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Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2003 / 14 Kislev, 5764

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports


Book lovers are losing a good read


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Or, more specifically, if you're looking for a magazine devoted solely to books, you can try Pages, "The magazine for people who love books," or Bookmarks, which is "For everyone who hasn't read everything," or plain old Book.


Actually, you'd better hurry if want plain old Book, because the November-December issue, with Toni Morrison on the cover, is its last.


Founded in 1998, and by far the best looking and most sophisticated of the trio, Book was, as the cover proudly says, "Presented by Barnes & Noble." It was a reliable place for book nuts in search of industry news, author interviews and honest book reviews.


But the world's biggest book chain, which owned 50 percent of Book, pulled the plug when the subscription base — which had been artificially bloated by promotions to more than 1 million — fell this year to its natural level of about 190,000.


Too bad. Book nuts now are left with Pages and Bookmarks.


Bookmarks has some good ideas and a youthful exuberance. It has a friendly, inclusive attitude toward its readers and their opinions. And it was named one of the best new magazines of 2002 by the Library Journal. But it's got some issues to work out if it's going to survive for long.


It is only a year old, based in Northern California and priced at $30 a year. Its November-December issue is besmirched with a couple of embarrassing typos in a letter from Kurt Vonnegut, and it is in desperate need of more sophisticated, more orderly graphics.


Its "What one book" feature, which seeks book recommendations from experts in a narrow field such as jazz, is a good idea. So is the magazine's intent to cover classic books and their authors, as it does in depth with Ernest Hemingway.

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Bookmarks' core content, a roundup of reviews of dozens of the latest books, is valuable. It includes more than 30 fiction and 20 nonfiction reviews. Some, like Jonathan Lethem's "Fortress of Solitude," take up two full pages. They are informative, critically honest and include as many as 12 quotes and star ratings from newspaper and magazine critics.


Pages — which comes out of San Diego, is priced at $16 a year and sports Amy Tan on its cover — is no Book. But it is heftier, more staid and loaded with full-page ads from major publishers.


Full of news briefs and well-written feature articles on teen books, it profiles the likes of Stephen King and P.D. James and resembles a typical magazine, not a digest of listings and reviews.


In fact, if you're looking for a critical review or a reliable ratings guide to help you determine if a book is a winner or a stinker, forget Pages, which often reads like a publicity arm of the publishing industry.


It apparently is only for people who love books so much they can't stand to see a critical word about a single one of them.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald