Tuesday, December 04, 2007

He Didn't Even Mention Books

Sunday's Hartford Courant carried an article entitled The Decline of the Critic in which author Matt Egan described the decline of music, dance, and movie reviews in newspapers. In spite of the furor this past year over book reviews disappearing from papers, he didn't even mention them.

Not that my nose was out of joint over our neglect. I'm just pointing it out.

Evidently, though, all criticism is on its way out in print newspapers. According to Egan "the era of newspaper criticism, seems to be coming to a rapid and unceremonious end."

You mean, it's not all about the tanking of literary culture? How very thought provoking.

Egan makes many interesting points. "As classical music's audience continues to shrink, along with museum attendance, opera attendance, ballet attendance and newspaper readership, arts coverage has withered with it." Newspapers that once employed critics in various fields now either are using stringers or reporters who work in other areas of journalism for the paper and are just filling in. (Of course, that beats what many papers are doing with books, which is just not covering them at all even though the number of books published every year is going up, not down.)

Reading the work of good critics is more than entertainment, Egan says. It's an education. In the past, some movie critics, such as Roger Ebert (who is still working), for instance, were film historians.

Traditional book critics provided an education for their readers, too. Sure you always had your elitist folks who seemed mainly interested in showing off what they thought they knew to the lesser mortals who read their work. But you also had people who truly shared what they knew. You really could learn something from reading book reviews.

The Decline of the Critic makes it clear that the writing is on the wall for print reviewers of all types for many reasons. It also makes it clear just what will be lost when they're gone.

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