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Good news about book reviews; or, man bites dog

Posted by Christopher Shea  January 12, 2010 02:41 PM

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The New Republic is going against the grain by strengthening its commitment to book reviews. This week it launched The Book, a new online venture under the umbrella of the larger tnr.com. The site's main feature will be a fresh book review each weekday, but it will also feature debates on intellectual topics, links to notable pieces posted elsewhere (a la Arts and Letters Daily and, well, other sites), and video clips featuring literary or philosophical figures from the past.

The Book's content will be unique; the reviews will not appear in The New Republic's highly respected "back of the book," edited by Leon Wieseltier.

In announcing the new site, Isaac Chotiner, executive editor for The Book, wrote that the move rectified an imbalance: while the magazine could be thought of as half political and half literary, tnr.com has, until now, been dominated by politics. "The time has come to break out of that necessary but constraining box." He wrote, too, that the move was in part a reaction to shrinking books coverage on the part of newspapers and magazines: "It is a time ... for friends of books to push back."

Apart from its content, the site is noteworthy because The New Republic's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, has long been a critic of just about everything Web-related. "The Internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston," he has said. "Everyone's drunk and ugly and they're going to pass out in a few minutes."

There are hints of Web-wariness even in Chotiner's announcement (in which he says he is also speaking for Wieseltier). "We are not slumming here, or surrendering to the carnival of the web," he writes. "Quite the contrary. We are hoping to offer an example of resistance to it ... Here you will find criticism, not blogging; pieces, not posts." TNR has a number of fine political bloggers; why, at this late date, the reflexive equating of blogging with superficiality?

In a (yes) blog post, Marty Peretz, the editor in chief, writes that the magazine is "committed to both resuscitating and reinventing a genre." In passing, he dismisses The New York Times Book Review as "predictable and often very slight" and The New York Review of Books as a dinosaur. The books coverage of such publications as The Boston Globe and Washington Post--admittedly not what it used to be--is evidently even not on his radar screen. "The daily book review is certainly dead," he writes, "as is even the book review in the Sunday supplements."

Peretz's exaggerations aside, The Book brings good news.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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