Publishers Weekly has a story about the Sam Tanenhaus appointment, based on interviews with Bill Keller and Bob Loomis (Tanenhaus’ editor at Random House). No link, alas, but here are some quotes:
Tanenhaus, said Keller, displayed particular proficiency at matching reviewer to book–one of the tests apparently had interviewers holding up a work of fiction and asking how the candidate would handle it–and other skills which further “reassured us that this guy was quite impressive and could hold his own against anyone.” He added that Tanenhaus “has a tremendous amount of energy, which in a small operation is a lot of the battle. You have to be able to inspire, and he’s an inspirational presence.”…
Keller also continued to emphasize timeliness and relevance, in both fiction and non-fiction, for TBR. Tanenhaus’ background lies in history, biography and, perhaps most critically, current affairs, expertise the Times thinks could apply to unexpected areas. “I think he can bring a bit of a news sensibility to the reviewing of fiction,” said Keller. “By that I don’t just mean that he’ll get excited by a book that is a new discovery but that the Review will write about fiction in a way that ties into the modern world. People who write fiction don’t live in seclusion from the world.” Tanenhaus himself has a somewhat unexpected background in fiction; in 1984 he wrote Literature Unbound, an incisive survey of Western Lit, despite being just seven years out of college.
Tanenhaus, of course, still has work cut out for him; besides staff, there’s the perennial hobgoblin of space and the pressure to keep the section literary while revamping its dusty reputation. Indeed, if the twin, sometimes incompatible, concerns for the Times in the selection were snap and seriousness, the newspaper seems to feel like it has achieved both with its choice, who has literary cred and magazine buzz, Robert Caro by way of Graydon Carter.