decision to review is made is a halfnhour. Many books get less. At thenthird-ranking Los Angeles Times BooknReview, I hasten to add, most books getnmuch less.nBoth the quantity and the qualitynmaintained at the Times cost money.nSeveral years ago, the well-connectednhead of an old New York publishingnhouse told me that it was “commonnknowledge” that the Times lost onenmillion dollars per year on its booknreview. The numbers to confirm thesenstories are not mine to cite; but I cannreport, on the basis of my experience atnthe Los Angeles Times, that such a lossnis plausible if not, by now, decidedlynconservative. In the spring of 1988nnewsprint costs jumped 20 percent,nwhile newspapers’ advertising basenshrank. Advertising is down at ThenNew York Times (this is a matter ofnpublic record), and the result is that thenloyalty of the paper to its large booknreview is a more salient and admirablenfact about that newspaper than ever.nAnd as for size, so also for editorialnquality. It costs money, in other words,nto pay the NYTBR’s staff of eightn”pre-readers,” the number recently citednin Publishers Weekly. (I note innpassing and just a bit anxiously, that asnrecently as 1985 the then-editor of thenNYTBR told me that he had tennpre-readers on staff.) At other newspapers,nif any pre-reading is done at alln(and how else does one separate meritoriousnfirst novels from earnest failures?),nthose who do it have other,ndistracting duties. The result is thatnthose other newspapers cannot knownthe books that their book supplementsnare talking about as well as the Timesndoes. The NYTBR’s greater knowledgenof the books it is reviewing clearlynhas paid off.nFinally, there is the matter of distribution.nThough it is possible to subscribento the Washington Post BooknWorld (no separate subscriptions tonChicago Tribune Books or Los AngelesnTimes Book Review are available), thenPost falls far short of the Times’n100,000 separately distributed copies.nThe separate circulation of thenNYTBR equals or exceeds that ofnmost independent journals of opinion,nand its influence on the nation isnaccordingly great. But the distributionnsystem that assures this influence is nonaccident: it is an investment by thenTimes in its own status as a nationalnnewspaper.nHaving said this much about and onnbehalf of the NYTBR, I must nowninsist that its influence can be overstated.nOne proof of the Times’ limitedninfluence is the fact that Paco’s Choicenby Chicagoan Larry Heinemann hadnwon the 1987 National Book Awardnfor fiction, though the Times had notnreviewed it. Interestingly, the 1988nNational Book Award for fiction hasngone to another novel that the Timesnhad not previously reviewed: ParisnTrout by Pete Dexter.nAnd reverse examples also come tonmind, by which I mean examples ofnbooks that, celebrated in the Times,nhave since faded. Loud has been thensilence, in the 1988 postseason literaryncompositions, about Paul Kennedy’snThe Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.nA front-page review in the NYTBRndid wonders for that title — for a while.nBriefly, Kennedy seemed to be everywhere.nAnd The hiew York Times Sundaynmagazine kept his ball in play withna major “debate” article about hisnthesis. Gradually, however, the factnthat the opening four-fifths of the booknwere a kind of college textbook begannto weigh against it. It looks much dullernnow than it once did.nI would also maintain that New Yorkncounts for less than it once did becausenof the way in which nationwide bookstorenchains — whose headquarters arenoutside New York and whose outletsnare often outside the Northeast —havenreplaced the New York-dominatednbook clubs as launch vehicles for thenmost popular new books. The chainsnmonitor local sales with great skill; andnbecause of that skill, local best-sellersn—books about the Bears or the Cubsnin Chicago, for example — have anmuch better chance to become bestsellersnthan they did when the processnwas more New York-bound. True, thenchains use the Times’ best-seller list asna basis for their discounts, but theynblithely ignore the Times’ book editornwhen he (or more recently, she) putsnon the cover something like the threevolumencollected letters of Jack Londonn(Stanford University Press).nThe Times cannot make such anwork sell at a truly commercial pace.nNor can its silence stop a chain-backednhot property from having a very goodnrun. What the Times can do is, asnnnnoted, affect the process by which thencountry makes up its collective mindnabout a book. But even here, though itnis by far the loudest voice on the jury, itnis demonstrably not the only one; and Insee no reason to believe that its influencenis growing.nI turn now to the politics of booknreviewing.nLiterary politics is of two sorts: literarynpolitics property so called; andnpolitical politics on the book page.nLiterary politics is the sort of thingnreferred to under the heading “ThenEthics of Book Reviewing” in the LosnAngeles Times’ “Practical Guidelinesnfor Reviewers.” Thus: “If you receivenfor review a book by a friend or annenemy, please notify the Book Reviewnimmediately. The presumption shouldnbe that you will not review the book innquestion. Exceptions will occasionallynbe made, but please do not make ansilent and private exception for yourself.nThere are books enough andnreviewers enough that old allies and oldnantagonists need not review one another’snwork.”nThe alliances and antagonisms intendednare, obviously (at least I hope itnis obvious), of the personal sort. If itnwere not so, then anyone who hadnwritten a book like the one undernreview could be considered a rival andntherefore an antagonist; in the end allnnovelists could be barred from reviewingncurrent fiction. And yet, even asnsuch extremes are rejected, it may benacknowledged that the fit between reviewernand reviewed can sometimes bentoo exact. As a New York publicity directornonce cracked,” If you’ve got a booknabout helicopters. The New York Timesnwill get a helicopter to review it.”nThe disqualification rule becomesnmost problematical where literary politicsnbecome political politics on thenbook page, for here more than elsewherenit is crucial that the voices ofnadvocacy and antagonism, as well asnthose of detachment and neutrality,nshould be heard. Take the fight out ofnpolitics, and you take the politics out ofnpolitics.nLet me offer some examples.nOn March 18, 1989, the Los AngelesnTimes Book Review published anreview oi Destructive Generation: SecondnThoughts About the ’60s by radicals-turned-conservativenPeter Colliernand David Horowitz. Our reviewernSEPTEMBER 1989/47n