Post Book World (print edition) postmortem

February 24, 2009 at 11:32 pm (books, Magazines and newspapers)

A comparison of the January 11-17 2009 issue of the Washington Post Book World with that section’s new mode of existence in print, folded into the Outlook section as of February 22, 2009, yields the following observations:

In the January Book World: ten full length reviews, including one each by Jonathan Yardley, Ron Charles, and Michael Dirda; a science fiction page with four shorter reviews; a section on what’s new in paperback; Mary Karr’s Poet’s Choice; the Literary Calendar; a list of reviews slated to appear in the coming week in the Style section; what’s on the web; letters to the editor; bestseller lists for hardbacks and paperbacks; and the Bookshop classified ads.

In this past Sunday’s Outlook/Book World: six full length reviews and four shorter ones; notice of what’s upcoming in the coming week’s Style sections and on the web; list of hardback bestsellers; and Bookshop classified ads.

Does that seem like a shorter list? It is. Here’s what not there: what’s new in paperback; Poet’s Choice; letters to the editor; the literary calendar; genre reviews; paperback bestseller list.

In an effort to be fair – and with a chip on my shoulder the size of West Texas – I took a look at Book World Online – or, as it now appears to be properly called, Arts & Living: Books. And here was a surprise: I liked it – or at any rate,I liked most of it. There’s a nice mix of reviews, some new  as of the 22nd, some slightly older. The lead feature is a review by law professor and historian Annette Gordon-Reed of a book by Martha Sandweiss entitled Passing Strange:  The secret life of a famous 19th century surveyor and social figure. The “surveyor and social figure” is Clarence King, a personage recently encountered by me in Donald Worster’s biography of John Muir. Like Muir, King was an avid mountain climber; he is wrote Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, published in 1872. Passing Strange appears to be primarily concerned with his ( rather unorthodox) personal life. I reserved it immediately.

Next comes “Book World Voices,” which consists of one review each by Jonathan Yardley, Michael Dirda, and Ron Charles. These three are my “book review gods,” so I’m delighted to see them getting pride of place in that spot. From there, we proceed to the bestseller lists for fiction and nonfiction, hardcover and paperback. The lists look substantially different from how they appeared in print, and I like the new look. Links are provided to reviews of the listed titles. There are also links to other recent reviews, and to the Literary Calendar, where links are provided to venues in the area that are hosting readings and signings.

As you scroll down, more reviews appear; there is news of the publishing world as well, and also Mary Karr’s highly valued Poet’s Choice. Towards the bottom of the page, there are links to past reviews by Jonathan Yardley, Michael Dirda, Ron Charles, Patrick Anderson, Mary Karr, and Carolyn See, excellent critics all. For those of us who love mystery and suspense, it’s a treat to have ready access to Patrick Anderson’s insightful pieces on our favorite fiction genre. Also I was delighted to see a link to Jonathan Yardley’s occasional column, Second Reading. He it was who put me on to Isabel Colegate’s superb The Shooting Party.

My major complaint has to do with the placement of the ads. On the main page they are kept to a minimum, but once you get deeper into the content, they become increasingly instrusive. This is particularly annoying in the Mary Karr segment, where an ad is placed smack in the middle of a poem’s first stanza.

To sum up: I am by and large pleased with the web version of Book World, and I commend it to my fellow book lovers. But I still mourn the loss of the print section. That may make me a dinosaur in the brave new digital world, but, as Walter Cronkite used to say, that’s the way it is – more’s the pity…


  1. Ron Charles said,

    Thanks very much for your kind appraisal. And for your apt criticisms. We’re working on the ad problem in Poet’s Choice. But it’s a tough one. These pages are created somewhat automatically, I’m told. But our Web people are working on it. I’m hoping they’ll figure out a better design in a few weeks.

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