Lazarus returns

book/daddy is still recovering from his trip to NYC and DC; hence, the dearth of new postings. You can read about one of his public appearances here.

The trip was wearying not just for the obvious reasons: the Sodom-and-Gomorrah-ish punishment of heat and humidity that was visited upon New York the entire time; the clamor and buzz at BookExpo that, publicists witttingly and unwittingly make clear, has little to do with you, you marginal insect; the several panels about book reviewing all of which were irksome or sad, notably for the assumption by many panelists, publicists and conventioners that books, book reviewing and newspapers are all doomed because of the internet, rampant illiteracy, the Republican party or reality TV but especially the internet.

Eh, so waddaya gonna do? We're in that bothersome gap, that hump, people repeatedly opined, between what we have now and how we'll undoubtedly do business in the future. We're just waiting for these mastodons to die so we can jump aboard the web. There was much talk of generational or cultural changes and large forces beyond our control.

But conveniently -- or actually, highly inconveniently -- this trip exemplified this sense of fatalism through the current degeneration of airline travel. The dreary ordeals need not be detailed. You know the drill. Suffice it to say, air travel is now akin to fighting for a seat on a dilapidated, Chapter 11 busline. All four of my connecting flights were delayed. On two overbooked flights, passengers were asked to leap overboard for the good of others (and for a voucher for future airline excruciations).

It's not as though all this (in smaller portions) hasn't happened on previous trips; what was striking was the prevailing acceptance of it as The Grim State of Air Travel Today. I can't help but believe that this dilapidated system can't last. But as my four-hour zip to New York turned into a 12-hour, all-day epic of exasperation, the airline industry appeared to me as a metaphor for our many industries-in-flux, industries that while business-as-usual falls apart (or they muck it up) they are stumbling toward some (necessary) new incarnation which they have no settled idea on how to achieve: energy, the auto industry, the education system, public elections and primaries, health care and, of course, print journalism.

What was irksome about the panel members who saw the decline of book reviewing and print journalism as simply the result of "large forces" was the denial (or lack of awareness) that many cutbacks are caused by particular business decisions, made by business managers and editors to chuck literate readers. As I wrote last month to Romenesko:

"The truth is that book pages themselves, even the few, freestanding book sections, have never or rarely paid for themselves. In a March 6 Wall Street Journal article, the book editors of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Diego Union-Tribune spoke about the "rarity" of ANY ad support. 'You constantly have to justify your existence,' says Oscar Villalon, who edits the Chronicle's book section. 'Why? We don't bring in ads' ....

[So why are those sections getting gutted now? For that matter, can anyone] demonstrate that any sports section is supported by the NFL? Does the weather map earn ad revenue? The opinion columnists? Of course not. Either other advertisers want to reach those readers (as with the sports section) or management is committed to running these services at cost because they feel, to be useful as a newspaper, to be taken seriously, they must. In contrast, they have abandoned their literate readers, whether through cuts in space or staff or the increased use of wire copy, figuring such readers are a small number and they're on the web already anyway.

Or that such readers will just take what they can get."

June 7, 2007 8:38 AM |



Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



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This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on June 7, 2007 8:38 AM.

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