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The Public Editor’s Report: Another Take

Before I comment on NYT public editor Byron Calame’s Book Review review, I should acknowledge that Pamela Paul’s roundup of reactions to bloggers’ reactions in yesterday’s issue pays my other blog a compliment, which is getting to be an annual tradition that I’m not knocking. Now, with that out of the way, like Sarah I have a few points I’d like to touch upon in Calame’s write-up. First, this description of how the Review applies its selection process to books by fellow Times staffers:

“Robert Harris, the deputy editor of the section, said that as recently as five years ago, Times writers ‘pretty much automatically got reviewed.’ He said that these days the section doesn’t keep track of how many books by Times staffers are considered or reviewed.”

So I’m sitting here trying to think of a single book written by a Times staffer that was published this year and did not get covered in the Review—because in addition to all the “notable” books that caused this fuss in the first place, the Review eventually got around to reviewing Rob Walker’s Letters from New Orleans and, in a “nonfiction chronicle,” Alan Feuer’s Over There (although in the latter case, the two-grafer doesn’t mention the flap over Feuer’s reporting techniques). I’m not that impressed with my memory that I think I’m remembering every book by a Times-person this year, so if you readers know about such a book that’s missing a NYTBR review, please let me know.

The other observation I had was that Calame’s inquiry didn’t mention all that notable fiction by frequent NYTBR contributors. An argument could, of course, be made for this being a non-issue because hey, isn’t it great that Tanenhaus is bringing such excellent writers into the Review mix? On the other hand, given how compressed the fiction list is this year, the fact that 20% of the books on it were by Review contributors (albeit not staffers) does give one pause. Like Calame, I want to operate under the assumption that “Mr. Tanenhaus and his editors genuinely care about general readers and the literary world, and want their choices to have credibility,” and to the limited extent that I’ve been in contact with them, I have no reason for doubt. It would simply be more convenient for me, perhaps, if the question simply did not come up so insistently.

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