Open Policy

I meant to point to this last week, but Frank Wilson, editor of the Philly Inquirer, has provided an inside glimpse of what happens on the inside of a newspaper book review section. As Terry observed, stripping away the secrecy is beneficial for all parties: editors, readers, and reviewers. Of course, it will be a cold day in hell before we see such openness practiced by a certain book review editor in New York.

But to throw my own hat into the ring, I can tell you that I receive around ten books a week (sometimes as many as thirty) and that there is absolutely no way that I can read them all. I feel very bad about this, but I am only one man and I do the best I can to read far and wide, when I’m not reading other books for professional obligations.

The books that arrive are sequestered from the main library into a set of stacks in the hallway that I refer to as “the long-term TBR pile.” Books that I must read in the next month are placed in “the immediate TBR pile.” Right now, that immediate pile contains about twenty-five books. I’m halfway through about twelve of them.

Because this scenario is a nightmare for publicists, and I respect and appreciate their position, I try to make up for this by responding to all e-mail within a week (or two, if there’s something else brewing), particularly any pitch that is personally directed to me. (I often discard the others. One recent pitch invited me to some soiree in Southern California to interview an author. And they wanted me to do this in two days on a weekday. A cursory examination of the blog will tell you that I live in San Francisco. I’m not in the habit of throwing around airfare money for an author I haven’t heard of.)

I made a pledge two months ago to get better about the email backlog and, thankfully, my recent switch to Thunderbird has facilitated a meticulous organization of my email and the way I respond to the many readers of this site.

Like Frank Wilson, there are some books that I will read immediately — simply because there are major literary titles that I must read to have even a remote understanding of the literary world. Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions and Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker are two that come to mind.

I subscribe to almost every literary news feed that I can find, provided the contents aren’t total rubbish. And I am committed to learning about fiction developments that I am unfamiliar with. I try to operate in a genre-blind atmosphere.

I have become more selective about who is interviewed on Bat Segundo, simply because each show takes anywhere from fifteen to twenty hours to produce and I do have a life. While there have been a few exceptions, I am disinclined to interview subjects when a publicist cannot get me the book at least a week before the interview. It is highly disrespectful to the author for the journalist to enter an interview without any knowledge of what she has written, much less a careful reading of the text.

While I can read in a close manner fairly fast, if you think that I am in any intelligent position to talk with an author when you’ve sent me the book a day before and if you think that I can set aside my life (of which literature is just one part), then you’re living in a dream world.

Publicists who do get their authors on the show are kind enough (and most of them have been a pleasure to work with) to send me a book weeks in advance, approach me with an author who is unique or fits my interests, and to check up on what’s happening in a non-intrusive manner.

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