Seven Things I Think I Think About Book Reviews

Last Sunday I took part in a panel at the Writer’s Center titled “The Future of the Book Review,” joined by the Washington Post‘s Dennis Drabelle and the Washington Independent Review of BooksDavid O. Stewart. In advance of the panel, moderator Mia Cortez sent along some questions for discussion. With Cortez’ permission, I’m sharing her questions and my responses below. Some of this is likely old hat for people who spend a lot of time discussing books online, but one thing I learn from going to these events is that there are a lot of people who care about books but who don’t keep up with the universe of blogs and online book-review outlets.

How are book reviews evolving with books in the digital era, and how has technology changed the life of a book reviewer?

The digital age has been an enormous blessing for the consumer: The explosion of tweets, blogs, literary websites, and user-generated reviews means that somebody can gather up a diversity of opinions and use them to efficiently make a decision about a book they’re thinking about reading. And it’s a curse as well: Where do you start? Who do you trust?

For the “book reviewer” as we’ve understood it 10 or 15 years ago, a lot has changed: Their authority and standing doesn’t mean as much. Practically speaking, there are fewer full-time book reviewing jobs out there, and freelance outlets pay less, if they pay at all. Experienced book reviewers can and should trade on their experience and knowledge, but they’ve had to understand that those two things don’t hold a lot of value for many readers.

How have readers’ expectations of book reviews changed? What about authors’ expectations for book reviewers?

In some ways, I don’t think much has changed in terms of readers’ expectations. There have always been people who want thoughtful, essayistic writing about books, and those readers are as well served now by the London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, New York Times Book Review, Harper’s, the New Yorker, etc, as they ever were. For readers who don’t necessarily want that kind of deep-dive into a book—if you just want to have a sense of whether you’d like it or not—you have many more options. This may mean that more people feel that the job of a book review is just to give them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I don’t know. I will say that as daily newspapers have cut down their books pages, and cut the lengths of book reviews, they’ve jeopardized their role as a kind of middle place—more nuanced than the quick-hit recommendation of a friend but not as weighty as the literary essay. That’s unfortunate, I think.

Authors have had to broaden their definition of what a “book review” is now, and they have to undertake much of the publicity work for themselves to acquire those reviews. Publishers have cut their budgets and reviews have cut space, so authors have to make themselves more available to blog interviews, call-ins to book clubs, etc. This may hurt the pride of older writers who still feel that a New York Times is the gold standard and can’t differentiate one blog from another, but there’s a net increase in the number of outlets available to review a book (if not an increase in the total audience reading).

What about citizen reviews? How do reviews posted on Amazon & other book sites affect the dynamic?

I should say that I don’t have a wholly negative attitude about Amazon user reviews—they’re useful to get a gloss how people are responding to a book. But—and exceptions abound, I know—I don’t go to Amazon reviewers to be surprised by an insight, impressed by the writing, or provoked into thinking about something in a way I haven’t before.

Have blogs become a significant factor in book reviewing? Do they bring a different element to the equation?

One great thing that blogs have done is removed the Olympian tone of the traditional book review—bloggers are freer to write personally and passionately, play with style, and agitate for better coverage of topics that mainstream outlets ignore. Any book blog that lasts for a while is a reflection of the enthusiasm somebody brings to it—because they’re more likely than not writing for free they’re doing it because they care about books. In the past decade more book review outlets have recognized this and brought bloggers into their ranks. It’s practically axiomatic that the next generation of book critics who’ll write for LRB, NYRB, Harper’s, etc, on a regular basis will be people who started writing about books on a blog.

How is critique in the press by an experienced journalist/book reviewer still important?

Experienced reviewers have a long view on things—they’re less likely to be suckered into thinking something is original, and in turn they can keep readers from being suckered themselves. Experienced reviewers can not only say that a book succeeds or fails, but can articulate the reasons why something succeeds or fails. Experienced reviewers know how to write for a general audience in a way a blogger may not. Experienced reviewers may have a better sense of what’s fair game in a review (style, tone, accuracy) and what’s not (size of advance, cover design). Experienced reviewers have a recognizable name against which you can bounce your own preferences and biases. That’s not to say that online reviewers and bloggers lack those things. But outlets that publish experienced reviewers are explicitly looking for those skills.

