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NPR Brings the Serious Book Coverage

Never in my life did I expect to see NPR do something like this:

National Public Radio has expanded the book coverage on its website, adding weekly book reviews, and has hired six new book reviewers—including a graphic novel reviewer—and added more features to an already existing lineup of author podcasts, critics’ lists and other book-focused content. Among the new slate of reviewers joining NPR.org are Jessa Crispin, founder of the literary blog Bookslut.com; John Freeman, book critic and a former president of the National Book Critics Circle; and Laurel Maury, freelance comics and graphic novel reviewer and a longtime contributor to PW Comics Week. (via PW)

Freeman, Jessa Crispin, Laurel Maury, and Lizzie Skurnick!! Sorry for the over-excitement, but holy shit—NPR actually went and hired three very smart, very discerning reviewers. I’m generally suspicious (and dismissive) of NPR’s just-to-the-left-of-center mediocrity, but in my opinion this is a huge coup that will add a lot to NPR’s website.

I know NPR is the sacred cow of liberal thinkers, but broadly speaking, its book coverage has always been pretty sub-par. I know people love Terry Gross (in my opinion, books are totally incidental to Fresh Air—what’s more important is the personality and backstory of the artist. Of course, Curtis White has put this in much more eloquent terms than I ever could), and Alan Cheuse tends to review odd, interesting books, but that’s about it. At least in my opinion.

This new initiative changes the game though. First off, assuming NPR doesn’t force these reviewers to write about the typical over-promoted drek (or force them to write in a NPRish style where every review begins, “yesterday, my daughter said something about Mexicans. Which got me thinking about racism in today’s world. So I picked up XXX’s book . . .” Sorry—it’s just so easy), the target audience age is going to drop by about a decade.

In terms of the greater cultural impact though, it’s very interesting that NPR is stepping up to fill in some of the void left by the decline in newspaper book coverage. Sort of a natural evolution though, since for a lot of people, Morning Edition has replaced the morning newspaper as the primary source for news. And with rumors constantly circulating about soon to be dismantled book review sections, its great to see someone step up and help fill in the developing void . . (A similar thing is going on with Bill Marx’s World Books page at PRI’s The World. PRI’s The World has OK books coverage on the actual show, but nothing even close to what Bill Marx is doing. There aren’t many places in general doing what Bill Marx is doing for international literature. Especially not on public radio.)

Of course, the RSS fee for the NPR books section is still a bit f’d up and finding these pages isn’t all that easy, but you know, it’ll get better, I’m sure.

In terms of links, here’s the general books page, here’s the Books We Like section, the Three Books feature, and the Book Tour section which currently features podcasts of readings at Politics & Prose, and supposedly will expand to readings at McNally Robinson in the near future.



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