Last week, the NYT Book Review gave a page to MuggleNet's What Will Happen In Harry Potter 7. Today, as discussed, they reviewed the autobiography of Ron Jeremy. It is a fun little paper, the NYTBR. But the professors over at The New Republic's education blog are not amused. America, they say, is in urgent need of a new book review. Who will review Richard Rorty and Pascal Engel's What's the Use of Truth? Who will meditate on Dale Zacher's The Scripps Newspapers Go to War, 1914-18? Whoooo?
The discussion started with University of Maryland history professor Jeffrey Herf, who declared that "The time has come for an entrepreneur or entrepreneurs to get together with fair and distinguished editors to create a new weekly book review, one that will do justice to excellent American scholarship that remains a well kept secret to the vast number of potential readers in this country and around the world."
Important works, Herf wrote, are being met with "the sound of deafening silence," and our culture, as a result "has become much less than the sum of its parts." Welcome!
Herf's professor friends responded to his proclamation largely with quaint suggestions. One person suggested an internet-only book review—one where people could download! Another said that maybe the academics should write book reviews themselves, and post them on their very own blog at TNR. Everyone seemed to agree that the Times and the New York Review of Books, for different reasons, had both proved insufficient.
Here's UC-Davis professor Eric Rauchway:
"Edmund Wilson said something like, we created the New York Review of Books because The New York Times Book Review didn't exist. He referred I think both to the newspaper strike, which meant that for the moment the NYTBR literally didn't exist, and to the ideal NYTBR, which according to him didn't exist. It would be unkind to repeat this sentiment—the NYTBR did, only last year, publish a rather excellent essay by its editor on Richard Hofstadter—but perhaps, reading the various comments here, it wouldn't be wholly untrue."
All of which invites one question: if the floppy sheaf of paper we're holding doesn't even exist for the academic set, and if everyone else is just buying "review-proof" pop fiction, who among us is turning the pages of the poor Review?