Closing the Book on a Proud Tradition
Posted on Jul 20, 2008
Editor’s note: For 33 years, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review has brought the literary world to the doorstep of the nation’s largest book-buying community. That era is about to end, a fact that disturbs the section’s former editors who have written this formal protest.
One of the four former Times Book Review editors who wrote the protest below is Truthdig Literary Editor Steve Wasserman, whose weekly award-winning book review appears Fridays on Truthdig.
For more on the decline of journalism, read Chris Hedges’ latest column about the grim future of news.
As former editors of the Los Angeles Times Book Review (1975 through 2005), we are dismayed and troubled at the decision by Sam Zell and his managers to cease publishing the paper’s Sunday Book Review.
This step signals the end of an era begun 33 years ago when Otis Chandler, then the paper’s publisher and owner, announced the debut of the weekly section. Since then, the growth of the Los Angeles metropolitan region and the avidity of its numerous readers and writers has been palpable. For example, every year since its founding in 1996, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has attracted upwards of 140,000 people to the UCLA campus from all walks of life throughout Southern California. Four hundred writers from all over America typically participate. The written word is celebrated. It is the most significant civic event undertaken by the Los Angeles Times to deepen literacy and to strengthen the bond between its news coverage and its far-flung community of readers. But without the Book Review itself, the book festival will be a hollow joke.
The dismantling of the Sunday Book Review section and the migration of a few surviving reviews to the Sunday Calendar section represent a historic retreat from the large ambitions which accompanied the birth of the section.
To be sure, no section of any newspaper can remain hostage to past ways of covering the news of the day. We are convinced, however, that the way forward is to increase coverage of our literary culture—a culture that every day is more vibrant and diverse in the thriving megalopolis of Los Angeles.
Angelenos in growing number are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review, a philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of the city and the region, will only accelerate this process and further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper.
We urge readers and writers alike to join with us as we protest this sad and backward step.
Illustration by Peter Scheer