May 27, 2008




If you actually read what I wrote you'll note that I did take into account "the overall quality of the books considered and the reviews as written."

I wrote:

"Now I respect where Bookforum has come from, and it needs to be said that it still generally provides better fiction reviews that you are likely to find elsewhere. And also, the nonfiction titles that Bookforum chooses to review tend to be the kind of nonfiction that interests me as someone who likes to read about art and literature."

Likewise, when considering the feature essays, I took into account not only the subjects they were on but the way in which the subjects were discussed.

When Bookforum announced its plans to change directions, a lot of bloggers took that as bad news. I think that the marked shift toward nonfiction in this most recent issue is a completely valid concern. Many of us liked Bookforum precisely because it seemed to eschew the dependence on nonfiction that characterizes so many other book reviews.


Scott, contra your use of the rhetorically limp "if only you'd read my post," I did, in fact read it more than once, and any caveats you may have made notwithstanding, the overall note your strike is one of grave concern - hence the slightly hysterical 911 of the post title. It's a concern (a) I don't share and (b) I find slightly silly, especially given the methodology. Yes, some bloggers may have been worried when the announcement was made, but what was silly and precipitous then doesn't seem any less silly and precipitous now. I am sure we are still permitted to disagree with one another?



I'm pleased to hear that you read my blog so closely. I'm not sure what you find "silly and precipitous" about one of the best fiction reviews choosing to cut back its fiction coverage in an attempt to boost circulation . . . this has happened before elsewhere (TNR, The New York Times, to name a couple) and bloggers have been concerned and disappointed then, so why not now?

Also, I'd just like to add that I certainly didn't invent the practice of evaluating coverage by counting titles under review, and no one seems to have had a problem when it was employed elsewhere in the past.

In any event, you've made your case, I've made mine, so let's just move on.


Yes, do let's, but while we're on the subject of reading carefully, I think it's clear to everyone that "silly and precipitous" was a reference to the bloggish hue and cry, and was not describing decreasing book coverage. Not sure how you made such a leap but that might explain things. And I have always thought bean counting reviews - whether by gender of reviewers of type of book reviewed - was (and remains) silly.


I agree that counting reviews for any variable is hardly a comprehensive tool for evaluation, but it IS one important one. It simply serves as a map that can lead to conversations about a publication's priorities--whether it's the books it is most interested in featuring, or the authors who do or do not make it into reviews, who gets bylines and who doesn't.

Of course, other questions must come into play--about overarching quality, about cultural context, etc. But I don't think counting is an inherently silly device (though it can be used in silly ways). Rather, it can articulate what we might otherwise overlook (our own biases, etc.) that put limits on our literary conversation.

You might make an analogy to student demographic statistics at colleges. While you could say the numbers don't matter because the important thing is the "overall quality" of students, these statistics have been vital in recognizing our racial, gender, class, etc. biases that have historically limited our educational systems and our culture at large.

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