The time has come to take a stand.
The New York Times Book Review is no longer a book review section that matters. It is beyond repair, save through one extraordinary gesture.
Editor Sam Tanenhaus is unfit to guide this dinghy into the 21st century and is hopelessly out of touch with today’s literary climate. What was once a review section that attracted major authors and featured thoughtful essays has devolved into a congeries of gossipy items, essays that fawn over John Updike, Leon Wieseltier masturbatory exercises, lackluster literary coverage, a sexist approach to review assignment — in short, a thoughtless tundra that could be so much more.
I’ve harbored some small hope that Tanenhaus would rectify this, but my hopes are gone. Accordingly, I’ve canceled my New York Times Sunday subscription.
But I’ve created this petition with another hope: that Bill Keller will understand that Tanenhaus is bad for the NYTBR, bad for the literary climate, and bad for the publishing industry. (He is, however, very good at biography. Perhaps this is his true calling.) I also hope that Keller will understand that a thoughtful literary section translates into thoughtful subscribers (and thus more niche advertisers).
Here is a weekly newspaper section that has the capacity to matter, to introduce its readers to innovative and literary titles, and to provide fresh perspective. And yet it doesn’t. Because today’s authors and critics are too afraid to rock the boat, lest they lose a potential freelancing check from a NYTBR assignment. And that doesn’t just mean speaking no ill of Tanenhaus or his Hindenburg-like experiments such as the recent Contemporary Fiction contretemps. It also translates into criticism that plays it too safe, frequently devoid of insight or personality, all of fitting like a glove into the Tanenhaus template.
The time has come for Tanenhaus’s tenure to end.