And somehow I just can’t bring myself to mourn.
I’ve read the Washington Post almost daily since I was a teenager and I am, not surprisingly, a bookie. And I was from the moment I first got a book in my hand.
I remember the days 15 or 20 years ago, when Book World was a lively, interesting place where I’d read about new writers I wanted to explore. I remember discovering Anita Brookner and Elizabeth George from the pages of the magazine. There also used to be a literary quiz question every week that was really challenging, but sometimes I actually knew the answer. I’d be smug for the entire day.
About 10 years or so ago, something happened to Book World. Okay, I’ll tell you exaactly what happened to Book World: Michael Dirda (gaseous bagus humongous) took over as editor. From that day on, the publication became a joke, with its heavy focus on virtually all non-fiction reviews by male authors – and I am totally not kidding.
When Maria Arana took over and Dirda went on hiatus (with a full page every week to blow his massive amounts of hot gasses), I had hopes. Shortly after her reign began, the Post issued their annual Fall Guide to New Books. With a bug firmly up my ass, I took the time to actually count the number of male authors featured versus females. It was something outrageous, like 87 to 13.
So I did what I do occasionally when I’ve got a burr under my butt, I emailed the editor. And, much to my surprise, that very day I got back a thoughtful reply. The reason, she said, for the skewed male/female representation was that they could only reflect the book industry.
Well, o-k-a-a-a-a-y if you’re only looking at non-fiction and – as an occasional gesture to fiction readers, war novels. But then I mentioned romance. She visited AAR and she definitely seemed to be interested in exploring the genre in Book World. I remember recommending some titles that would showcase romance to her in our very best light.
Much to my surprise, a few months later, a page did appear. Problem is the books selected were hardbacks almost completely not on the romance radar (though I remember one Crusie) and the writing amounted to little more than a short synopsis for each book. All around I’d give her an A for effort and a D for execution. I think the page appeared one more time, then that was it. They now had the excuse to tell themselves it wasn’t working – hello, Ms. Arana, want to hear about how you can fix it? – and it disappeared forever. But in her mind, they tried. They just tried badly.
Literary snobbism is something with which we all have to contend. But the high level of male-centric elitism that personified Book World isn’t a strategy for a successful publication today and it seems that almost any idiot would know that. But they didn’t, clearly, because they just kept plowing on, becoming less and less relevant every single year.
So, goodbye Book World. I don’t mourn your loss. Well, more truthfully, I mourn what you were, but not what you became.