It would seem that the assault on the American book review is not yet over, as an email purportedly written by Sandy Dijkstra—the literary agent who reps stars like Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Anchee Min—spreads a rumor that the San Diego Union-Tribune is about to shut down its standalone book review section and reduce its weekend coverage to two pages in the entertainment section. I say purportedly, but I assume the attribution’s been confirmed, since LA Times bookblogger Kristina Lindgren checked with editors in San Diego who said Dijkstra’s dire warning was “not complete or accurate,” although the paper does plan to “improve and broaden” its book coverage. Nevertheless, Dijkstra has already started putting on her battle armor. “Some of you may recall that some years ago, we faced a similar crisis of losing our Book Review,” she writes:
“At that time, we circulated a ‘chain letter with a civic purpose,’ describing the San Diego reading community via stats and then, presenting a threat: IF the Book Review were not restored, we, the readers, writers, booksellers and publishers of San Diego, would evoke the spirit of Fahrenheit 451* and descend upon the offices of the San Diego Union-Tribune, bearing a coffin filled with the books of the many authors whose works would no longer be reviewed. We would then stage a READ-IN until we got news that our needs would be addressed.”
We haven’t been able to establish whether Dijkstra actually played the read-in card back in the mid-’90s, or for that matter how long it took for the paper to reboot its book review section, but if that’s not enough to fill an editor’s heart with dread, she’s adding a twist to this revitalized letter campaign: “We could each press ‘SEND AND RECEIVE ALL’!” she enthuses. “And if each of this sends this letter—or one you write yourself—to five friends, cc’ing [the Union-Tribune publisher and editor-in-chief], what a difference we could make…let’s flood the Union-Tribune with our letters and get the Book Review back.” Ah, yes, spam: There’s a technique guaranteed to lend a movement intellectual credibility. Might I humbly suggest that preserving the legacy of serious literary criticism in American letters, if that’s what the “battle for the book review” crowd is actually doing, demands a slightly different approach than the one used to ensure a second season of Jericho? (Also, ultimatums—ultimata?—have a way of fizzling out; after all the fuss made in Atlanta demanding the Journal-Constitution keep its book person on staff, she goes and takes a job with the local city mag.)
*As Ray Bradbury would gladly explain, the understanding of F451 expressed therein may be somewhat flawed.