More on the LATBR

I’m not in New York. So I haven’t been able to confirm or deny earlier reports directly with top brass. Thankfully, Publishers Weekly reporter Jim Milliot has some concrete information, now that some of the Los Angeles Times staff is in New York promoting their yearly book awards:

Both LAT editor James O’Shea and book editor David Ulin said the paper is committed to providing extensive book coverage, including reviews. But while O’Shea said he had rejected a suggestion from his predecessor that he kill the Sunday book review, he hinted that it may not remain a stand-alone section.

Milliot has determined that the Saturday option is still being seriously considered, but that O’Shea is “looking for a way to make the section part of the main paper.”

So the good news is that books remain something of a priority for the Los Angeles Times, but the bad news is that the LATBR may very well be folded in with another section, the newspaper equivalent of the B-movie on a double bill. Some priority.

If books really matter with the Los Angeles Times, does it not make sense to find a way to bolster the stand-alone section? If it is a matter of advertising revenue, then why not devote resources to selling ads that aren’t just literary. Literary people aren’t bookworms who never leave their apartments. They don’t just buy books. They also go to restaurants, attend concerts, and spend money in other non-literary ways. And yet, as Milliot reports, the only ads in the February 25 LATBR were “a classified ad for a ghostwriting service and a tiny Borders ad for a signing for David Mamet.” I’m wondering, given this advertising paucity, whether the advertising people at the Los Angeles Times are truly busting their humps here. Or are they trying to kill off the LATBR by ignoring non-literary advertising potential? Have they, for example, considered talking with the people attending the upcoming Festival of Books to find out what their non-literary interests are?

Perhaps the answer here is to launch a campaign to save the LATBR as a stand-alone section. This worked several years ago when the San Francisco Chronicle canned its stand-alone book section and readers responded with 400 e-mails and phone calls. The stand-alone section was revived.

Having written a few reviews for the LATBR, I can tell you that the staff there is seriously committed to turning out a quality book section. Hell, they’re smart enough to catch my bullshit and have demanded that I do better. Because of this, the editing I’ve received there has been among some of the best I’ve received as a writer. While certain East Coast editors named Sam have treated speculative fiction as mere baubles, I should point out that, where Steve Wasserman turned the LATBR into a stifled and pretentious rag, David Ulin has, after a little more than a year on the job, found his sea legs, regularly turning out a pleasant medley of informed and occasionally quirky reviews that puts some of his East Coast contemporaries to shame. (But the NYTBR devoted last week’s section to Tom McCarthy’s Remainder! Surely, it’s turning a corner! Well, Ulin was there two weeks before and he was smart enough to assign it to Tod Goldberg.)

The Los Angeles Times was the first American newspaper to devote column inches to China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun, allowing the reviewer to treat the book seriously (well, the hack writer involved here also cracked jokes, so perhaps this isn’t the best example). He’s interested in quirky pair-ups, such as having Glen David Gold covering Anders Nilsen’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow. And he’s even smart enough to enlist the Other Ed to cover Philip K. Dick’s lost novel.

In other words, the LATBR is everything the NYTBR isn’t, clued into the latest books (many of them a bit off the beaten track) and actively recruiting fresh voices to cover them (instead of, like Tanenhaus, disparaging them), standing proudly with Washington Post Book World, the Boston Globe, Newsday, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Philly Inquirer for some of the best review coverage in the country. It would be a great shame to see these accomplishments marginalized.

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One Comment

  1. Regarding ad placement, it’s kind of strange that the LAT would run only lit-related ads in the book section, since its Chicago Tribune sister paper does the exact opposite, running lit-related ads elsewhere in the paper. There’s a literary society here in Chicago that occasionally runs ads announcing author readings that it’s staging. You’d think such ads would run in the Sunday book section, in order to best connect with fans of literature, but no — they’re typically buried on page 3 or 5 of the Metro section, just before the obituaries. Unless the Trib has identified a high correlation between literary society event attendees and obit devotees, this makes absolutely no sense to me.

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