As my brother also points out, Publishers Weekly is reporting that Steve Wasserman is likely leaving the Los Angeles Times.
Wasserman came to the LAT eight years ago after a career at Times Books and NY publishing, bringing a flash of intellectualism to the paper. But he has also reportedly had a number of run-ins with supervisors who saw the section he ran as being overly highbrow.
I don't know Wasserman personally, though I've shaken his hand a few times and muttered beneath my breath how odd it is that he always wears that white suit during the book festival, but my sense from the book review has always been that he doesn't know who his audience is. Authors will always be disappointed with the amount of reviews a newspaper gives, the homogeneity of the genres (When was the last time a romance novel was reviewed in the LA Times? Or the New York Times for that matter?) represented, the level of snark and overall timeliness. This author is no different, though I have to say that I find the daily book reviews in the Calendar section more interesting, timely, and well-written than those that appear on Sunday. Sunday is top-heavy in nonfiction and exceptionally light on fiction, even lighter on genre fiction as my brother points out, too, and generally not all that interesting to read. What I like about the NY Times Book Review is that, for all its warts, you can read it. There's entertainment in the writing, essays, features, and, generally, a disparate field of books reviewed.
I consider myself a fairly well read person and I figure that most of the people who read the LA Times Book Review are as well. On any given Sunday, however, I can flip through the pages of the Review and not recognize the majority of the authors or books, and this is from a person who typically stays abreast of these things. Perhaps Wasserman wants his reading public to be smarter; there's no harm in that, certainly, but at some level the Review should resemble the people who read it. And in Los Angeles, I believe that means fiction.
Of course, this brings into question the larger issues of relevance and where Sunday Book Reviews still fit in this burgeoning world of blogs and websites, where reviews and reviewers are typically more timely and often more incisive and have the potential to reach larger audiences. The cache of a review in the NY Times or LA Times or Washington Post still matters to authors, or at least this one, because that's what I grew up seeing. And perhaps Wasserman's exit from the LA Times will auger a shift towards a more vibrant sense of reviewing, if indeed his exit is imminent. I'm heartened somewhat by what seems to be a shift in the industry, perhaps best exemplified by Sarah Nelson taking over Publishers Weekly, that seems to show that the times are changing and new ideas on how to review and cover books need to be examined. Even still, if Wasserman stays, the Book Review needs a make-over that allows it to be as compelling and entertaining as their trademark event, the Book Festival, which somehow manages to marry high brow literacy and whimsy in one package.