Books:Good, Numbers:Bad, and Other Truths from NY Magazine

By Kathryn Comment

Lately the reviewing game seems to have fallen, rather absurdly, under the spell of rampant quantification. The Website, which has for four years offered aggregated, ranked reviews of albums and movies–assigning compound scores between 1 and 100, as in grade school–recently began including books. (Nanny Diaries follow-up Citizen Girl, at 41, outclassed Tom Wolfe, at 37.) It’s a dismaying but unsurprising step, given a growing obsession with the populism of raw numbers.

Huh, Wha, Why? Firstly: who among readers takes seriously (or ever reads it)? Secondly: doesn’t the site’s inclusion of books have an obvious upside, reminding consumers that, besides DVDs and mp3s, there’s another form of entertainment to be purchasing? Thirdly: even R.L. Stine could outclass Charlotte Simons. Tom Wolfe is way, way far from being classy’s control group.

The NY Mag article continues,

More ludicrous still, the cottage industry of book awards has also grown intoxicated with tabulation for tabulation’s sake. In January, Publishers Weekly announced it was co-sponsoring the Quill Awards […] Coming down the pike, too, is another sales-minded awards ceremony, to be launched by the Kirkus-affiliated Book Standard. “I would imagine something like the People’s Choice Awards,” says Book Standard editor-in-chief Jerome Kramer. “And if it were me [on the nominating board], I would not elect to insert a layer of elitists into the equation.” The anti-elitist crusade extends into featured categories, which, according to Kramer, might include cookbooks and knitting titles. Metacritic may convert criticism into raw data, but events like Book Standard’s and the Quill Awards promise to reverse the process by according the power of criticism to mere sales figures. Just what the industry needs: its own version of the Grammys.

Again: Who? What? Huh? Where? has Nicole Kidman’s picture on its homepage every time a book about a girl gets opened by a studio. It’s just self-important enough to give awards, and just seedy enough for its awards to be dismissed as funny.