Contrary to our long-standing contention that the New York Times Book Review picks its books to review in a high-stakes game of Publisher Plinko, it appears that there is actually a process involved. Says editor Sam Tanehaus:
The first thing to say is that the Book Review has space, in any given week, for some 20 to 30 reviews, which sounds like a lot but in reality means we cover only a fraction of the books sent our way. Once the books reach us the process is rather simple. Each week three of us the deputy editor, Bob Harris, our senior editor, Dwight Garner, and I sort through the many galleys or advance reading copies that come in and distribute them, setting aside some for ourselves but passing the great majority along to our five preview editors, who all have specialties (in areas ranging from experimental fiction and poetry to history, science, philosophy, sports and popular culture, among others). A couple of weeks later, after the individual previewers have had a chance to evaluate all the books they’ve been assigned, they meet with the three of us and advise us which books should be reviewed. We then discuss possible reviewers. The previewers also write up brief reports on each book they’ve “skipped.” Now and then Bob, Dwight, or I will take a second look at a skipped book and suggest that it be reviewed, after all. But most of the time we accept the verdicts of our colleagues, because they know the book best and also are so well versed in the area or field the particular author is working in. Sometimes reviewers do suggest books, but since we see just about everything, and see it far ahead of time, it’s not often an “outsider” knows about a book before we do.