Book coverage: Online sites vs. paper-based publications

It’s been maintained--not by me--that blogs and online forums can replace the traditional book coverage of magazines, journals and newspapers. Is this so? In the old days of Book World, back when the section was a 16-page standalone supplement, we used to cover far more than simply best-sellers and the major releases of trade publishers. For instance, round-ups and features like “New in Hardcover” allowed us to alert the general public to “specialized” books that people might otherwise overlook, but might enjoy if they sought them out, either in bookshops or at the library.. These might range from the productions of scholarly presses to those of local publishers.

What kind of books am I talking about? Well, take “21st-Century Gothic: Great Gothic Novels since 2000,” a collection of essays edited by Daniel Olson on the major works of this genre published in the past dozen years. Here are Brian Evenson on Peter Straub’s “A Dark Matter,” Richard Bleiler on Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book,” Nicholas Royle on James Lasdun’s “The Horned Man,” Darrell Schweitzer on Joe Hill’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” Other essays consider such popular works as Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s “The Shadow of the Wind,” Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men,” Susannah Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,” and Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian.” These are fascinating books, and at least some ordinary readers would like to know about this volume from Scarecrow Press. But will they learn of it online?

Consider, too, a new novel by Edwin M. Yoder Jr.: “Vacancy: A Judicial Misadventure” (PublishAmerica). Yoder is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a sometime college teacher and an occasional reviewer, and, most important of all, possessor of an exacting intellect and a razor-sharp prose. In this novel about Washington life in the very near future, a journalist, rather than a lawyer or judge, is nominated to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Uproar ensues on Capitol Hill. Certainly anyone who knows Yoder’s essays and journalism will want to take a look at this shrewd novel about Washington’s ways and mores. But will they learn of it online?

Surely, I’m not the only admirer of Erle Stanley Gardner’s mysteries, which include not only the Perry Mason court-room whodunits, but also hard-boiled stories and light-hearted crime novels (some as A.A. Fair). Gardner also created a pair of Raffles-like gentlemen thieves: Lester Leith and “The Patent Leather Kid.” Crippen and Landru, a small publisher based in Norfolk,Va., specialize in crime story collections, and “The Exploits of the Patent Leather Kid” is the third devoted to Gardner’s short fiction. The kid is a dashing socialite who burgles by night while wearing mask, shoes and gloves made out of black patent leather. Not great literature perhaps, the stories are, as editor Bill Pronzini says, “pure entertainment.” You might like them. But will you find out about then online?

Of course, members of the Reading Room have just now found out about these three books through this online forum. But this is a special instance, one thread only. Yet in the heyday of Book World we’d regularly devote at least a short paragraph to books just like these, week after week.

Do older members of the Reading Room feel they are keeping up with books as well now as they did 20 years ago? Despite my misgivings, do specialized list-servs and sites actually allow for more readers to discover books such as these three? Do you know of books that seem deserving and yet never received the review coverage they merited? Share some of your thoughts.

- Michael Dirda

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