Are Book Reviews Too Conservative?

Perhaps book page editors all review the same books because their offices look like this!

A book editor’s office in the U.S.

Are book review editors too conservative?

Do all assign the same books for review?

Could they please tell us if they’re Democrats or Republicans?

If they’re more liberal, do they take more chances on little-known or small-press books?

As I cut back on traditional reviews and limit my online time to reading blogs, Goodreads, and other strictly internet publications, I ask myself questions about what gets reviewed or and what does not.

And so I gave myself a very enjoyable assignment today:  comparing book pages!  (And I got to catch up on reviews.)

Night FilmSadly I discovered that small press books and books in translation rarely get a break.   Only a few, very few, books published by traditional publishers (perhaps 100 a year?), make the cut at book pages.  I understand perfectly why that is:  book editors must keep up with the latest big books, and God help them if they miss the announcement of the new Today Book Club’s selection, Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season!

Yes, most publications review many of the same books.  For example, here are four interesting books I might like to read, and they are reviewed everywhere.

George Orwell: A Life in Letters, ed. by Peter Davison, has recently been reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and The Christian Science Monitor.

Roy and Lesley Adkins’ Jane Austen’s England has been reviewed or otherwise featured in the Washington Post, USA Today, The London Times, The Daily Mail, and The Huffington Post.

Marisha Pessi’s Night Film has been reviewed in The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, The L.A. Times, Elle, and USA Today.

Eugen Ruge’s In Times of Fading Light (translated from the German by Andrea Bell) has been reviewed in  the TLS, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Boston Globe, and The Star Tribune.

Why should we worship at the shrine of “old media” if every book review publication features reviews of the same few books?  Do we rely on the judgement of the reviewers?  I  don’t.  I sift through reviews to find out what’s out there, and sometimes a bad review will send me rushing to a bookstore.   Ironically, I found my “best books of the year so far” (see sidebar) without reading any reviews.

It is soothing to read blogs because so few write about the same books at the same time, and, often they’re writing about older books. There are some traditional reviewers at blogs, like Kevin from Canada and Asylum.   But many (most?)  write book notes and book journals rather than review.

Provincial Lady in LondonTo give you an idea of bloggers’ interests, here are what some of my favorite bloggers are posting about (and the links are on my sidebar):

Vintage Reads recently reviewed E. M. Delafield’s  The Provincial Lady Goes Further, a delightful book originally published in 1932 and known in the U.S. as The Provincial Lady in London.

Blogging for a Good Book recently reviewed Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek (an Oprah selection).

Silver Season recently reviewed Philip Roth’s The Human Stain.

Asylum recently reviewed J. Robert Lennon’s Familiar.

The Book Trunk recently reviewed Kitchen Essays, by Agnes Jekyll.

Belle, Book & Candle recently wrote about Edna Ferber’s So Big.

Kevin from Canada recently reviewed Lisa Moore’s Caught.

Thinking in Fragments recently reviewed Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves.

Random Jottings recently reviewed Fanny Blake’s The Secrets Women Keep.

Tony’s Book World recently reviewed Jim Crace’s Harvest, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.

And I must add, it is almost impossible to cancel subscriptions to “old media” book review publications (or anything else).  They don’t have my name as a subscriber, what’s my address?, did I sign up through Blah Blah Blah, they’ll forward my email to…

What can I say?  I’m “spending” less virtual time.  I will catch up on reviews from time to time.

Please let me know your thoughts:  any pet peeves? any recommendations?

5 thoughts on “Are Book Reviews Too Conservative?

  1. And, Ellen, I must add your blogs to the list! I have been a little distracted and even am behind on reading blogs.

    Ellen’s blogs are: Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, Reveries under the Sign of Austen, and Under the Sign of Sylvia 2

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  2. Personally, that’s why I like blogs – I have no interest in the latest bestseller but I love to discover the unusual and quirky, things I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. Definitely blogs for me!

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