Kathleen Parker

Total book reading is also in decline, though not at the rate of literary reading. Between 1992 and 2002, the percentage of American adults who read any book dropped 7 percent, while literary reading (non-work-related reading of novels, short stories, poems or plays) dropped 14 percent, according to the NEA.

Reviews aren't just helpful to readers, but they also offer a higher quality of writing than readers typically find elsewhere in a newspaper. To read a review by the great Southern curmudgeon Florence King, who elevated book reviewing to a literary art form, was to wish the authors subjected to her scrutiny wrote as well.

Book reviews also aren't only about the book. They're about the conversation, the cultural dialogue and the marketplace of ideas. They're part of the human exchange that tells us who we are and that can't be duplicated on a book blog, a television interview or even by a tete-a-tete with Oprah.

Yet, as newspapers have lost advertising revenues and circulation has dipped, corporate owners have cut costs by eliminating the ``nonessential'' parts. First went the cartoonists, then the Sunday magazines and now the book sections -- all parts of the newspaper's soul.

It may be arguable that the soul is not essential to a body's functioning, but it's critical to what makes us human and that once made newspapers vibrant repositories of a community's values.

The loss of yet another book editor and the homogenization (or possible loss) of another review section may not cause the earth to shift on its axis, but it is symbolic of the devaluing of American letters. It is also symptomatic of a corporate culture that cares only about the bottom line and owes no allegiance to the immeasurable value of a community's uniqueness or the profit of an educated populace.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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