About AL Daily

Art & Letters Daily has one of my favourites for as long as I have been writing A Sea of Flowers, largely for the reasons mentioned by Robert Fulford in his columns in the National Post January 22, 2002 and June 27, 2007.
On any given day, it is the gateway to well-written, reasoned commentary about things that matter in the life of the mind – language, literature, and thought. Over the course of few days, the editors added links to stories and essays about the decimation of book reviews from American newspapers by Steve Wasserman, the decline of literary journalism by Morris Dickstein, and James Wood’s move to the New Yorker.
The Wikipedia Entry spends some time on the question of whether AL Daily is conservative, as that term is understood in America, or libertarian. I think the editors like to report on the ideological or culture wars but are detached from the passions that drive the debate. I wouldn’t say that they are independent, but I am not sure what constitutes bias in the study of facts and events. They are loyal to keen observation and sound argument.


2 responses to “About AL Daily”

  1. Garth Danielson Avatar
    Garth Danielson

    I read that article on the shrinking book coverage in the newspapers, mostly out of morbid curiousity. For some twisted reason I am actually enjoying the death spiral of physical newspapers. I haven’t been reading a physical newspaper much in the last several years, so I hadn’t noticed what they have been dropping. Our local paper is pretty poor and certainly not worth buying for me. A lot of people I know quit taking it. So, I can see where the shrinking income in the newspaper business means something must go. Books aren’t too popular and I bet they don’t buy many ads to promote there books as something like the movie business. There’s probably ten times the coverage for movies. Theaters buy a lot of ads each week.
    I won’t miss them myself, neither the newspapers, nor the books they review. I don’t read most of the kinds of books that do get reviewed in newspapers. There are a ton of other places to get info about new books now that the internet has caught on, but mostly I just pick things up in the stores and look at ’em. If it looks like an interesting story, I’ll pick it up. After having worked in book stores for over ten years I know there are people who need to be told what to read. I rarely helped any of them after the first two or three years, partially through contempt, and partially because they rarely ever listened to my recommendations. When I read mysteries more regularily I read a wide range of authors, not just the crazy stuff from out on the edge of popular mystery fiction. I read new writers like James Lee Burke and Robert Crais and I read old writers like Craig Rice. I bet most mystery readers would not have ever heard of her. She wrote a whole bunch of great mysteries and I am glad that I took the trouble to find them in the 80’s. Some fan recommend her to me. I don’t think he read more than a couple. I read nearly all her novels, including a couple of her mainstream books. Jonathon Latimer is another great writer of the thirties and it’s hard to find his books and he’s been reprinted in the 90’s. I’d yak on about some great series or five and rarely did anyone ever buy them. Same thing at DreamHaven. Must be me.
    I rarely ask anyone for help. I think I picked this up from my mother. She haunts the used places to feed her ravenous habit of a couple of hundred books a year. She systematically reads romance novels and the rare mystery. Once she finds an author she keeps an eye out for more. She keeps a little book with lists in it. I have index cards in my checkbook. I don’t do a good enough job keeping them up, but they have saved me buying the same book over.
    Sadly most clerks in bookstores know less than I do about the things that I like. Occasionally there are people like the guys at Uncle Hugo’s and Edgar’s Bookstores that know a lot. But for the most part asking can be a waste of money and time. I picked up two series that a friend really liked and neither of them are keepers.
    Sometimes my own instincts fail me and I get stuck with something that doesn’t pan out. That series about magical kids and the dragon gates turned out to be a hard read and I barely finished. China Meiville was in the store and I liked his reading but it turned out that I can’t read his books. That happens occasionally.
    So, I don’t need to search out more stuff than what I already have an interest in, which, believe me, is a lot. I can’t keep up with the new stuff I buy, even with my current narrow focus on young adult fiction. Seems every time there is a sale at Half Price Books I find several young adult fantasies, or a nice cache of Hardy Boys books, that look promising. Many have proven to keepers.
    Once I find a book by an author that turned out to be promising, I go look for more. The internet has proven invaluable for gathering information on an author. And places like ABE Books, and sometimes ebay, are gold mines for book hunters.
    Anyway I need to go off and make a cup of tea and finish the book I am reading. It’s the first of a young adult fantasy series called Wyrd Museum that mixes The Fates, kids, an animated teddy bear with the soul of a dead American flyer, the demon Bilal, London during the Blitz and time travel all into one book. Heavy body count too. I am often surprised at the blood shed in much of modern young adult fiction. People get mowed down left and right. J K Rowling said she was always puzzled when people say the later books were so violent. She says that the first chapter of her first books starts with a double murder. The Wyrd Museum book starts with an American Flyer being gunned down in a London street in 1943. Then it moves into the present day and I wondered where the hell I was going. I’ll let you know where I was later, my tea is ready and that book is waiting. A book I found on my own.

  2. Tony Dalmyn Avatar
    Tony Dalmyn

    I agree that it’s hard to find a good book through reading book reviews. The reviewers end up saying good things about most books. Most reviewers are authors or wannabes. They are sympathetic to the work involved in getting a book out, they try to be positive, and they can usually give somebody a good reason to find and buy a book. The publishers used to place ads to subsidize the book review pages, to get their product reviewed. I think reviews help to sell books – mainly literary fiction, politics, some science and nature, and biography. The newspapers want move money from advertising, and the publishers have been pulling back and leveraging a few good reviews and endorsements.
    I haven’t stopped checking the book reviews, but I never get past the first line. They emphasize literary fiction, and I can’t stand the posing. Literary fiction is just candy for people who think that their tastes are superior.