10 Things You Didn’t Know about How the NY Times Book Review Works

“Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, hopped on reddit yesterday afternoon to answer questions about the Book Review and the recently published list of their editors’ picks for the 10 best books of the year. In addition to recommending a number of great books and writers (Nora Ephron, Christopher Hitchens, George Orwell, George Eliot, and more), dubbing Colson Whitehead one of the greatest novelists of our time, and suggesting that, of the Times‘s Top 10, a Trump supporter might most enjoy The North Water, Paul shed a little light on how things work at the Book Review (a question that some of us have been asking ourselves lately!). Below, find a few things you may or may not have known about how books are assigned, reviewed, and considered for the year-end lists of the paper of record.

Way more books come out every year than you think.

‘The Book Review at The Times reviews about 1% of the books that come out in any given year.’

Planning for the Year-End Notable Books List starts in January.

‘Basically, the entire year is a winnowing process that culminates in the 10 Best Books. We start thinking about it in January. As we see books that we think are true standouts, we put copies aside so that all editors can read through contenders throughout the year, and weigh in. Books come on and off that list of contenders, and in the course of the year, we check in on it periodically and update it, depending on how people respond to individual titles. Toward the end of the year, around October, the process becomes more intense. I would describe the overall system as democratic, with a decisive wielding of the autocratic sword at the end. Ultimately, hard decisions have to be made, and not every editor at the Book Review will end up with all his or her favorites on the final list, but will hopefully have at least one book he or she lobbied hard for make the final cut.’

‘Each week, we go through the previous issue and denote certain books as ‘Editor’s Choices’—these are the 9 books we especially like from that issue. At the end of the year, we pull together all of our Editor’s Choices and narrow them down to 100 Notable Books of the Year—50 fiction and 50 nonfiction. From those, we pick the 10 Best.’

The Book Review editors are probably hanging out right now.

‘At The New York Times Book Review, we have no staff critics—we are all editors and we sit together and we talk all the time. I like to get up and walk around and have actual-human-contact with people. Our staff critics at The Times mostly work from home, though they do come in and we do talk to them, often on the phone. We are all people who like to talk about books, and having conversations around them—what books are you seeing, what looks good, what are you hearing, what do you like—are things we could talk about all day. Except we also have to read. And write. And edit.”

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