Are Quality Book Reviews a Dying Breed?

RIP

Is the literary universe rudderless? According to a recent op-ed in the New York Times, it sure seems that way.

Plagued by the usual suspects – decreasing readership, risk-averse (and resource-depleted) publishers, a glut of celebrity-driven titles, etc. – the world of books feels more fragile than ever.

And its decline, says Colin Robinson, author of the Times piece, is only being hastened by a lack of high-quality book reviews, the kind that steer readers to hidden treasures they might otherwise never discover.

“This variety of channels for the expert appraisal of books has been replaced with recommendations thrown up by online retailers’ computers,” writes Robinson. “But as with so much of the Internet, the nuance and enthusiasm of human encounters is poorly replicated by an algorithm.”

Which is where the Washington Independent Review of Books comes in.

Since 2010, we here at the nonprofit Independent have dedicated ourselves to bringing our readers the very appraisals Robinson fears will soon be extinct: intelligent, insightful opinions on everything from bestsellers to mid-list gems.

With no corporate overlords to serve, we’re free to guide readers toward what we feel are the most compelling new books out there. We’re also free to ignore whatever pop-culture-driven Flavor of the Week may be lining the shelves.

Does this devotion to providing comprehensive, well-reasoned book reviews in a world obsessed with all things quicker, shorter, and snarkier make us different? Probably. Is that a bad thing? No.

We’re firm believers that there will always be thoughtful readers out there, and that those readers deserve equally thoughtful and entertaining reviews.

So while we agree with Mr. Robinson that the literary world is growing less hospitable to writers – and readers – by the day, we have to insist that rumors about quality book reviews’ death are greatly exaggerated.

This piece originally appeared in, you guessed it, the Washington Independent Review of Books.

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