Informed book discovery

Peter Brantley at O’Reilly Radar points to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review, “Goodbye to All That: The decline of the coverage of books isn’t new, benign, or necessary”, by Steve Wasserman. Wasserman’s gripe is that while we have more good reading available to us than ever before, the mechanisms that many people have relied on for finding good books are being dismantled.

[Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic’s literary editor] is among the few who have chosen to resist what he condemns as “the insane acceleration of everything,” and prefers instead to embrace the enduring need for thought, for serious analysis, so necessary in an increasingly dizzying culture. Wieseltier knows that the fundamental idea at stake in a novel—in the criticism of culture generally—is the self-image of society: how it reasons with itself, describes itself, imagines itself…. It is a striking irony, as Wieseltier points out, that with the arrival of the Internet, “a medium of communication with no limitations of physical space, everything on it has to be in six hundred words.”

Books are great, but the “insane acceleration” argument is tired. Brantley at O’Reilly is right that Internet communities like LibraryThing and services like Google’s MyLibrary are already growing to fill the gap left by book reviews. I accept the point that book reviewers provide a value that is being compromised, but whining about the Internet seems beside the point. Slate’s book department seems to be doing ok.

  1. blogs alone or blog => book (insane acceleration)
  2. book review => book (good ol’ days)
  3. blog => search for book reviews => book (not sustainable?)

I find that the more I read online, the more I end up buying books to supplant what I find online. My interest in a worthwhile story will not be sated by a blog post, and chain 1 is just more efficient with my time and money than chain 2. I actually find myself checking the accuracy of nonfiction using chain 3, because I feel I can’t trust Amazon’s ultra-polarized reviews.

Related: Institute for the Future of the Book using CommentPress to enable high school and college students to annotate their books as a group.

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