How have reviewers adjusted to the changes in the publishing industry? Do reviewers maintain a loyalty to books that come from reputable publishing houses? Are self-published books more heavily scrutinized?

By and large, reviewers still succumb to many of the same problems that made bloggers cranky a decade ago—book-review sections will reflexively cover the big new books by the Roths, Updikes, Chabons, etc, leaving scant room for the debut author (except a heavily hyped one), the small-press novel, the work in translation, poetry, the long-suffering midlist novelist. So not a lot has changed. Given that, the typical self-published book simply doesn’t have a prayer for mainstream press attention. Rightfully so: I’d sooner see press attention for marginalized categories of books that are published by serious houses, Big Six or indie, before covering books where there’s scant evidence that anybody besides the author cared about its existence in the marketplace. The disappointment (if not anger) many self-published authors express at being ignored by newspapers and magazines baffles me. If the traditional publication process wasn’t meaningful to you, why is the traditional reviewing process meaningful to you?

What do you foresee for the future of this industry? Will book reviews uphold their importance and continue to thrive?

As long as we have books, we’ll have book reviews. I think we’ll have an overabundance of them, in fact—if you have a favorite niche category of book, you’ll be increasingly likely to find some kind of online outlet that will give you a satisfying amount of in-depth coverage. What’s up in the air is the kind of book review that might prompt a person who’s never heard of a particular book to consider exploring it. Michael Dirda, for instance, routinely introduces me to books that I hadn’t heard of but which I wish I had the time to read, right now. I think we’re losing the kind of culture of readers who are open to being surprised by something, and we’re losing the kind of outlets and the kind of reviewers who are capable of serving them.

One More Thing About Advancement, or Going Positive

Two weeks back I wrote about The Advanced Genius Theory, a book by Jason Hartley that’s a plea in defense of the late careers of proven artistic talents—and, a little more subtly, a kind of critique of negative criticism. To be clear: I think Hartley has written a fun and entertaining book. I just don’t think he’s written an especially useful one in terms of helping readers think about musicians or writers. I’m oversimplifying, but Hartley is essentially exhorting readers and critics to give artists we love a second chance whenever they do things that baffle or annoy us. Fine, but what if giving those second chances are overly contrived and more trouble than they’re worth?

There’s nothing wrong with approaching movies, books—everything, really—in a spirit of optimism. But I confess my attempt to channel my inner Hartley failed miserably about a week back, when I was in Newport, Rhode Island, for the annual Newport Folk Festival. The fest’s closing act was a band led by Levon Helm, the great drummer and singer in the Band. I love The Basement Tapes, all those classic Band singles, and The Last Waltz, though not so much that I felt a need to consider anything he’d done since the late 70s. But that was an asset here: I could approach Levon Helm circa 2010 as a blank slate of endless artistic possibility. Optimism!

About two songs in, Helm and his band—a largish group of unimpeachably competent country and folk specialists—performed a cover of “Long Black Veil.” There was nothing especially bad about it, but nothing especially good about it either—it was the Kenmore washing machine of covers of “Long Black Veil.” Now, Advanced theory doesn’t demand that I love this cover, even if Helm is the guy who sang “The Weight.” But it does ask that I not reject it out of hand for the usual criticky reasons—that Helm’s best work is behind him, that the song’s tempo was irritatingly slow even for a mournful ballad like “Long Black Veil,” that covering “Long Black Veil” is kind of a cliche, and so on. Helm may very well be up to something that I’m just not getting, and it’s only a poverty of imagination on my part—or a pernicious cynicism, unique to critics, from which I suffer—that’s preventing me from grasping it.

At least, that’s the Advanced way of looking at things. But finding the positive in that song would require delivering the kind of praise fit for press releases and weekend shoppers (“Helm, now 70, is to be much admired for keeping the spirit of country history alive, as he and his band did on “Long Black Veil”…), engage in some grade inflation (“Considering Helm’s recent struggles with throat cancer….”) or conjure up some clever way to contextualize the performance (“‘Long Black Veil’ may be the only thing Levon Helm, Taco, and Diamanda Galas ever agreed on…”). Something, at any rate, besides saying what he actually did—play drums on a dull version of a worn-out song. What good would fake optimism do for me as a listener, or for a reader of any review I might write?

