Monday, July 21, 2008

Sign Of The Times

It's hard for me to say no to kids. So when the sweet-looking, roughly 8-year-old little boy came up to my front door in his baseball uniform selling subscriptions to the local newspaper to earn money so he could go to summer camp, I found myself getting my check book out.

I hope the Girl Scouts don't find out where I live, or else I'm really screwed.

My newspapers started showing up over the weekend, so on Sunday I parked myself on the couch, turned on the baseball game, and proceeded to flip through it. What before my wondrous eyes should appear? A book review for Tribute by Nora Roberts. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

As a general rule I have little sympathy for people who refuse to help themselves. My most recent Romancing The Blog column was about independent booksellers refusing to stock romance fiction, then wondering why they lose business to Borders, B&N, Amazon and WalMart. Duh. I feel the same way about newspaper book coverage.

At this point, it's been fairly well documented that book review sections are dying in many national newspapers. Many literary types are gnashing their teeth, sending out battle cries, and generally continuing to remain utterly clueless. This trend has been no different for one of my local papers where book review coverage used to be a separate pull-out section a la The New York Times Book Review. Then it was cut in half, and the pull-out section became book reviews and editorial commentary. Now? Bye-bye pull-out section, hello to burying a couple of book reviews in the entertainment section.

I look at a variety of review sources for my job, including newspaper reviews. You know why these sections are in trouble? Because 95% of what they review are shit books nobody really wants to read. Maybe I was in college for too long (in fact, I know I was) but the minute I left I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Not only because I was done with school, but because I would never again have to read a book just because someone told me I had to. I could read whatever the hell I damn well pleased, and I wouldn't have to dissect it into little pieces, discuss it in class ad nauseam, and write a 20-page paper on it.

Sheer bliss.

I'm a very simple girl, with simple tastes. All I really want in a book is to be entertained. I want characters I give a damn about, an interesting plot, and to keep flipping the pages. Really, that's about it. And I think after you strip it down to the bare bones, 99.9% of readers out there would agree with me. But for too many years, newspapers have been providing book reviews for books your average Joe Schmo has no desire to read. The argument has been that newspaper reviews shouldn't cater to the lowest common denominator, to which I say "get bent," but hell - a couple of popular fiction reviews isn't going to cause the demise of western civilization. I'm not saying chuck all of the hoity-toity stuff, but dang, bring it down a notch or two.

So it was with part elation, and part trepidation, when I saw the book review for Tribute in my local paper this past Sunday. My good angel was thinking, "Yippeeee! They're reviewing a romance" while my bad angel was thinking, "Danger, Danger Super Librarian. Sneers, condescending attitude, and high blood pressure ahead!" But much to my delight it was a good review! And there was no backhanded sneering towards romance novels! Oh joy! Oh delight! Oh sunny day!

The review itself isn't online yet, and I already chucked my copy of the paper, so I'm paraphrasing wildly here - but in a nutshell? The reviewer said that Tribute was a highly-enjoyable pageturner, which should come as no surprise since Roberts has a reputation for writing highly-enjoyable pageturners.

So we'll see where this goes. Part of me hopes that the national newspapers will wake up and smell the coffee now that entire book review sections have been slashed. But then my bad angel pipes up and the natural cynic in me finds it highly unlikely. I'd resort to knocking newspaper editors in the head with a frying pan, but I'm not sure that would work all that well either.


Alie said...

ITA with you on book reviews in newspapers and the like. Most of the time they review books I don't want to read, like prize winners that never make any sense to me. If it has the words magic realism or stream of consciousness in the review, I'm out of there! I had to read that in university and no more.

And not to get tomatoes thrown at me, but I find Nora to be a better writer than most of those I read in my English lit classes!

Margaret Moore said...

Hee, Alie, I'm with you! Also Wendy.
But it's not just the Book Review sections that are in trouble -- it's print newspapers in general. I fear for the day I can no longer begin my day by reading newspapers.

Apropos of change, I caught the start of Ghostbusters on TV this weekend and once again felt all nostalgic for library card catalogues. Of course, I never had to type out the cards...

Big Sis said...

You could make this a nice little op-ed piece for your local paper!

Nikki said...

Shockingly enough, our local sucky (and I mean totally sucky) newspaper occasionally reviewed a couple of romance books about once a week, but of course, the mid-week book reviews have ceased. The only reviews we get now are on Sunday on 1 page (yes, one) and the books are either about our region or the authors are regional. So there you have it.
And what margaret moore said:
I fear that the print newspaper is going to die. Both of our children (now 28 and 25) grew up reading the paper--seeing us read the paper, checking out the sports, doing the crossword, etc. But neither of them subscribe now. The reason? They get all the news they want online. I'm just sayin.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No comment on newspapers and book review sections... but like you, I wish they'd focus even a bit more on commercial fiction.

I really stopped in to say that *I* know where to find you and until I make it official, I'm still a Girl Scout leader... But I won't be by Cookie Time. You're safe.

At least from me.

JamiSings said...

You actually bother with book reviews? I don't bother with reviews of any kind. Movies, books, tv shows. I learned long ago that reviewers tend to only like prentenious things and not things that are actually good. (I'm not commenting on the Nora Roberts one, obviously. I've never read her. I prefer supernatural romances involving things like vampires, fairies, and time traveling druids. Rather fond of Karen Marie Moning for instance.) I'm just saying - reviewers tend to be like those people at parties who pretend to have read The Great Gasby and liked it when in reality they could barely get past the first sentance. So I'm always shocked people actually pay attention to anything they say.

Wendy said...

I love that card catalog in Ghostbusters. Some libraries still have them - just not out in the public areas. We have one in my building where we file ILL transactions.

Big Sis: Stop singing that siren song! You're the letter to the editor writer in this family, not I!

Nikki: My Mom reads the paper every day, front to back. Me? Yeah, not so much. I like to get the Sunday paper, but before I was suckered by this kid selling subscriptions, I'd been slacking off.

Jami: I have to bother with reviews for my job - but for my own personal reading interests, not so much. Which reminds me I still have to order the next book in KMM's Fever series.....

Gwen said...

Hey Wendy - If you DO decide to get that frying pan out, I promise to bail you out of jail.