Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The New York Review of Books I

I have been reading The New York Review of Books on and off for several decades. Often it was a primary source of intellectual stimulation to me. Recently I have been looking closely at the quality of its articles and the nature of its blog section. Rather than taking a position of intellectual leadership, the NYRB seems to have adopted the role of a niche player that caters to well-educated, upper-income readers who prefer well-written, traditional, full-length essays for their leisure reading. As a matter of editorial policy it has always supported its writers, even when they are closet hacks lacking in real expertise, and this quality seems to have worsened in recent years.  If there were an alternative publication, I would just switch to it and not be particularly bothered, but the fact of the matter seems to be that there is no other in this intellectual wasteland that is the United States of America.

What triggered my concerns about the NYRB was the quality of its blog.  At first it seemed that that would be an ideal place to engage in extensive discussion with competent readers and writers. The outcome has been a great disappointment. Many of the blog articles are straight opinion pieces with little to back them up. Or they are arbitrary articles about presumptive aesthetic works that are of no real interest. This would be enough to disappoint me, but the isolation of the writers from the readers and the moderation policies in themselves severely limit the quality of the blog.  Poet W, translator X, historian Y or writer Z jot down trivialities and pet peeves for pay, a few comments are made, usually of the adulatory sort, and that's it. Many comments never see the light of day, which isn't always beneficial, though sometimes it is. The authors almost never engage in the conversation. The NYRB is coasting along on its reputation with complete disregard for those readers who see discussion as a route to better ideas and their propagation. I've given up on the New York liberal media in stages: first, The New Yorker, then The New York Times, now The New York Review of Books.

This topic doesn't seem to interest anyone other than myself, so I don't expect any replies, but I would be interested in your thoughts.

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