I thought about all this in the context of Hartley’s second response to my post (here’s the first), which rightfully challenged me on the glib way I ended my post. I’d written that the book is “a powerful counter against critics who come up with contrived reasons to dismiss things. But how much better is it to come up with contrived reasons to like them?” To which Hartley writes: “My take, though, is that it is far, far better to come up with contrived reasons to like something than to dislike them because liking things is more pleasurable.” He then writes that “if you need to trick yourself into liking Advance art by pretending to like it, that is fine.” Trying hard to see the good in Helm’s cover in “Long Black Veil” gave me no particular pleasure. It just made Hartley’s brand of optimism seem like a whole lot of work—not just in terms of teasing out whether or not an artist is Advanced in the first place (I concede that Helm may not be, though he seems to fit the general criteria), but then in terms of “tricking” myself into liking it, until I actually like it. Maybe.

And to what end? To prove that critics had it all wrong about Bob Dylan‘s Christian records? To not appear “stuffy,” “tweedy,” “unimaginative,” “smug,” or any of the other adjectives people use when a critic dislikes something other people enjoy? Optimism is an essential attribute in a critic—if you’re not approaching any new book, movie, record, whatever, in the hope that it might be your new favorite thing, it’s time to look into a new line of work. But optimism shouldn’t—needn’t—be so effortful. If it seems like I’ve drifted well away from this blog’s purview, it may be worth pointing out that a Hartlian argument makes its way in literary circles. While I was in Newport experiencing Helm’s mediocrity, I was also thinking about “Going Rogue,” in which Steve Almond considers the negative review he recently received from the New York Times Book Review. Almond can’t help but feel that some kind of darker agenda is occasionally at play in the NYTBR‘s star chamber. In assigning Jay McInerney to review Joshua Ferris, Almond writes, “You could just see the editors sitting around with this one going, ‘Yeah, yeah, we’ll get the old It Guy writer to take on the new It Guy writer!'” When Will Blythe didn’t like a book by George Saunders, Almond writes, “I felt this creeping suspicion that he simply had it in for Saunders.”

Almond isn’t arguing that all negative criticism (including the criticism he received) is agenda-driven, but he draws no small amount of comfort in calling out the times when he believes it does. Almond is admirably self-aware about his conflicted feelings, and he makes a point of calling attention to a few negative reviews he admired. But the question I’m left with, from reading both Almond and Hartley, is this: Do they believe that only negative reviews are written from a posture of insincerity and craven agenda-setting? Can’t a positive review be just as insincere, just as cravenly agenda-setting? The answer to that question might go some way toward clarifying how much they want to respect quality criticism, and how much they simply want to dismiss negative criticism as mean-spirited and dishonest.

The Christgau Method

He’s not dead, and I haven’t read the column in ages. But it still feels like something important has ended with the news that rock critic Robert Christgau‘s monthly “Consumer Guide” column has ended after 41 years. These days I’ve been more likely to read his posts on the National Arts Journalism Program’s blog (where he occasionally does some book criticism) than anything he wrote about new records. Those NAJP posts still contain the voice I grew up admiring and learning from, though—attentive, open-minded, with a sense of humor but little tolerance (or room) for bullshit. The ability to convey all of that in about 125 words while still saying something meaningful is a true gift, and one he pulled off thousands of times in the Consumer Guide. To paraphrase from one those reviews, he invented that barrage, and he perfected it.

Douglas Wolk gets into a little more detail about what made the “Consumer Guide” so great. I bring the column up in a litblog context not just because, like a lot of people around my age who do criticism, I owe Christgau a debt. Though there is that: I know the exact moment when I took an interest in cultural criticism, and it had to do with a Christgau capsule review. I was 16 or 17 when I stumbled across a copy of his 80s collection in a bookstore, having never heard of the author, and began looking up albums I’d admired. This is the review that stopped me short:

It’s got to be deliberate, the voice of the common man or some such. Nevertheless, making all allowances–overlooking quotes/references (“eight miles high”), universals (“the rent is due”), attempted wordplay (“a table for one and a broken heart to go”), and simple idioms (“count me in,” “white flag,” “heaven knows,” “it’s up to you”)–I count an astonishing fifty-six full-fledged clichés on what’s supposed to be a significance move, from “caught in the crossfire” in the first line to “the worst is over” in the third-to-last. And while “Only the Strong Survive,” the biggest offender with twelve, streamrollers across despite it all, neither Don Henley soul nor emergent social conscience justify the dumbness density. I know the salt of the earth is the shape of things to come, but these words of wisdom are beyond the pale. C+

