where the writers are
Another One Bites the Dust

Today at Ghost Word, Frances Dinkelspiel reports extensively on what's happening to the Los Angeles Times. A while back there was talk of the death of the novel. Well, that never happened, and I seriously doubt it will anytime in the near future. Who knows, we may all go Kindle, but I do believe the novel is alive and well for a long time coming.

The death of newspapers, however, is real, and it is very much upon us. Ten years from now, will newspapers be a thing of the past? When I talk to newspaper folks at parties, there's an unmistakable sense of gloom and doom among them. Those who have managed to hang on to their jobs have lots of stories about friends and colleagues who didn't.

Frances lays out some of the sobering facts about what was once one of the country's finest newspapers: A lot has been written about how the new owner Sam Zell has insulted reporters throughout the former Tribune chain and how he instituted a byline count as a way to determine which reporters to fire. While he was once regarded as a savior from the Tribune company, he is now regarded as a loose – and dangerous – cannon. The LA Times laid off 150 reporters in the past month, an astonishing number...

For book lovers, the news only gets worse. Apparently, this Sunday will be the last time the book review will stand alone, Frances writes. In August, book reviews will be folded into the Calendar section.

We all saw the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review absorbed into the Insight section. The good news is that the Chronicle is still covering books, publishing smart reviews by local writers and thinkers like Kevin Smokler and Meredith Maran. The bad news is that, in a city that probably boasts more readers and buyers of books per capita than any American city other than Boston or possibly New York, the discussion about books has been buried between editorials about everything from rising fuel costs to Jesse Jackson. I suppose the excuse has something to do with ad revenue, something about how the Chronicle, and the LA Times, can't afford to maintain a dedicated book review. I don't know how the numbers work out, but I do know that, every week, the four-to-six page Chronicle Book Review contained one to two full-page ads from publishers for new books (my own publisher took out one of these for my latest novel), as well as a Books Inc. ad, among others. Will publisher and bookstore ad revenue now be going to support other sections of the newspaper?

But back to the LA Times. Frances notes that "its influence was even broader than just in Los Angeles; many others read the reviews on its website, providing an antidote to the New York-centric view of books and writers." Frances's own forthcoming book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, is a book about our state. Because the New York literary scene has a tendency to give short shrift to anything happening beyond its halo, books like this have a harder time gaining a foothold in The New York Times: all the more reason that we need dedicated book review sections on the West Coast.

Why should we care? As Frances says, The demise of the Book Review and other book sections in the country means a lessening of information, a truncation of the exchange of ideas that don’t always fit into the current celebrity-crazed marketplace.

Read her piece. Then write to Sam Nell. And to the Chronicle. Tell them how much the book review means to you. There's a good chance our voices will fall on deaf ears. Nonetheless, it's worth trying. And while you're at it, you might mention to the powers-that-be at the Chronicle how much you liked the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, wherein Alison Biggar and her crew covered a wide range of subjects in an entertaining, smart, colorful format. I for one am going to miss it.