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The Atlanta Idiocracy

April 24, 2007

It’s sad. It’s pathetic. The Atlanta Journal Constitution announced last week that it was getting rid of its book editor. Last year, The Dallas Morning News, The Los Angeles Times, and the AP cut back on book reviews and laid-off staff.

It’s easy to conclude: no one reads; no one cares; book publishing is dead.

However, that’s just blaming the victim.

Instead, blame the newspapers and their dumb-ass editors.

Newspapers—desperate for more cash and scared of their declining readership, are getting disemboweled by Wall Street. They’ve lost interest in their product. They are making newspapers too predictable and pallid

They are opting for this sort of “lit” news: Rue McClanahan is in town to shill her memoir about the Golden Girls.

And then there’s something about babies who catch disco fever

Newspaper readers (for those who don’t know this) are supposed to flip through the pages of a paper, while they look for whatever they’re interested in, much in the way one flips through the channels of cable TV. Readers are supposed to find the unexpected.

They are to flip through the paper and dream about places they’ll never go, books they’ll never read, and so on. Better themselves. And hopefully, find out about our fraudulent war in Iraq and America’s tendency toward fascism–oops, wishful thinking. That’s for the Guardian in the U.K.

Of course newspapers, as entities on paper, are being killed by the Internet, but that’s not what matters in the end—it’s the news, not the paper that will carry the day. The Journal Constitution can survive if it’s relevant. Book reviews are a part of that. Disco babies are not, even in—and I’m just going to say it because I’m a southerner and I can—a cultural desert like Atlanta.

Of all places in the world, Atlanta needs someone to remind its citizens to read. And also, its ad-sales reps need to sell the demographic of the reader of a book-review column. They need to think beyond the obvious, the local bookstores. Aim higher, you managers and you people in sales. If you publish more articles on disco babies, then, your demographics will only sink. And the must-see film Idiocracy will have been proven correct.

But no, lets’ just make it all predictable. And let’s just blame the publishing industry.

Or claim that we don’t need cultural critics because such people don’t matter, even though they really do. Critics and reviewers matter much like that college professor mattered who changed your life. A critic can help you to think more clearly. Read a real critic (someone beyond just a reviewer), Cynthia Ozick. Her article in April’s Harper’s—subscription required to get to the piece, but you should be subscribing to Harper’s anyway–is a call to arms for real criticism, something a level higher than even what’s dying in the newspapers.

And go here

Read Rick Moody, despiser of many reviewers, has this to say:

“As many of you may know, I personally have ample reason to detest that modern institution of deracinated book criticism known as “book reviewing.” For this reason: I am widely regarded to have received one of the worst reviews ever written. (I won’t remind you if you didn’t read it or hear about it.) I admit, it’s true, that there are days when I would be happy to blast most of the well-known book reviewers in the United States out into space.

However, detesting particular reviewers is quite a bit different from wanting to rid our national culture of the medium as a whole. And that is exactly what some of the larger regional newspapers in our country are doing right now.

Recently, book review editors in several major municipalities have either been fired or found their positions endangered, as papers have scaled back on book reviewing or have begun running reviews from the wire services. With this in mind, how long until book coverage is scrapped entirely at these publications?

There are many reasons why this makes business sense to the managers at these newspapers, not the least of which is that newspapers are suffering with dwindling readerships (and declining stock prices, etc.), and are having to make ugly decisions about staff cuts, in order to preserve their own jobs. But because the reasoning is explicable doesn’t make it ethically sound.”

The National Book Critics Circle has launched a Campaign to Save Book Reviewing. Perhaps it’s a hopeless effort, but join in it all the same.

Sign the petition.

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However, detesting particular reviewers is quite a bit different from wanting to rid our national culture of the medium as a whole. And that is exactly what some of the larger regional newspapers in our country are doing right now.

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