Web Letters | The Nation

Long live reading

It was good to get to John Palettella's article on the supposed death of reading. I was delighted to see all the various magazines and literary review examples you gave—not just a few that are in the States. Other than The New Republic and Bookforum, I subscribe to almost all of the major ones here and in London. My favorites are the TLS and The London Review of Books. Even if I don't purchase many of the books reviewed—I'm on a widow's pension $1,000 over the poverty level for four in the US—I enjoy learning and sometimes relearning information in history, social problems, culture variations in all the Western Hemisphere continents and sometimes in South America. I see little of that nor Africa but when I do, I read about it.

Palettella is sooo correct in bemoaning the lack of depth in both The New York Times Sunday Book Review, especially about fiction from many places, and reviews on blogs, bookstores or elsewhere. I used to have Bookforum but with the TLS, LRB, and NYRB plus The New Yorker, Harper's and The Atlantic plus The American Scholar and National Geographic and Smithsonian (for history ideas and antiquity of all sorts)... I run out of time for "some strange reason." Laphams Quarterly and the last two previously listed are not magazines for literature, Lapham's covers an area of history, philosophy and literature and/or authors from all continents that I like. It's a good source for looking into the Internet for more. The three New York magazines (NY in their titles) can sometimes spend a little more time on history or fine points of societal and scientific areas than I would prefer. I wish they would write more fiction reviews on books from both the States and overseas publications.

My book club had difficulty with The Elegance of a Hedgehog because it was not carried on Amazon's Kindle, even though they could have bought it for less than $9.99 at one of Amazon's used-book stores. Mine was $8.95, including shipping and handling, so this beat both Amazon and Google in their price. I have figured Amazon didn't carry it on Kindle since the publisher La Europa can't afford to sell below cost as Amazon often demands. La Europa is a good publisher for up-to-date overseas translations. They lost out on Le Clezio's book, since I noticed the publisher Atlantic published it this spring.

Reading by Americans—student-age or adults—is much poorer than in many other countries, even the developing countries (if the citizen can afford the couple of dollars paid to go to school). Their newspapers are written at a higher level. Our 35 percent of the reading public is small but in numbers it does exceed most other countries. It definitely wouldn't if the percentile for Europe was all of the EU, not France, Britain etc. separately. Our anti-intellectualism is still very strong.

Patricia Wilson

San Jose, CA

Jun 18 2010 - 6:13pm

Content and context

John Palatella's article provides exactly what the majority of book reviews do not: content and context.

Although my early books benefited (ever so slightly) from book reviews in the NYTRB or Publishers Weekly, I soon learned that each detour from conventional writing would be met with silence, presumably because reviewers were either too lazy or too uneducated to wrestle with literature that explored the shifts resulting from the digital age. Further, most reviews focused on storyline rather than, "Why does this book exist now, in this place?" and "What does this book's peculiar form and structure have to teach us about being human here and now?"

The last few years have produced an explosion of brilliant writing and writers, as witnessed by the growing attendance at the &NOW Conference of Innovative Writing, and universities are teaching books by &NOW presenters. I stopped subscribing to and then stopped reading The New York Times Book Review because it became, from my perspective as writer and publisher of innovative literature and a former art critic, no longer relevant.

Debra Di Blasi

Seattle, WA

Jun 12 2010 - 12:40pm

Does it count that a blogger writes a review of book reviews?

I greatly enjoyed Mr. Palattella's article because it highlights what I as a mere reader, and blogger, see regarding the anti-intellectualism that pervades the media business. But when I write a review of book reviews on my blog, MF Blog, am I part of the problem, or am I reflecting a cultural change arising from the Internet that may promote book reviews? My blog, MF Blog, is a largely politically oriented blog, but nearly each week, though sometimes for weeks without, I publish a Review of Book Reviews. Examples include: "Saturday Night Review of Book Reviews," "Saturday Afternoon Review of Book Reviews" and"Saturday Review of Sunday Book Reviews." In the past five weeks, I've done a few single-subject reviews of book reviews: http://mitchellfreedman.blogspot.com/2010/05/outstanding-review-of-dicke... review of Dickens' biographies"; "Lee Siegel smacks down Paul Berman and dissects the isolation of intellectuals." Admittedly, with the demise of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and Washington Post Book World, one is limited to the NY Times Book Review, NYRB, Times Literary Supplement and stray book reviews in various newspapers. My goal in writing reviews of book reviews is to highlight books I think should be at least noticed, and to highlight book review styles, whether a review is too kind or too harsh, and provide historical context of the subject matter of the book. I am not paid. I have another life or lives. I do it because I admit to being a frustrated academic living a trial lawyer's life. When I was a corporate counsel, I had more time to write and wrote an alternative history novel that was published to some literary and academic acclaim, but with a small publisher who simply had no clue about promotion, it has faded into the ether. My blog does keep it alive to some extent, I will say! My discussion of your article was posted this morning at MF Blog.

Mitchell Freedman

Poway, CA

Jun 6 2010 - 11:43am

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