Not so long ago it seemed as if news about trends in the world of books and book publishing was more often bad news. Borders went under. Barnes and Noble kept closing stores and might go under any year. Big publishers first spent years worrying that the arrival of e-books would ruin their industry - then started worrying that e-book sales were not increasing as much as they had belatedly projected.
But that all seems so passé now. I've been blogging here at HuffPost Books now and then for a couple years now going with the idea of: Why don't we stop the worrying and spend more time enjoying books? Celebrating books? Sharing our love of books with others and trying to inspire them? Many others, including my friend Dave Astor, have done the same.
In this pursuit I think we've found a kindred spirit in Pamela Paul, the new editor of The New York Times Book Review, who succeeds Sam Tanenhaus, who did the job nine years, far longer than he expected going in, and is deservedly lauded for his contribution. (I read his book The Death of Conservatism with great skepticism, but was converted; I highly recommend his political writing.)
I called Paul up this week to talk to her about her vision of books and book reviewing and was surprised to find that she's quite happy to share her enthusiasm and excitement about both. She would love, for example, to emulate the great John Leonard, critic and former editor of the Book Review, above all in sharing his enthusiasm.
"I think there is a huge amount of enthusiasm and excitement now," she told me. "There is always going to be bitterness about publishing. That goes with the territory. But there are so many great websites on books now. Goodreads is like a lovefest. Slate and Salon, I guess they're the internet establishment now. I feel like there's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about it. When you read a great book, it's a big experience. I just think that reading a great book can be a life-changing experience, and I wrote about this in an essay on the back page of the review. I've kept a journal of the books I've read since high school. That's my diary. That's the story of my life, what I was reading. And I will say that essay probably got a greater response from readers than anything I've written in the Times and the overwhelming response I got was "Me, too!""
I think this is important because with so many potential books to review and such limited space, editors at the Book Review have to make touch choices all the time about what to review and what not to review; I think there is inevitably a tendency for the inner circle of editors there to start to feel cut off, like Supreme Court justices. Paul's fresh enthusiasm for writing about books that is rigorous and emotionally present offers a kind of bridge: If the criteria is intellectual rigor, or analytical prowess, clearly editors at the Times Book Review know some things most of the rest of us do not, but when it comes to enjoying a book, like enjoying a baseball game or a slice of pizza, we are all of us united and we are all equals.
So here's wishing Paul well. If you have any suggestions for her, post them below in the comments section.
Below are some questions I asked her and her replies.
STEVE KETTMANN: I get the feeling that sports books have been at least somewhat deemphasized by the Book Review in recent years. Or am I only imagining that?
PAMELA PAUL: I just personally wrote a roundup of baseball books for kids. There are some really great picture books for kids. We have a lot of sports enthusiasts on our staff. So yes, it is a topic of interest to people here and readers of the Book Review.
SK: You're from New York. Were you a reader of the Times growing up?
PP: My father, who just died in February, said to me when I was in eighth grade and very much occupied with my own little world, "If you want to be an informed and engaged citizen of this world, you have to read The New York Times every day." I've been a dedicated reader every day since then. My father taught me that the world is bigger than the eighth grade.
SK: Let the record reflect that as of this moment you have 6,399 followers at Twitter. I just became your 6,399th. That number will grow. I see you haven't updated your Twitter feed to show your new title.
PP: I love Twitter. It's one of those things you can naysay it all you want, then you try it. I think it's great. I very often find out what to read, whether it's on a website or from a newspaper or through a book, through the people I interact with on Twitter. So it's a huge source of information for me and it's a lot of fun. You don't want to spend all your time on it but to me it's more of a time saver than a time waster.
SK: Are you on Facebook?
PP: I am, but unless people know me personally, they will be spared family photos and updates on what I'm eating if they follow me on Twitter instead.