JANUARY 10, 2010
Dear Friends of Books and Writers,
For many years, The New Republic has called itself “A Journal of Politics and the Arts." It regards both of those realms, both of those duties, with equal gravity and with equal joy. Two magazines in one magazine, we live doubly, the way intelligent people do. Like every other magazine and newspaper, we have spent the past decade developing a website to complement and enrich the content that appears in the print magazine. Most of that web content has focused on politics and breaking news. The time has come to break out of that necessary but constraining box. To that end, we are launching The Book: An Online Review at The New Republic. (www.tnr.com/book)
We have another reason for creating The Book. The slow and steady transfer of people’s attention to the web is a fact of our culture. And the absence of any site for the serious consideration of serious books is also a fact of the web. And then there is the equally discouraging fact–not online but in the real world–of the literary impoverishment of American newspapers, many of which have fired their book critics and shrunk or closed their book sections. It is a time, then, for friends of books to push back. At The Book we plan to extend the critical principles that animate the literary pages of The New Republic to online journalism--to help fill the vacuum left by the carnage in American newspapers. And since the quality of the criticism whose demise we rightly bemoan was often not very high, this may be an opportunity not only to remedy the situation, but also to improve it.
The first thing to know about The Book is that it is a supplement to our print content–an attempt to apply the new technology to the old and untarnished purposes. While our online book review will certainly be lively, it will not be significantly more relaxed than our magazine itself. We are not slumming here, or surrendering to the carnival of the web. Quite the contrary. We are hoping to offer an example of resistance to it. Many of the writers you will read in The Book are the same writers you will read in the magazine. Their subjects, too, will be the same. Here you will find criticism, not blogging; pieces, not posts. Four or five times a week we will publish a new review of a new book. The length of these reviews will vary, and we will count on our readers sometimes to sustain an attention-span that is not generally required for reading online. Our main review of the day, which is the central feature of the site, will range widely over the genres. Fiction, history, art, poetry, scholarship, philosophy, children’s books, food books–all the books that, at least in our judgment, a thoughtful American should know about.
Alongside our daily reviews we will feature “TNR Classics”–a regular revival of reviews and essays from the astonishing TNR archives, going all the way back to 1914. We will start with Virginia Woolf on Walter Scott, from 1924–and the riches will continue to flow. (We will put up permanently, as a kind of credo for our enterprise on this site and in the magazine as a whole, Rebecca West’s essay “The Duty of Harsh Criticism," from the very first issue of The New Republic.)
Since we are living in a time when many literary institutions and memories seem to be vanishing, we have devised a delightful feature that we call LitTube. This feature will consist of videos of writers, historians, philosophers, and other important intellectuals from the past, so that they may briefly come alive for our readers. We have amassed a small library of these extraordinary clips. Today we begin with a clip of a fascinating conversation between Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling.
On the right of the homepage is something we call “Elsewhere in the Republic of Letters.” This feature will provide links to some of the smartest literary essays and articles that we can find. The amount of content on the web is infinite, but we are committed to finding the pieces that we judge essential to the formation of responsible opinion in our society. This exercise in intellectual aggregation will not link you only to the usual suspects, to the sites that you already read. We will refer you also to valuable contributions in small magazines and scholarly journals, at home and abroad.
The Book will not be static, and we will add features and departments to keep the mix vital and interesting. Some of these will be regular, some irregular. We begin with the latter in a department called “Lost & Found," where writers will reconsider forgotten or neglected books. We welcome contributions to “Lost and Found," where you can strike a small blow against the vagaries of taste and the injustices of oblivion.
We also want to hear what you think of the pieces we run. Please send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org–not “talkbacks," letters. In a feature called “Disputations” we hope to run serious debates about serious themes. We want arguments, not outbursts. As I say, “the duty of harsh criticism” will be our motto.
More soon. For now, on behalf of Leon Wieseltier and myself, welcome to The Book and to the community of The Book.