve, is a pretty cool place to do your time. And it probably doesn't matter whether we read the Library of America Philip Roth Zuckerman collection at home or while waiting for voir dire.
But before we go, we're leaving you something to chew on. Now, before the hate mail and nasty comments start rushing in, please take just a second and consider what is proposed here - and remember we're unable to reply for the better part of the day.
LA Observed has reported on Lee Abrams's latest in-house memo, this one dealing with a subject close to all our hearts: the Book Review. Now, before we go too far, we should say we accept that Sam Zell is a few french fries short of a happy meal; and we accept that Abrams is, as LA Observed characterizes, "rambling and ungrammatical." But like the tiny nugget of wisdom that lies at the heart of the ULA's squirrelly shenanigans, it seems to us there's something worth discussing here. Here's the relevant bit:
Maybe Book sections in newspapers are just dated. Not the idea...but the look and feel. Maybe they're modeled after a book store in 1967 whereas we're in the Borders, Amazon, B&N era.
Now, yes, there is much in the full quotation that is cringe-worthy, and much that perhaps comes at all this from the wrong angle. But at heart, the idea that there's something outmoded about the way books are reviewed in this country is worth considering.
And so we repeat a call we've made on stages and on panels before, something we've even suggested to a few well-placed folks at the Los Angeles Times Book Review: Rather than calving the book pages yet again, and grafting the limp remains onto Calendar's derriere, let's fold the print Book Review entirely. Stop it cold. Spare it further indignities. And take the budget of that hard copy review - including all physical costs (printing, a share of distribution) - and use those funds (with perhaps a bump if you're really committed) to create a web-only Book Review. Get the best contributors, stop worrying about length, innovate and create a vital resource. Get creative - don't say it can't make money or break even, figure out how to do it. Look, fifteen million people travel around the world on their computers to read the Guardian - because the Guardian offers something that is indispensable to anyone who cares about books: Inarguable quality. (Their blogs notwithstanding.) So why not bring in a team of the best web designers, of writers and editors who could create the most exciting new book section seen in this country since the New York Review of Books set up shop?
There is a generation of readers coming up fast that is entirely comfortable with getting all their news online. Why not position ourselves to reach out to these future readers? When we discussed our theory with the LA Times Person Not To Be Named (no, not Ulin), we conceded that a scheme like this would require vision and guts - a real commitment to innovate and forge new models instead of continuing to scale back on old ones; traits that corporate America does not supply in volume. But writing of Thomas Mann in his new book Nobility of Spirit, Rob Riemen reminds us:
"... he, too, arrived at the understanding that clinging to forms that have outlived themselves is not merely pointless but is actually dangerous. To remain faithful to values is precisely why individuals must be open to change in forms. Restoring historical forms that have lost their vitality is always a flight into obscurantism."
Now, one thing we've learned in years of doing this is that there's tons we don't know. We've never run a book review. We're not privvy to board room details and budget realities and all the rest. So we come before you conceding that this proposal flirts dangerously with oversimplification. We admit that the hurdles are probably greater than we realize. But we would argue that the conversation should begin with the ways one might do this, not the reasons one can't. So if you're listening, Mr. Zell, Mr. Abrams, find the guts to serve your passionate (and demographically desirable) readers by providing a Book Review that is second to none (the title is certainly up for grabs), one that dispenses with the romanticism of paper and finally succeeds in making the most of what is no longer the future, merely the inarguable present.
We'll be back as soon as we tell the judge that we believe all criminals were abused as children. Be kind and constructive, people.