It debuts this weekend, a welcome entry into a media landscape that has cut and killed literature from its pages as if books were a virus. As described in the opening announcement, the Slate Book Review is a monthly feature that will be "delivering reviews of the newest fiction and nonfiction; essays on reading, writing, and the great (and terrible) books of years gone by; author interviews; videos and podcasts; and much more." It is also, amazingly, featuring a different cartoonist each month to illustrate each issue, customizing the Slate Book Review logo anew as he or she finds fit.
I'm still making my way through the first issue, with artist Derf Backderf bringing it to life, so my opinion on still slides more toward hopeful than admiring or disappointed. Among the essays I'm intrigued by are Allison Benedickt's piece on "the mean-girl advice of What to Expect When You're Expecting" and a feature with an overwrought headline that is nonetheless by the smart June Thomas on the brilliant Jeannette Winterson. Elsewhere, John Leonard's criticism is evaluated, and Hari Kunzru's new novel is reviewed. It's not surprising to see the first issue dominated by Slate insiders (including Dana Stevens, who I usually love, as well as Thomas), but it'll be nice to see the Book Review used as an opportunity to bring more wide-ranging freelance voices to Slate. I also hope that international writing finds a place on Slate's pages.
Which brings to mind to other outstanding literary magazines that have new issues out this month. Words Without Borders, Open Letters Monthly, and World Literature Today are go-to publications for me, and both have persisted in the increasingly eclectic venture of the literary magazine and book review.
Words Without Borders has the Mexican Drug War as its theme this issue, with translated nonfiction by Carmen Boullosa ("a report from hell"), an interview with Sergio González Rodríguez on the intersection of the Mexican literary world with the drug war, fiction on "The Way to Juarez", and reviews of books by César Aira and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.
Open Letters Monthly, meanwhile, is celebrating "the critical issue." Its wealth of features examines the way critics have treated the work of Agatha Christie, Virigina Woolf's literary essays, Randell Jarrell as a reluctant critic, and how Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman both danced the line as critics and writers.
And World Literature Today is featuring international literary journalism this month, which editor Daniel Simon (see the Isak interview with him) crafts as a tradition linking Albert Camus with Anthony Shadid, the New York Times reporter who recently died in Syria. The magazine has what must be one of Shadid's final interviews, as well as an essay on Spain's female literary journalists, an examination of the "literary series" in Nigeria's national newspapers, and an interview with artist and writer (and Michigander) David Small (who you know I love). There's also a timeline of "running literature," and Greece is highlighted in the "What to Read Now" column.
As Slate pushes forward with its book review, it might consider examining the rigorous and non-traditional literary magazines -- two of which are online-only -- that have paved its way.