The Death and Life of the Book Review:
In 1999 Steve Wasserman was three years into his tenure as the editor of The Los Angeles Times Book Review, and that July he published a review of Richard Howard’s new translation of Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma. The reason was simple: Howard is among the best translators of French literature. As Wasserman explained several years ago in a memoir of his days at the Los Angeles Times published in the Columbia Journalism Review, the review of the book, written by Edmund White, was stylish and laudatory. The Monday after the piece ran, the paper’s editor summoned Wasserman to his office and admonished him for running an article about “another dead, white, European male.” But the paper’s readers in Los Angeles thought otherwise. Soon after the review appeared, local sales of the book took off; national sales did too when other publications reviewed the book. The New Yorker ended up printing a “Talk of the Town” item that traced the book’s unexpected success to The Los Angeles Times Book Review. In his memoir, Wasserman relates a similar story about Carlin Romano, then the books critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, who was scolded by an editor for running as the cover story of his section a review of a new translation of Tirant Lo Blanc, a Catalan epic beloved by Cervantes. “Have you gone crazy?” the editor asked. “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of America’s newspapers in the 1990s,” Romano reflected, “is their hostility to reading in all forms.”
Both your posts today have reminded me of why I love fiction. I am about two-thirds of the way through Stendahl's The Red and the Black (I am using Roger Guard's translation), and I have found the book fascinating. And you are the second person to mention Martin Amis in one week. I must get Money and read it. Another person discussed the book in a review of Amis's latest work in an article I read in First Things.
I recently found your blog, and I am so glad I did! I am an avid reader, and I really enjoy what you write. I intend to keep reading for more insight and wisdom. And I have gotten great book suggestions to boot!
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