This fall will mark the debut of The Los Angeles Review of Books. Via e-mail, The Chronicle caught up with LARB‘s editor, Tom Lutz, a professor and chair in the department of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. His books include Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America and Crying: A Natural and Cultural History of Tears.
The new review will debut online, but plans are for a print edition to follow, possibly an annual “best of” that will later become a quarterly or even monthly. Among contributing editors signed on are such writers as T.C. Boyle, Antonio Damasio, Jeffrey Eugenides, Carolyn See, and Jane Smiley.
Lutz seeks a mix of written, audio, and video content on LARB’s site, with daily updates. “We want to be the people’s home page,” he quips. And while reviews will include single takes on a title, “if two, or for that matter 10 of our contributing editors want to review a book, we will post all 10,” he says. “We want a curated site, not a user-generated free for all, but we also want a range of opinion. I want the discussion not to be relegated to a “letters to the editor” page, but to have the discussion to be what we offer.” A prospectus anticipates coverage of both new books and classic authors and forgotten works—and vintage reviews for that matter, such as Melville writing on Hawthorne.
On the road and emailing from a “basement Internet place” in Säki, Azerbaijan, Lutz elaborates on the LARB.
Q. You have said that a prompt to create the review was the demise of so many Sunday book supplements. Are you optimistic for a reversal of that trend?
A. No, I’m not optimistic, at least in the shortish term. My worst fear is that there will be a missing generation of real journalists. Newspapers continue to wither, the web pays only a small fraction of the people print used to pay, and at lower rates, and TV news continues moving toward tabloidism. The Los Angeles Times may be the worst case, but it is typical—capital is uninterested in the growth potential for newspapers, and the web can’t save it. My friends at Truthdig.com, despite winning Webbies left and right, breaking stories, and having a loyal readership—well, let’s just say they and sites like them are not in any position to hire the people getting fired, much less a new generation of graduates.
Q. What will be the balance between fiction and nonfiction coverage?
A. I, personally, consider the novel to be the queen of the sciences, and I’m a bit of a proselytizer for the form—the novel in the Bakhtinian sense—so we may have a somewhat disproportionate emphasis there. But I want to have very vibrant pages dedicated to all fields of nonfiction, and we have a very fine group of poets and poetry critics involved as well.
Q. University presses have noted the difficulty of getting their books reviewed in mainstream media. Care to comment?
A. Bring ‘em on.
Q. Will there be a difference in your book coverage as a West Coast publication?
A. The majority of our contributing editors live on the West Coast, and yes—without entering into any of the LA-NY rivalry, a kind of high culture version of Lakers-Celtics—I think our perch is a little different, we see things a bit differently. But we hope to be of national and international interest, and to cover the national and international book scene.
Q. What was the thinking behind London, Mexico City, and St. Petersburg as sites for literary news coverage outside the United States? Are you pondering other cities as well?
A. This is, like any fledgling, “small magazine”-like publication, the effort of a group of friends, and that’s where friends were excited to join us. But we are already adding Paris, and, I hope, a roving Asian correspondent, although he roves so much I haven’t pinned him down yet. And I have an encyclopedic appetite, so I’ll be looking for more.
Q. How has your university been involved with the project?
A. UC-Riverside is generously giving us some office space, web engineering and support, and help with fundraising and accounting. And of course they pay me a salary. They are not providing any actual budget, but they save the project an enormous amount of money—make it possible, in short. The bulk of the budget, in the short term, needs to be gifts and grants—we’ve had a little success here; we need more.
Q. You plan click-through sales of books, as well as of coffee and wine. Any other products? Chocolate!?
A. Click-through sales for other products was my colleague Toby Miller’s idea, and I think it might turn out to be our financial salvation. His idea was “book-related” products, and so, absolutely, chocolate.
Q. What is your next book?
A. I have my first novel with my agent right now. I’ve got a few half-finished projects, one on the 1920s, one a travel book, another novel. But first I’m planning a kind of encyclopedia of contemporary literary discussion, called The Los Angeles Review of Books.—Nina Ayoub