Readers often puzzle over why a certain book or subject is ignored in this section while another is written about; or they discern—or think they discern—certain predilections in our coverage. Periodically we make explicit our prejudices, preferences, and aims. This section, like the magazine as a whole, seeks to discriminate. Our readers are bombarded with information every day, and more books are published in a week than most of our readers could get through in a year. We want to tell them which titles shouldn't be missed, which are unjustly neglected, and which we think should be ignored, though they may be widely praised elsewhere.
Although in some ways constraining, discrimination also liberates us. We assume that our readers look to this section as a critical organ rather than a news source—which means that unlike, say, The New York Times Book Review, we don't have to cover the waterfront. For example, we chose not to review Pat Barker's latest, because although she's an important novelist we admire, her most recent book happens to be very far from her best effort. Its review, we reasoned, would be unfavorable but, since it would also point to her obvious talent, would hardly be an evisceration; in other words, it would almost necessarily be equivocal and boring (that good novelists so often produce less than stellar novels largely accounts for the fact that fiction reviews are so often politely qualified and, well, dull). Instead, because life is short and one's reading time considerably shorter, we want to draw readers' attention to the best books, regardless of (original) publication date, which is why we review a fair number of reissues. We assume that readers want to know about Modern Library's new edition of George Gissing's previously all but unobtainable New Grub Street, for example, and Vintage's reprints of Somerset Maugham's novels—and not just what's of the moment. In fact, we think readers would rather hear about, say, Yale's reissue of Jerome Carcopino's vivid but scholarly Daily Life in Ancient Rome than about Thomas Cahill's widely reviewed, formulaic, and patched-together Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter.