Archive for March 15th, 2019

Endangered species: book coverage in the Bay Area

Friday, March 15th, 2019
Share

It was a surprise for many of us to hear the news on Feb. 27: The San Francisco Chronicle told John McMurtrie, its longtime book critic and editor, that he was being laid off. He announced the news on Twitter, which is how I heard the tale. There will be no replacement, so what happens next? The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the literary capitals of the U.S. The idea that one of the nation’s top papers is stripping down its book section is bad news indeed.

I remember, in the long-ago days of the 2001, Bay Area-wide protests, spearheaded by the late great Diane Middlebrook, when the Chronicle folded its book section into the rest of the paper. From The Los Angeles Times:

…when word began leaking out a few weeks ago that the city’s major daily newspaper was reconfiguring its Sunday book review section, a howl went up from segments of the Bay Area literati. Books and the people who write and read them are taken seriously in San Francisco, home at various times to such venerable and disparate persons of letters as Mark Twain and Allen Ginsberg.

Accordingly, reports that the San Francisco Chronicle was revamping, and possibly even downsizing, its well-regarded Book Review section were treated in some quarters as a potential affront to the city’s literary self-esteem.

Middlebrook (Photo: Amanda Lane)

“You owe it to the citizens of San Francisco!” not to diminish book coverage, wrote Diane Middlebrook, a professor of English at Stanford University, in a recent letter urging Chronicle management not to “demote book talk to the status of infotainment.”

“You will embarrass yourselves along with every literate person in town,” wrote Middlebrook, who is spearheading a letter-writing campaign over the issue.

What is to be done? In such times, it’s good to have Steve Wasserman, my former editor at the Los Angeles Book Review, back in the Bay Area. He’s now publisher and executive director of Heyday Books in Berkeley. Steve and Ethan Nosowsky, editorial director of Graywolf Press, He called a meeting on March 13 at Heyday’s new headquarters to discuss how best to support continued coverage of books in the Bay Area in the aftermath of the news.

Good to have you back, Steve!

A photo commemorating the event, clockwise, from lower left: Frances Dinkelspiel, author, journalist, and founder of Berkeleyside,com; Andy Ross, literary agent and former owner of Cody’s Books, Cherilyn Parsons, founder and executive director of the Bay Area Book Festival; Calvin Crosby, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association; Leslie Jobson, Field Sales czarina of the Ingram Content Group/Publishers Group West; Praveen Madan, owner of Kepler’s Bookstore and chairman of the Board of Directors of Berrett-Koehler Publishers; T.J. Stiles, author and historian and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Steve Wasserman, publisher and executive director of Heyday and former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review; Ethan Nosowsky, Editorial Director of Graywolf Press; Paul Yamazaki, Chief Book Buyer for City Lights Bookstore. On the phone but not depicted: Oscar Villalon, editor of Zyzzyva literary quarterly and former books editor of the San Francisco Chronicle; March 11, 2019, Berkeley) (Photograph by Emmerich Anklam, Publisher’s Assistant and Editor at Heyday.)