There’s so much good stuff going on here that I’m willing to publicly confess I once admired Bryan AdamsInto the Fire to point it out. There’s enough context in the review to explain why Christgau’s bothering in the first place (“what’s supposed to be a significance move”); a jokey alliteration (“dumbness density”) that practically sounds out how little he thinks of the album (say it out loud; it sounds like sputtering); a willingness to concede that it’s not a total failure but that its successes are, at best, modest and artificial (“Don Henley soul”); and, of course, the witty, damning last sentence. But most damning of all was the message embedded into the whole conceit of the review—that counting the number of cliches on the album was more entertaining than listening to the album itself. Reading that review, at that moment, felt a little like realizing that you’ve been walking around all day wearing your shirt half tucked-in. If he was willing to put that amount of work into an album he didn’t care for, what was he dedicating to the good stuff? Like a lot of people, I ended up scouring that book to figure out where my tastes and Christgau’s aligned, and to learn about the things I’d never heard of that gave him a charge—two things a great critic can do, if he or she is doing the job right. Christgau’s 80s guide is the most dog-eared and battered book in my library; there are certain artists whose entries I once had memorized.

Christgau, like every critic, could be full of it sometimes, and his extreme concision could degrade into near-nonsense. (His review of Blondie’s 2004 album, The Curse of Blondie, is an infamous example of the latter flaw.) But there was never evidence that he was slacking off, writing nonsense for nonsense’s sake, or trading on reputation. Nor did it ever seem like he treated the capsule review as a limitation, which speaks to the other reason why I bring up the column. Like everybody else who writes book reviews, I’ve complained about how word counts have diminished in recent years; newspapers rarely have the luxury of the 1,000-word review, certainly not the way they did ten years ago. But if book reviews must continue shrinking, that doesn’t automatically mean they must become more simple-minded and surface level. I’ve wondered sometimes if it would be possible to pull off a “Consumer Guide” for books, with ten capsule reviews a month, plus a handful of briefer mentions. Time, economics, and audience interest would seem to kill the idea dead (I doubt as many people read as broadly and voraciously as do people who consume music), but the short, sharp, Christgau-style capsule review would still have value.

That is, if the critic is willing to apply the necessary work to those capsules. They’ll never replace the essay, and Christgau himself has written some excellent ones. But his particular genius was to suggest that writing reviews at 125 words instead of 1,250 didn’t automatically require dialing down substance or thought.

Facilitators and Explicators

So, yes, this Nation piece about the death of book reviewing. John Palattella, literary editor of the Nation, does a good job of rehashing how the newspaper book review has collapsed in recent years. No news there, though Palattella at least puts a new, somewhat positive spin on what’s happening by honoring the survival of magazine-based reviewing. I’ll take it one step further and suggest that there are not one but two bright spots here. What’s survived in reviewing from the print era are the advance publications (Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, etc) and the long-form essays in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, and so on. What didn’t survive, at least in their old form, are the Sunday newspaper book reviews, which even at the largest metro dailies have thinned considerably. Print reviews now, more or less successfully, serve publishing professionals and the most serious of readers; the casual reader reading newspapers for books coverage is now generally underserved.

But are those readers now underserved online? Palattella seems to think so, though it also seems he hasn’t studied the matter very closely. “We are in the throes of another newspaper crisis, yet nothing comparable to the NYRB or the LRB has emerged, in print or online, even though there is, I believe, a genuine hunger for serious books coverage,” he writes, in a much-blogged sentence. From there he takes a few whacks at Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, which he calls “dismal.” This hits me where I live, but look—if Critical Mass were the only place I looked for literary criticism online, I’d fear for the future of the discipline too. As plenty of people have pointed out, websites that take reviewing seriously are—I won’t say abundant, but there are enough around to argue that the same spirit that launched the NYRB and LRB exists today. (Also, enough exist that I can help feed the aforementioned “dismal” blog with some features on those sites. The latest one, on the Quarterly Conversation, was posted yesterday.)

