The New Haven Review of Books Debuts

08/08/2007 01:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Many of you will know the legend of how the New York
Review of Books

was founded: there was a newspaper strike in New York
in 1963, and a bunch of scary smart friends decided
that if they couldn't read their Times Book Review,
they'd just have to start their own. And the New York
Review of Books
became the most important intellectual
journal in the country.

I have no such hopes for The New Haven Review of

which will have its debut at a publication party at
Labyrinth Books
in New Haven on Thursday night. But with ye olde
worlde wide webe, we might get as many readers as the
first copy of the New York Review did, 44
years ago.

There's no newspaper strike in New Haven. In fact,
there's barely even a newspaper, now that the the New
Haven Register

has had its news staff slashed worse than a screaming
chick in a horror movie. (It regularly gets scooped by
the online-only New Haven Independent, with its staff of three paid reporters and a bunch of
volunteers, like me.) No, the impetus for the New
Haven Review of Books
was only that we have a lot of
terrific writers around these parts, and by coming
together we could make two important statements.

First, in an age of shrinking book-review holes in
newspapers, we're going to have to find new ways to
get the word out about great books. Some of those ways
will be local, and small in scale. We may never
publish another issue of the New Haven Review (our
motto is "Published Annually at Most"), but by just
publishing once, we've made a statement in support of
literary culture. Wouldn't it be cool if other small-
and medium-sized towns -- Austin, Des Moines, Albany,
etc. -- decided they wanted local book reviews, too?
Maybe such reviews would feature local writers doing
the reviewing, the way ours does, or maybe they would
feature reviews of books by local authors. Either way,
they would be reminders that major urban publications
do not have to be the sole instruments for book

And that leads us to the second statement that even
one issue of a small, local book review makes: there
are writers everywhere. Just here in New Haven and the
surrounding towns we managed to round up Alice
, Bruce Shapiro,
Debby Applegate, Deirdre Bair,
Jim Sleeper, Amy Bloom,
and a couple dozen other greats. Many of us have never
even met one another. We don't have a literary "scene"
in this modest city; there is no cocktail-party
circuit. But there are writers. (Indeed, I argue
that medium-sized towns may be more conducive to
literary production that big cities.)

This model won't replace the big-city, big-time book
reviews; we still need them. And unless some angel
comes along to fund another issue, this may be the
last you hear of the New Haven Review of Books. But
we're in an age of renewed attention to localism and
regionalism, and book reviews -- like farmers'
markets, or even local currencies
-- can do their part.