You can't shed a tear on a computer screen, another advancement in communications control--or another sign of machine times.
So I have to tell you about how I feel as I say goodby to this space, this flat atop the crossword puzzle where I've lived so happily for the last 6 1/2 years. The move, for me, is a good one, to the crises and controversies of the Opinion pages. The pleasure, for readers, is that this neighborhood of the newspaper has never been in better hands. The new Book Review editor is Jack Miles, no stranger in town. Miles has been an executive editor at the Los Angeles branch of the University of California Press, and he has been a valued contributor to Book Review, a man of scholarly parts and temporal excitements. Georgia Jones, the assistant book editor, arrived here in late fall following several good book seasons at the Herald-Examiner.
This year marks a 10th anniversary for the section. In the spring of 1975, the Los Angeles Times launched its first weekly book section, one of only three newspapers in the United States to give literature its own Sunday shelf, pages separate from the other arts or the other ideas of our time. Editor Bill Thomas and Associate Editor Jean Sharley Taylor assigned Book Editor Digby Diehl and the late Literary Critic Robert Kirsch to put the package together, a notice to publishers and to the public that this important reading community deserved expanded attention.
The cast has changed--is changing--for Book Review, but the assignment stands and the desire to further expand that attention continues. In my crankier moments I've complained that every art exhibit of important intent, every theatrical production of potential merit and appeal, every film other than pornographic, every concert or dance recital worth coverage, every piece of prime-time television is examined in The Times; yet only about 10% of the 40,000 books published annually in the United States find review room.
Yes, there are thousands of bad books, and many things are better left unread, but the Southern California audience--reader for reader, a more avid audience than New York--deserves wider and deeper literary fare. The new crew takes up the old challenge of providing it.
The beauty of being at Book Review is the wonder of the assorted messages still sent to people, on paper. All journalism is a sort of unstructured graduate education; you have the chance to take courses in all the disciplines without having to produce a final dissertation. You merely have to produce little papers along the way. To be paid in the process is a near-miracle of subsidized education. At Book Review, the curriculum offered is as broad as human curiosity. You learn how fiction can tell truth out of imagination and how science can impel imagination out of truth. You discover that there are rare individuals who never broadcast a bad sentence and even rarer people who never seem to scribble down a bad idea. Book Review is a marvelous place to live and to learn about life and to discover new avenues in the larger community. I go with glee, but I pack a little envy for the new tenants.