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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

NYT Books Coverage-- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Readers of this blog know that I have a love-hate relationship with the major media and how they promote and cover leisure reading.

On the one hand, I applaud outlets like NPR for their forward thinking book coverage [I am not surprised because I went to college with one of the people in charge of it]. Click here for some examples which I have highlighted in the past. But on the other hand, these same places I applaud are just as bad as every single media outlet when talking about leisure reading in that they NEVER go to the true book experts-- the library workers. [Okay well once in a while, NPR has Nancy Pearl on, but that’s really it, and for the record, they are light years ahead of everyone else and all we get is an occasional Nancy Pearl.]

The New York Times is a great example of what I am calling “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” of how the book media handles helping actual, real life readers. By that I mean, providing coverage based on how people actually read, not based on only the critical favorites or the major publishers, or the bestsellers. Libraries, we get how to help actual real life readers. We know how to anticipate what they will ask for and work with them to find their next read. Traditional media....not as good. They have the idea of what readers are like and their needs in their heads. They have no actual experience serving people-- warts, quirks and all.

In this post I will use the NYT and their book coverage to illustrate the very best of traditional media book coverage, the disappointing parts, and the just plain ugly-- “help” that is so bad it could hurt the entire industry of those of us who help leisure readers for a living.

But before I start complaining, let me begin by saying I am a life-long home delivery, print subscriber to the paper. As a child in NJ we got the NYT every day. In college I walked here to pick up my physical paper every single day. And when I moved to Illinois, I continued to get the NYT delivered..in paper.. every single day to my home, city and suburbs. Yes, I am 41 and get a physical paper, we exist [it comes with unlimited digital access too]. So all of the comments I will be making below come from a place of knowledge. I love the NYT, but it is not perfect and their books coverage is a great example of one step forward, two steps back.

Okay, let’s start positivity. I was ELATED to see the June 4th, Summer Reading issue of the Sunday New York Times Book Review because they had columns on actual genre books, including this one on horror. What I liked about the horror column was that it looked at the wide range of what horror is today and offered up many options- including small press options.  Well done.

Readers love genre in the summer, especially horror and thrillers (which are also represented here). As a librarian in FL recently told me, “People love to read about horrible things happening to other people while they sit by the pool."

So that’s the good, however, here is the bad about their Summer Reading Issue-- all of that good content to help genre readers is really hard to pull up online because they have NOT created a tag to pull up all Summer Reading with one click. Come to speak of it, they have no tags on their content at all. How can we pull it up and use it to help readers if you don’t link all of the useful content? Why, why can they not figure this basic indexing issue out. Oh, I know why. They don’t have any input from librarians. We are all about indexing, cataloging, and retrieval of information.

Seriously, though most libraries have a print subscription to at least the Sunday Book Review but it is not always easily available to be used to help a patron. In general, the NYT Books coverage needs to work on its online ease of use by readers and the library workers who want to use their coverage to help readers. With the recent change to having one editor for all book coverage at the paper now, maybe this is in the works. But, it is 2017 and tags are old news, yet the NYT has never used them. So basically, there is some great content being published but using it to actual help a reader after the day of publication is difficult [at best].

And now it is time for THE UGLY. I have been beyond angry about the new Dear Match Book Column from the NYT for a while now. How angry? Well, I have pinned my angry tweet about it to the top of my feed for all to see. Here is a screen shot of that tweet:

Without the help of any professional book suggesters- otherwise known as library workers-- a book critic takes people’s requests for their next read and offers up suggestions.

I was worried about the bad results from the start as you can see in that tweet, and unfortunately only a few weeks in there was a total disaster of  advice on May 23rd.

Thank goodness for my amazing editor Rebecca Vnuk who stopped the presses [literally, she stopped editing for Booklist to do this] and tried to right the wrong done to this poor reader with this post, “Actual Epistolary Beach Reads.” From that piece:
In the May 23, 2017 “Match Book” column in the New York Times Book Review, a reader named Anetra Smith explains that she’s going on a much-needed beach vacation and would like to bring some epistolary novels because she loved The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger and The Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. She received suggestions for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and, for a touch of romance, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. 
The librarians on my Facebook feed went nuts: “Yes, if you liked Attachments, you’ll LOVE Dracula! I say that all the time, don’t you?” Or, my favorite: “I just turned my head so far sideways it’s nearly parallel with my shoulders.” 
I’m not entirely sure what the thought process was that lead to the Times’ recommendations (note: just because the title includes “love story” doesn’t mean it’s a romance), but hopefully I can save Ms. Smith’s vacation with the following suggestions, linked to their Booklist reviews.
Click through to read her many well thought out suggestions. [By the way, this reaction is exactly why I write for Rebecca and call her a friend too.]

As Rebecca and I discussed privately, did the columnist Google “epistolary novels” and then do a second search adding the word “love?”  We ask because those are some of the answers you get by doing just that.

I love that the NYT wanted to help readers to find their next read, but why are they asking book critics to do it when there are professionally trained and extremely experienced people to do this job in every single public library in America.  Do you go to a medical journalist to be diagnosed when you are ill? No you go to a doctor. So when you want a book suggestion, you should ask the library worker. Of all people, the NYT Book’s editors should know about us and our expertise. We are the biggest subscribers to their product.

By the way, on a related note, this column...this disaster of a column....this they have archived easily with this link, but not Summer Reading!?!?! Yeesh

So there is my report on "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" of the NYT’s book coverage. I know they are trying and some of it is excellent, but please all book media, please stop ignoring our expertise. We know better than you how to do these jobs. We are willing to share our knowledge, if only you gave us a tiny bot of respect and asked us to help you.

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