Be sure to read Ilene Cooper’s review of Bob Woodward’s State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, which is the Review of the Day today. Talk about quick turnaround: Ilene bought the book on Friday and filed the review this morning. (In case you were on a media fast, leaks forced Simon & Schuster to release State of Denial a bit earlier than anticipated.)
Why did Booklist have to buy a copy of a book at the store like everyone else? More and more, book publishers like to build hype through embargoes. Sometimes an embargo simply means that we have to agree not to print our review before a certain date, but sometimes it means that they won’t send us a prepublication copy (going to the store is therefore faster than waiting for the U.S. Mail). This is most often employed for nonfiction books purporting great revelations, but it happens in the fiction world, too (see Rowling, J. K.) An embargo doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the quality of the book, but it’s an interesting side note that Hollywood will often release its turkeys without reviewer screenings in an attempt to fill theaters before bad word-of-mouth starts to build.
The many steps involved in publishing a magazine mean that, for us to publish a review before the book is published, we need to receive galleys about 15 weeks before the finished books hit the stores. If we receive a major work on the day it’s published–always frustrating–the soonest we can possibly get the review into print is four to six weeks later (and that’s if someone reads all night and the stars are aligned correctly). At that point, the review is irrelevant to the needs of many Booklist readers, so rather than compromise our pre-publication policy, we often choose not to review the book at all.
And that’s one of the very cool things about Booklist Online. Now we can review those late arrivals and still weigh in soon enough to have the review make a difference. And we’re now adding Booklist Online-exclusive reviews on a regular basis. In addition to State of Denial, there’s Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad about My Neck, Paul Burrell’s The Way We Were, Thomas E. Ricks’ Fiasco, and many, many more.
A print Booklist review is still a prerequisite to many Booklist honors, whether it’s inclusion in a Top 10 or winning Booklist Editors’ Choice. But as Bill Ott has pointed out before, the political books-of-the-moment don’t often tend to make those lists, regardless of when we receive them.