The WaPo has finally announced that it will kill the stand-alone print edition of Book World and move books coverage into Outlook and Style and the arts section. No surprise there; rumors have swirled (what else do rumors do?) for weeks now.
What to say? I worked at Book World a long time, and I got used to it in its stand-alone print incarnation. But BW’s talented staff will not lose their jobs because of the Post’s decision. Literary news and reviews will still be part of the paper. Book World will have some kind of unified presence online. All of that is good.
Book World hasn’t had enough readers in a long time, and there’s a decent chance that more people will find and read Post book reviews in Style and Outlook than ever did when reviews ran mostly in the Sunday section. Also good, yes?
…for so long, literary culture has been a passive endeavor. One that prescribes what readers should read, what books should be paid attention to, a trickle-down effect that hopes, pleads for people to magically “discover” what is the best of books.
But now we’re in the opposite age. Instead of passive intake, this is a world of active consumption and discussion, where people seek out what they want, when they want it at their own discretion. Looking for guidance and seeking things out aren’t mutually exclusive, but readers should be–and are–suspicious of entitlement and suspicion that comes with books coverage being wholly separate from the larger world.
Book World’s “demise” comes on the heels of yesterday’s death of John Updike, truly one of the last great literary audodidacts, and not long after the death of John Leonard. Both those men understood how vital it was to engage with culture and beyond, to help those who were just starting out and to see the joy and the humanity in all that they wrote and read about. There’s a void, but instead of crying over the spilt milk of a bygone age, let’s move forward to engage, to excite, to entice, and to hold the reader in thrall to all possible things.
Stop salvaging; start suggesting. Stop whining; start writing.
Long live Book World.