More bad news on the publishing front, I’m afraid. Today it was announced that KIRKUS Reviews will be closing its doors, to the dismay of librarians (and the secret delight of authors) around the world. I can think of few better ways to pay tribute to and commemmorate the passing of this epoch-making review source, than to share a few passages from the Kirkus Style Sheet – a document of truly Churchillian elegance, with worthy thoughts and sage considerations for book people everywhere. It isn’t hard to imagine the following advice in the voice of Julia Child:
…At the same time, we also strive to convey a sense of each book’s distinctiveness. Just as Maupassant learned about description by following Flaubert’s advice to watch Parisian cabdrivers and catch the mannerisms that made each one different from the next, every Kirkus review tries to identify the features that make even the most formulaic books (The Body in the Chaise Longue; New Help for Arthritis Sufferers) distinctive, however slightly and subtly, from others.
This would work well in the deliberate intonation of John Houseman:
Interest is not generated by flippant antics, stylistic adventurousness, snarling displeasure or unmodulated intensity of judgment (e.g., “This is a really, really bad book”), but rather by the same sorts of techniques that make good books themselves work: an authoritative grasp of the material; an ability to inspire faith in one’s judgements; a voice that is engaging without being over-familiar; and a sense of humor that transcends mere facetiousness or sniping.
And here’s a summation worthy of Ian McKellen’s or Jeremy Irons’ erudite delivery:
Kirkus has a well-established reputation as the most valuable, critical, intellectually honest of the review journals. We often bristle when our collective tone is described as captious, nit-picking or hostile, yet we wear our reputation for unblinking criticism like a badge of honor. One of the prices we pay for this honor is the constant need to uphold standards of clarity and consistency in writing that help defend us against the occassional imprecations of authors, agents and publishers who would not care nearly so much about Kirkus style if Kirkus judgments were less prinicipled, less sound and less influential.
As a librarian who has had frequent occassion to gather around the familiar quartet of trade reviews to consult over the suitability of a particular book for a reader, I am going to deeply miss Kirkus’ anchoring presence at that head of that table. Among its fellows – Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal – Kirkus often held itself apart, slow to join in a chorus of adulation, and often the only eye to catch some promising talent or sleeper sensation in the offing. Its criticism was at times merciless, but its knack for highlighting truly interesting and satisfying books will be deeply missed.