Sorting out how money works in this new world is tricky issue (and TQC Scott Esposito has some interesting thoughts on it). But the end goal shouldn’t be so much to save the book review (as the headline to Palattella’s piece suggests), but book reviewing—which is to say that even experienced reviewers need to look at their work differently. Douglas McLennan, writing at the National Arts Journalism Program blog, is as exasperated by this discussion as everybody else seems to be, but he clearly spells out what the stakes are:

That’s not to say that many of journalism’s traditional values aren’t worth preserving. Yet what I see among a lot of arts journalists is unwillingness to consider new ways of critical response to work. Who says that the 500-word or 1000-word review is the apex of that response? Let’s not forget the audience, the community. They expect more from an interaction with us. They have valuable things to offer, and I don’t just mean commenting on what we do.

Perhaps one expanded role of a critic/journalist is to curate the best people/perspectives out there and not only report what those people think but find ways to have them interact with readers. This is journalist as facilitator-of-smart-discussion rather than journalist only as explicator. Everywhere, arts organizations are looking at their changing relationships with their audiences and trying new things on. And we think arts journalists don’t have to do the same?

Jonathan Yardley on the Newspaper Business

A little while back the American, a magazine of think pieces about business published by the American Enterprise Institute, ran a lengthy essay by longtime Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley. It’s about the future of newspapers, and also about Yardley’s past in them—he recalls the now-strange-seeming moment in the 70s when dailies were expanding so rapidly that an ambitious book critic could practically write his or her ticket around the country. Back then, “a newspaper as fat and prominent as the [Miami] Herald could easily afford to take on someone to handle duties that most reporters and editors regarded as peripheral, at best, to a newspaper’s chief obligations.”

It’s interesting reading (if a little dispiriting for somebody in the trade now), but when Yardley starts talking about a business model that will work for newspapers, things get a little wobbly. His argument, in essence: Shrink circ, go to a tabloid format, play to elite audiences, put more analysis-driven pieces up front. Yardley writes:

To survive and regain some measure of profitability, the print end of the newspaper business has to start thinking small. It has to stop worrying about the size of its circulation and start worrying about the quality of that circulation. It has to identify people within its reach who still want to read the news—read it, that is, not pick it up in quick online hits or hear it in bits and pieces on television or radio—and who want to read it on paper. Instead of dumbing down—making stories shorter and snappier, assuming that readers have the intellectual curiosity of couch potatoes—it has to smarten up.

Sounds nice. But the Post‘s parent company already does this, and it’s not working. And though I understand the value of targeted readership, there’s something that feels inherently undemocratic in Yardley’s proposal—whether it’s in print or online, the value of a newspaper is in its ability to bring relevant information to as large a proportion of its community as possible. Catering to the segment of that community that’s more likely to go wine shopping regularly is very good business sense. It’s also tearing up your mission statement.

Yardley concedes this, a little, toward the end of his piece: “[I]t gives me no pleasure at all to contemplate the fragmentation or demise of the traditional newspaper. For one thing I’ve been a small-d democrat all my life; I want to bring good things to as many people as possible, and I consider the newspaper a very good thing.” I greatly admire Yardley, who was one of the first book critics I read, but the dying newspaper is a problem well beyond a book critic’s ability to solve. Perhaps even beyond a newspaper owner’s ability.

Why Book Bloggers Won’t (Often) Review Books

Lissa Warren, writing in the Huffington Post, has it right:

I’ll tell you what does make my jaw drop: the seemingly widely-held notion that these book sections are being adequately replaced by blogs…. I read them often for news on new titles (and older ones I missed) and Q&As with authors. Many of them are also good for stories on publishing trends, which as a book publicist and editor I appreciate a great deal. But, for the most part, these blogs don’t actually review books. Instead, they cover the business of books, book culture, and the world of the author. Yes, they often link to reviews–but, ironically, they’re usually of the dead tree variety.

This is an aspect of litblogs I used to grumble about: It’s hard to argue that blogs are supplanting book coverage in newspapers when blogs rely so often on those very papers for something to write about. Want to crow about how you’re erasing the necessity and utility of a weekly book review? Take the reviews offline for a while and see how much you have to work with. (I know about the most notable exceptions, such as Bookslut and the Quarterly Conversation.) Now that I run a blog myself—now that I’m part of the same parasitic culture I used to take issue with—I understand the issues a little better, and I respect the different but vital roles each play. Reviewing, when you care, takes time; writing that takes time is still best suited for print, or at least a Web publication that has an editorial team structured much like a print publication. Blogging is often an off-the-cuff sort of thing, and I’m still less interested in hearing somebody spitballing an opinion about a book in a blog post (or in an Amazon review) than reading something that went through some sort of vetting process.

