The LA Times Book Review has been slightly more readable and a lot less snooty under editor David Ulin, but it’s still dull, uninspiring, and a bore to look at. And the advertisers are bored, too. Like most readers, the advertisers are ignoring the section entirely. Publishers Weekly notes that there were only two ads in the Feb 25 issues — one for a ghostwriting service, the other an announcement of a David Mamet signing at Borders.
Both LAT editor James O’Shea and book editor David Ulin said the paper is committed to providing extensive book coverage, including reviews. But while O’Shea said he had rejected a suggestion from his predecessor that he kill the Sunday book review, he hinted that it may not remain a stand-alone section.
Whenever I left town on business, I used to have my wife save the Book Review sections so I could read them when I got back. A few months ago I told her not to bother. I don’t even read the section when I’m in town anymore.
(Since Ulin took over, the blog critics of the Book Review have been notably silent. Perhaps because Ulin is, I am told, a more likable guy than his predecessor and shrewdly hired several of the bloggers as freelance reviewers, effectively silencing them. Another former critic of the Book Review just sold his first novel and, perhaps, doesn’t want to upset any reviewers. All I know is that they’ve shut up…and the Book Review isn’t much better than it was before)
I’m all for radical change at the Book Review, because as it stands now, the Fry’s ads are more fun to read and more interesting to look at. They need to make it livelier, more relevant, and a lot more visually appealing. If that means bundling the reviews with an existing section (like Calender), then so be it. I think the only thing that has kept the throwaway Book Review alive this long is that killing it would have reflected badly on hugely the successful (and wonderful!) Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the prestige of the Times book awards.