Christian Lorentzen articulates a lot of my concerns with the current state of book reviewing in a new article in Harper’s, Like This or Die: The Fate of the Book Review in the Age of the Algorithm.
I talked about these issues in a previous links post, in which editors bluntly said that reviewing wasn’t enough, book conversation was what people wanted. I call it “book-adjacent” conversation, since most of the time, as Lorentzen points out, we’re either praising the authors for having written the book (which we aren’t talking about in any detail) or we’re asking them what’s on their nightstand or who they want to invite to a bookish dinner party. Not that those aren’t fun questions — hey, I read the NYT’s “By The Book” column most weeks — but they’re not reviews.
There’s a good discussion of the Lorentzen piece on the Three Percent Podcast (it starts at the 50 minute mark). I agreed, sadly, that the space for reviews which are neither raves nor hatchet-job pans is going away, and when the few outlets for booktalk that are still around focus on shareability of content over other aspects, it makes for a much less vibrant discussion space.
The content maw is a terrible thing for culture, not just politics. It’s basically a terrible thing for humanity. Not as terrible as climate change or white supremacy, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not terrible.
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