At a National Book Critics Circle program a few years ago, I asked the bow-tied panelist from the NYT Book Review why they had authors review books by their competitors. While exaggeratedly rolling and fluttering his eyes, he stated in condescending uber-George Plimpton tones distinctly at odds with his African-American looks, "Oh, we NEVER do that at The Times."
"Bushwah!" I thought, having recently read a smackdown in the Times of a first novel by the author of a similarly themed novel that just happened to be coming out that very same week.
And now we have John Dean of Watergate fame reviewing Mark "Deep Throat" Felt's memoir in the NYT. (See Rush & Mulloy piece in the June 9 NY Daily News & coauthor John D. O'Connor's letter to the NYTBR with reply from Dean.) Double bushwah!
What's next: Reviews of true crime novels by the criminals? Oh wait...we sort of have that already with the Dean review. Maybe some of the Bushies (Karl Rove? Dick Cheney?) could review books on global warming, or on the oil crisis, or on the rise of Christian conservatism. And Rumsfeld could review the next "Iraq is a mess" tome.
When I was reviewing for the Washington Post not so long ago, I had to sign a contract stating that I had no personal or professional relationship with the author of the book, didn't share an agent or publisher, nor had the author reviewed my work. And there are tales about a NY book review editor so strict, he/she (I forgot which), wouldn't assign a review if the reviewer had so much as shared an elevator ride with the author.
Oh brave new world...
And DON'T get me started on how few reviews are by women, or of books by women--even though women comprise more than 50% of the population and buy 80% of the books. The WashPost is just as guilty as the NY Times in this regard. Men generally review "serious" nonfiction (even when authored by females), while women get fiction, lite nonfiction and, of course, children's and YA. The pink collar thrives and is chafing more than ever.