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In January 2009, the Washington Post announced that it would be dropping the stand-alone Book World section of the paper’s Sunday edition. Book World had been created in the 1960s and was one of the few remaining stand-alone sections for book reviews in American newspapers.
The trend had been in process for the preceding decade. In 2000, Charles McGrath, editor of The New York Times Book Review, commented, “A lot of papers have either dropped book coverage or dumbed it way down to commercial stuff. The newsweeklies, which used to cover books regularly, don’t any longer.”
A few months after McGrath penned these words, the San Francisco Chronicle decided it would no longer be publishing its Sunday Datebook of arts and cultural coverage, which had been based on the understanding that books are newsworthy. The Chronicle had to reintroduce the Datebook after protests from book lovers, but eventually reduced it to just four pages.
In 2001, The Boston Globe merged its book review and commentary pages. The Globe’s decision was followed by numerous other newspapers expunging their long-standing tradition of offering serious book reviews.
These moves were all part of a wide-spread trend away from book reading, which I am discussing in a new series of articles for the Colson Center. My first article 'Hallowing out the Habits of Attention' looks at what the decline in book reviews, and the larger decline in reading of which this is symptomatic, tells us about the society in which we live.