New York Times Book Review Wants Writers to Talk It Out

A new feature in The New York Times Book Review aims to foster debate between writers. The inaugural post went live today with (gently) competing posts by Adam Kirsch and Zoë Heller.

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When Pamela Paul replaced Sam Tanenhaus as the editor of The New York Times Book Review last spring, the literary world expected big changes, from more bylines by women to a redesign (reportedly coming).

Paul has indeed put her imprint on the Book Review, though in true Timesian fashion, she has done so methodically. Last spring, staff editor John Williams was tapped to write the front-of-the-book Open Book column to offer "a window onto the literary landscape." Now comes perhaps her biggest change yet: a new backpage feature called Bookends, in which "two writers take on pressing and provocative questions about the world of books."

Williams introduced the feature as follows on Facebook:

The feature will appear in the Book Review but was posted on the Times website this afternoon. The inaugural post involves a debate between critic Adam Kirsch of The New Republic and novelist Zoë Heller. They debate whether "Novelists [Are] Too Wary of Criticizing Other Novelists."

[UPDATE: Book Review editor Jennifer McDonald tells The Atlantic Wire that Bookends will be "More a pairing of opinions than a "debate"—either way, stoking conversation."]

Other contributors will include Rivka Galchen, Mohsin Hamid, Anna Holmes (who was recently a guest editor of The Atlantic Wire), Daniel Mendelsohn, Pankaj Mishra, Francine Prose, Dana Stevens and Jennifer Szalai. It is not clear what the parings will be, or what topics will be debated.

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