Back when I wrote book reviews for the Chicago Tribune, every now and again my efforts were unappreciated and rejected. Without exception this happened with negative reviews. It always made me wonder which side of the journalistic/promotional fence my editor had more allegiance to.
This was six or seven (nine?) years ago. The book-review landscape was in decline, but not the bleak tundra it is today. Maybe that editor——who has since been let go as have most employees of that publication, when it was sold to whatever hedge-fund/junk peddler/bottom-feeder runs it now——knew that the way things were going, our job was just to fluff out publishers’ press releases and be happy to cash our checks.
I’m dumb that way. When I review a book, I read the whole damn thing and try to convey what it did for me, imagine what some other reader could get from it. I don’t care about pull-quotes or making sure my review’s publication coincides with the book’s release date. I’m not paid by publicists or authors, so I don’t do their bidding. But, like I said, I’m dumb and don’t know how to play the game.
Anyways, what prompted this brilliant think-piece is that I was cleaning out a folder of old writing and happened upon the killed review of Testing the Current. I don’t recall the precise reasoning my dearly departed editor gave for not running it, but it had something to with not seeing the point of publishing a negative review of a New York Review of Books reissue. I guess since that respected entity deemed the book a lost classic, we had no right to disagree. Maybe they sent her a free tote bag and she felt guilty not reciprocating graciously. Who knows?
Maybe with the dearth of outlets willing to even give lip service to books, the time of the enthusiastic pan has passed. Does this mean we only mention art we endorse now? Trust me, no corporation in their right mind would want me as their brand ambassador or junior shill.
Perhaps my work here is done.