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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007 11:43 am
Who are they writing for? They don’t know, either.
Posted by: Keir Graff

Gawker (“Secret Workings of ‘Times’ Book Review Exposed!“) has the inside scoop on an insider’s take: Barry Gewen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, told an audience at Harvard how things work where he works.

(And enough with the cloying sentence construction, me.)

Gewen named names (of Book Review staff), explained selection policy and procedure (sort of), complained that the Book Review staff are poor cousins to their Sunday Magazine kin, and admitted that he has no idea who they’re writing for.

The reason for his trip, he said, was to correct some misconceptions among the largely academic audience about how the Review is assembled. “We’re thought to have agendas, we’re thought to be out to get people,” he said. “I hope by the end of this talk I’ll have persuaded you that none of that is the case.”

The editorial staff totals 17, which, Gewen asserts, is more than any other book review in the country can afford. Hmm…after a quick scan of the non-anonymous masthead of Booklist, I counted 18 editorial staffers, plus 1 contributing editor and 4 contract reviewers.

There’s nothing revelatory in the Gawker piece, but anyone who’s curious about how review journals are put together will be interested in taking a peek. And even people who actually work at review journals will be curious to see how another one functions. Reviewers are a rare, idiosyncratic breed and I imagine their workplaces are, too. (The Booklist offices, surprisingly, are more like IBM in the 1970s: starched shirts, clean shaves, no hair touching the collar.)

My favorite paragraph describes the kind of cold comfort — wit and a trust in one’s own superior intellect — that poor cousins are often forced to accept in lieu of a fat paycheck.

Once, Gewen said, they encountered a pair of medics outside their office, wearing white jackets, looking worried, pushing a gurney down the hall. After assessing the scene, one of Gewen’s colleagues said that it was a clear sign that “someone at the magazine had an idea.”

Thanks for the link, Dan Kraus!


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