The Transom has tried, really tried, all day long to write a post about yesterday’s astounding column regarding the New York Times Book Review by New York Times public editor Byron Calame. From writing a list of misunderstood ideas about the role of the critic, to a discussion of dull premises of heteronormativity (“To determine whether a relationship between a potential reviewer and the author is too close: ‘Do you know the names of her children?’”), to asking ‘Hey, when is that question in your headline ever going to get answered?,’ The Transom has tried and failed to register its absolute horror at Mr. Calame’s ploddings.
The NYTBR should be devoted to passionate discussion about books led solely by people who care entirely way too much about books. Will those people then therefore have agents, editors, friends, enemies—and will those people have slept with other writers’ lovers? Oh yes. Will they be inexpert and expert and messy? Sure! Good! Fine! Anything! A newspaper’s critical books section should be an insane, frothy place, like a drunk family’s dinner table on Christmas eve, where people disclose too much because they have much to disclose. Sure, this isn’t totally possible at the Times, a place alternately exhibiting crippling self-doubt and exacting traditional standards. But. ANYTHING but the mild deathly tone of Mr. Calame’s mealy-mouthed considerations and caveats and cautions.
Critics are giving way to influencers. It won’t be long before the NYTBR has less authority—in the marketplace, at least—than the first book blogger who takes his or her role extremely seriously (and who, like, doesn’t spend their time writing actual books).
There is also, in the book blog world, a very silly idea: that NYTBR editors would be predisposed to give publicity to a book by a Times colleague. Have these people never worked in a big office before? Do our friends in blog-land really not think that it’s just as likely to work the other way, especially in a catty and stroppy place like the offices of West 43rd Street?