Saturday, February 17, 2007

The American Book Review

The New Republic hosted an interesting exchange sparked by Jeffrey Herf's call for a new weekly review of books.
Our country and our culture badly need a new weekly review of books. Currently, most of our major book reviews are failing to inform a non-specialist but sophisticated audience about American scholarship. The American Association of University Presses estimates that the 95 university presses in this country publish about 10,000 books a year. The New York Times Book Review, not to mention the book reviews at The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal devote a tiny fraction of their reviews to these works of scholarship. The Times reviews ten or less non-fiction books a week and those are overwhelmingly published by the New York trade publishers who advertise in the book review and who publish books aimed at a mass public.

It's an excellent idea and I would probably subscribe, or at least occasionally buy it on the newsstand, if such a publication existed. I disagree with David Bell about publishing it on the web instead of in print. Web publishing is less expensive, but the ideal length of an article or review on the web is somewhere below 1000 words while a serious book review publication would feature longer pieces.

There is no way that all books will get all of the attention that they deserve, though a few get far more than they deserve, but a publication like the one that Herf calls for would help.

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