Tag Archives: Cleveland Plain Dealer

Karen Long, Plain Dealer Books Editor, Talks About Reading and Reviewing

27 Apr

Karen Long, books editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, spoke as a guest in my Rhetoric and Composition class this afternoon.  Long, who has held her position since 2005, talked about her path as a journalist and book critic, the details of her weekly routine, about ethical problems of writing about literature, and about the role of book criticism in the lives of readers.

                In her own words, the soft-spoken Long “stumbled into” her job as books editor.  She had already been working and writing for the Plain Dealer in a number of other capacities, and when the position for books editor opened in 2005, she approached the editor in chief and begged for the position.  His response: “Do you read?” and, “What do you read?”

                Long receives between 350 and 450 books a week, which she files into a special room where she and other reviewers can have their pick of “spec” copies—pre-print copies of books sent to reviewers before the mass publication date.  Of those roughly four-hundred books, Long must cull twelve to fifteen a week to be reviewed in a two page spread.  The challenge is “to make those selections and to make the books in conversation with one another.”  Sometimes, as was the case with a recent issue, books were selected for their timeliness (i.e., the anniversary of the BP oil spill).  Other times, the books are highly anticipated, such as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which debuted in 2010.  Still other instances allow for Long to select books that might not otherwise have been reviewed, to polish the gems from the crass.

                On the flipside of the coin, Long must pair reviewers with appropriate books.  Unlike books editors at larger publications like The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune, Long has the flexibility and the desire to print reviews by new voices—as long as they’re good.  “My bosses don’t like me to run a writing lab,” she said.  “They say if it’s not ready, you shouldn’t be mucking around.”  Still, Long admitted to helping some especially poignant or passionate readers find their critical voices.  The bottom line, however is that, “If it’s B- [work], I don’t want it.”

                In talking about her approach to the job, Long sounded like a broken record: “My motto is readers first,” she said many times and in various ways.  “There’s so many crappy books out there, I don’t feel ashamed to say, ‘read this book, don’t read that book.’…  I see it as a public service… I’m working in an old medium and trying to appeal to everybody.  My goal is to not be the last book editor of the paper.”

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Words of the Week:

26 Apr

~five things you must read this week~ 

Op-Ed: Progressive News Organizations Fueled by Unpaid Labor from The Oberlin Review (Monday, April 25th):  Commentary Editor Monica Klein (OC’ 11) writes about the paradox of liberal newspapers and magazines demanding higher wages while simultaneously refusing to pay their interns.

It’s About Fit, Not Data from The New York Times (Friday, April 1, 2011): Oberlin College Dean of Arts and Sciences and chemistry/biochemistry professor Sean Decatur does some number-crunching to determine why the acceptance rate at academically selective institutions like Oberlin is lower than ever, despite an easier-than-before application process.

We Are All Writers Now from The Oberlin Alumni Magazine (Spring 2011 Vol. 106, No.2): Anne Trubek (OC ’88 and associate professor of Rhetoric and Composition) asks how social media is changing what it means to be a writer in this digital age, both for the professional and amateur.

A Match Made in Oberlin: Finding Love on Computer Date Night from The Oberlin Alumni Magazine (Spring 2011 Vol. 106, No.2): Amanda Nagay describes how in 1965, Oberlin freshman Paul Lewis launched what may have been one of the first attempts at an online dating source—and shares some surprising and heartwarming pairings.

Oberlin College graduates awarded fellowship to travel the world and choose a topic to study from The Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sunday April 24, 2011): Karen Farkas writes about two exceptional Obies awarded $25,000 fellowships to study international female distance runners and the lives of those on cargo freighters.