So Warren’s request that bloggers review books more often is well taken, but likely not something to happen for a while—at least with me. Because registering an opinion is something that anybody can do easily, without too much effort. Reviewing is labor, and I’m old-fashioned enough to still believe that labor ought to be paid for. (So is Scott Esposito, apparently, who, bless him, is figuring out a way to kick some cash to his contributors.) Find a way to get more money into the hands of more bloggers, and it won’t be hard to find more quality reviews.

Lee Abrams: Not Wrong

Like Mark Sarvas, I’m not especially outraged at the latest batch of statements about newspaper book reviews from Lee Abrams, Tribune Co.’s innovation chief. Sure, his assertions read like a lot of off-the-top-of-my-head spitballing—I picture him pacing wildly around a room, flailing his arms Jim Cramer-like, while some poor intern struggles to type all of the chatter. But none of Abrams’ assertions demand throwing journalism into a wood chipper, the first idea that most print-media managers have in the face of tanking revenues and investor pressures. So, I’m willing to hear the guy out.

Here’s Abrams’ statement:

*Books: Heard a conversation about how Book reporting doesn’t generate revenue and may have to go away. WAIT! Maybe Book reviews and coverage are one of those things that don’t generate revenue right now, BUT–are trademarks for newspapers and elicit high passion from readers. At XM, we had Opera channels. Low listenership…HIGH passion…AND–it was one of those things that even if people didn’t listen or even like Opera, it was one of those things you had to have for completeness. Maybe Book sections in newspapers are just dated. Not the idea…but the look and feel. Maybe they’re modeled after a book store in 1967 whereas we’re in the Borders, Amazon, B&N era. Maybe they are too scholarly. Maybe they avoid genres like Christian books, Celebrity books and Popular novels, opting instead for reviews of the Philippine Socialist Movement in the 1800’s. The point here is maybe Book sections need to be as dramatically re-thought as Borders re-thought retail. Not dumbing down–but getting in sync with the 21st Century mainstream book reader.

The good news here is that Abrams recognizes that there’s a small but passionate readership for book reviews—one that can potentially be monetized—and that covering the literary world is part of the mission statement of any media organization. (At least that’s how I interpret “one of those things you had to have for completeness.”) I’m not even especially troubled by the notion of more coverage of popular/Christian/celeb books. In fact, let’s expand it—make the books editor at the daily paper the ideas person, the person who’s able and willing to jump on the blog and round up the relevant books and call the relevant authors regarding the issues of the day. That’s across the paper—world, national, local, sports, etc. (Slate and the Washington Post work together on something like this, compiling reading lists on varied subjects, and the print version often winds up in the Sunday Outlook section.) Five essential books on NASA; the two best books on the neighborhood that’s about to be re-zoned for a strip mall; a handful of books on gun control; a top-ten reading list of best baseball stories, and talk to the person out in the city who wrote one that maybe didn’t make the list. All of this supplementing the regular Sunday review.

Doing that won’t save the newspaper book review. But it might do one thing that book-review managers have clearly failed to do: Make a regular case for the relevance of books to the newspaper’s audience, across all sections. If the presence and relevance of books is in the face of readers’ (and managing editors’) faces on a regular basis, the book section looks a little less like a money pit—and if the books editor is doing his or her damnedest to follow the news throughout the week, it’s easier to be all about the Philippine Socialist Movement in the 1880s on Sunday.

Yes, I’m mindful that book review editors don’t have much time on their hands; I’ve met a few lately, and they’re much less cheery now than they were when I started writing reviews in earnest five years ago. But if productivity and relevance are the new mantras at newspapers—and they certainly are at Tribune Co.—the pressure is on book reviews to make a case for themselves. I’m not sold on Sarvas’ suggestion about fixing the L.A. Times Book Review (essentially, blow it up and start anew on the Web), partly because I don’t think the cost savings gained by being online-only are enough to finance a dream review, partly because going online means alienating a book-review readership that still embraces print, but mainly because going on the Web isn’t enough now. Book reviews are already online—the trick is to figure out how to get the tendrils of the ideas in books to run throughout the paper’s Web site, and make that role so strong that when the wood chipper does finally arrive, the person in charge of it thinks twice before tossing the book review in first.