Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Modest Proposal

Latest figures for trade books published in America (data from Publishers Weekly) project 400,000 new titles for 2008, which works out to 75,000 + titles a week. This figure does not address reprints or revisions; nor does it address self-published works or indeed the fact that the ratio of book readers to population in general remains about the same. The numbers surely do not reflect a growing tendency of Americans to read, rather it speaks to the increasing number of titles read by those who do read copiously.

With so many new books being published each week, the relatively small space available for reviews becomes an issue here because many of the better book reviewers already have gigs, contributing with some regularity to the publications that use their work. The pay is not grand by any stretch, mostly a labor of love. For me, after all these many years of work in the trenches of book reviewing, there is still the kick that trumps fees--the kick of being give a copy of a book you'd have bought anyway, then being paid to write about it.

That said, and having been made aware of the so-called review process for books sold on Amazon dot com and similar sites, I offer the modest proposal of a Flickr-equivalent for book reviewers, where one can post book reviews in a similar manner as individuals with dreams of being Margaret Bourke-White and Annie Liebowitz, and Robert Mapplethorpe, and William Eggleston or Stephen Shore can post their snapshots and say they have their art available for public viewing on Da Internet.

Such proposal will gladden the hearts of those who wish to democratize art instead of supporting much less understanding it. The proposed site, Reviewr, can give each of us the chance of venting his inner critic's spleen on the likes of Margaret Drabble and Don DeLilo with the impunity of the critic's protective coating without having to pass licensing tests or demonstrating hand-eye coordination or, indeed, anything approaching judgment.

It was Emerson, I believe, who wrote to the matter of each of us, when seeing some superb essay or hearing some well-observed bon mot or apothegm, can nod in agreement with the coiner for having intuited our very vision exactly as we had done at the banquet given us by ourself in recognition.

Such is the nature now of criticism that one is able to render a judgment not having read the work in question but by carefl consideration of the Google apercu of the work.


R.L. Bourges said...

Google aper├žu - as I am doing right now, as a matter of fact - the equivalent to a long review with many, many substantial qutoes. Like your idea very much, Shelly. Where do I sign?

Liz Kuball said...

It's not entirely what you're talking about, but it's close: Good Reads.

x said...

It's an intriguing thought, but I don't quite get how it would be any different from reviewing for Amazon. Also, I checked out Good Reads, and that seems no different from choosing your favorite literary blogger and follow her reviews and suggestions regarding her favorite books. There seem to be more than enough blogs focused on book reviewing, way more than I can possibly read, but when I read there are a few of excellent quality I would choose without the disadvantage of having to wade through a lot of blather, as in Amazon. I don't know. It just feels like there's too much of everything out there already. The world is too crowded and that includes the literary world.