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Science, Fiction, and points in between

Friday 20 July 2001

Book Reviews and Sales

§ Newspaper book review sections are shrinking, like the one at San Francisco Chronicle, which [did] away with its pullout, 12-page book section and demote[d] book reviews to the back of its Sunday entertainment section, a tabloid called Datebook. Why? Market research.

Ask executive newspaper editors why book coverage is among the first elements to go and they direct your attention to their focus groups, which they insist show that book reviews rank lower in readers' esteem than the Wednesday column on flower arranging.
... In truth, book review sections have always been alien departments within the American newsroom's just-the-facts culture. ... "Editors read newspapers. They don't read books."
Salon, July 19, 2001

§ Should publishers be afraid of Bookscan, which will do for book sales what Soundscan did for music sales, providing exact numbers of products sold? Not at all.

Every newspaper reader knows that "A.I." sold $30 million in tickets the weekend it opened. Magazines are audited; television shows get Nielsen ratings. Why not put the book business on a realistic footing? Everyone will gain. Publishers will continue to invest in books that are more prestigious than profitable; only now they will do it knowingly and openly.
New York Times Op-Ed, July 17, 2001

Monday 16 July 2001

Reading, Writing, Bookselling

The issue with Mark Twain on the cover has article [not online] by B.R. Myers about the "growing pretentiousness of American literary prose"; it will warm the hearts of dedicated genre readers who've always suspected there isn't much to respectable mainstream fiction beyond artsy style.

Today any accessible, fast-moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be "genre fiction"--at best an excellent "read" or a "page turner," but never literature with a capital L. ... Everything written in self-conscious, writerly prose, on the other hand, is now considered to be "literary fiction"--not necessarily good literary fiction, mind you, but always worthier of respectful attention than even the best-written thriller or romance.
Taken to task, with detailed picking-apart of sample passages: Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, Paul Auster, David Guterson.

§ Echoing this theme: "Sell too many copies of your books and the critics will turn their backs on you", says Douglas Kennedy, commenting on Modern Library's Top Hundred list and its controversial inclusion of critically-acclaimed but too-popular John O'Hara.

The Times, June 27, 2001

§ The power of storytelling:

New York Times, July 10, 2001

§ To sell books, it helps to look good.

Washington Post, July 2, 2001

Science and Society

§ Is it any surprise that the media often get science wrong? But isn't it odd that the authors of It Ain't Necessarily So: How Media Make and Unmake the Scientific Picture of Reality (Rowman & Littlefield), David Murray, Joel Schwartz and S. Robert Lichter, dispute reports only of "liberal" issues...?

Salon, July 2, 2001

§ With news reports of mothers killing their own children, it's easy to wonder if some people simply shouldn't be allowed to reproduce...

Salon, July 10, 2001

June Aether Vibrations

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