Saturday, February 23, 2008

New Tabloid-Sized San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

The new tabloid-sized San Francisco Chronicle Book Review arrived on my doorstep today, and I must pronounce it a success.

The Chronicle’s editors reduced the size of the section to save printing costs, but it has the unintended consequence of making the review feel more intimate and cohesive. Editor Oscar Villalon has taken the opportunity to introduce some fun, bright features to the review, like a literary cartoon drawn by Lisa Brown, a children’s book author and the wife of Daniel Handler, and a section called “Blurbs.” In the February 24th edition, the Blurb section asks writers Anne Lamott and Jack Bouleware to name the best book that features San Francisco.

There is also a new section named “Lit Pics” where the editors recommend previously reviewed titles. In another addition, kids reflect on the best books they have read recently. There are still literary listings but they get a pick-me-up with a column named "In Town" which highlights some author talks. The Chronicle’s best-seller lists are also there.

Of course, it would be great if the book review got an extra two pages. There are four major reviews in the section and five shorter reviews of books for young readers. That’s around the same number of reviews that have been appearing in the old broadsheet format. It’s hard to imagine that adding a few more pages would cost a lot, but apparently it does.

Last note: The cover reviews are of Philip Fradkin’s new biography, Wallace Stegner and the American West and Irving Yalom’s book Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death. Both books were praised.

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