The Queens College Knightly News‘ Literary Editor, Michael Orbach, recently spent a day at the New York Times’ Book Review Offices, interviewing editor-in-chief Sam Tanenhaus as well as editors Dwight Garner & Rachel Donadio and frequent contributor Liesl Schillinger. Much of the information isn’t new (the fiction/non-fiction disparity; how books are chosen; favorite authors) and the inevitable litblog question is asked of everyone (Donadio kindly namechecks GalleyCat as a resource “to guide me to interesting stories in the world press that I might otherwise have missed”; all but Tanenhaus, who somehow manages to know exactly what blogs are saying about the TBR without reading them – a remarkable feat of psychic ability or hypocrisy, depending on your standpoint – say they check in anywhere from occasionally to once or twice a week) but Orbach does manage to get Tanenhaus to speak of how the Book Review functions within a working newspaper:
Remember, we’re folded inside a big newspaper, or people go to the homepage, the webpage, and find us, so we’re a small slice within the newspaper. That’s a lot of what our role is: in a sense, to cover books, in addition to what the daily newspaper does; our writers have more room, somewhat more time, but that’s all it is, to give a snapshot of the literary world on any given moment.
Ron adds: Tanenhaus may be drawing the heat for his remarks about the blogosphere, but I thought it was Garner who laid out his viewpoint most concisely: “A lot of the stuff that’s out there is almost comically vicious; it’s sort of a race to the bottom, to see who can belch out the ugliest possible thing in the grossest possible way.” (Of course, when pressed on the matter, some would say that they were being satirical.) What interested me, though, were the insights into the interviewee’s literary perspectives, like Schillinger’s efforts to read books for fun on the side, or Donadio’s admiration for South African literature now that, in her view, “Europe is over, its intellectual class engaged with the past.” If there’s any money left in the travel budget, I for one would love to hear what she has to say about the scene in India…
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