LAT FLAT Revisited

I was wrong. Well, at least this week I was. No sooner to do I criticize the Los Angeles Times Book Review for being flat and boring, then along comes this week’s issue, which I found thoroughly entertaining and informative. Perhaps it was because this issue was packed with fiction reviews. Or perhaps it was because those reviews were written by the likes of Chris Albani, Susan Straight, and Ed Champion.

I read the section cover-to-cover and it was a lot better than any issue Steve Wasserman ever put out.  I guess that during those weeks when I stopped reading the section, things got markedly better. My apologies to David Ulin and his staff (and no, I’m not writing for them or  sucking up to get my books reviewed). 

BUT, from an asthetic viewpoint, my opinion is unchanged. The section couldn’t possibly be  less visually appealing. It’s almost if they are daring people to read it. I’m sure it looked very good to people back in 1968 but it’s completely out-of-step today in this web-driven world we live in. It’s not like the guys at the Times are incapable of updating the look — they’ve done a pretty good job energizing other sections of the paper lately.

6 thoughts on “LAT FLAT Revisited”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. The LAT’s design refresh seemed to skip over the book section, which was the most in need of updating.
    I get that the articles are going to be copy heavy by giving the reviewers adequate space to say their piece. But why the heavy reliance on dreary, hand-drawn art? Why no author photos? Why no cover art of new releases?
    Furthermore… how about some author profiles? Or rotating one feature per issue… like Michael Connelly’s favorite hangouts in LA. Or the best coffee houses with free WiFi. Or tips for new authors sending query letters.
    The section could be a destination for readers… instead of a black hole of cluttered type.

  2. Jeez, Lee. With so few newspapers having ANY book section these days, I’d be reluctant to criticize the typography. I think the powers-that-be at the Los Angeles Times have allotted limited space, and the book editor crams as much into it as possible. Fine. We’re book readers. We don’t need illustrations or glitzy graphics, do we?

  3. They do have author profiles in every Sunday in the Calendar, but i must say that a new How To Write A Query Letter feature would really make the section sing. I can just see it now…Paul Auster on the art of the query. Margaret Atwood on, uh, thhe art of a query letter when getting a new agent. Dave Eggers on the art of the query letter when you own your own press. The possibilities are endless.

  4. The Chicago Sun-Times, the paper I review for the most often, often accompanies my pieces with HUGE amounts of art — jacket covers, author photos, some cool hand-drawn art, etc.
    It’s very eye-catching and looks spiffy. But I still complain (to myself) that I could have used that space for more books!
    So there’s no pleasing some people.

  5. You guys are approaching it from the author’s perspective… where every picture is blank space that might’ve been allocated for a slightly more nuanced review, or opportunity for your next book to receive coverage.
    What about the average reader’s perspective? If Joe Average opens the LAT’s book review section and it’s always more copy heavy than the classifieds, that’s a turn off and nobody wins.
    I’m not suggesting you turn the section into a USA Today graphics fest… but surely there’s some middle ground where you’re not supressing readership by presenting a non-esthetic product.


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