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Salman Rushdie steps up to the plate for new media

Readers of this space will know that a favourite hobby of book reviewers is publicly agonizing over the apparent decline of their craft. One of the most keen proponents of this view is former Los Angeles Times editor Steve Wasserman, who presided over a panel this weekend in New York that shared his dour perspective, reports The New York Observer. The event was reportedly as dreary as it sounds – that is, until a surprise appearance by a bona fide literary star.

Then, just as the post-discussion wine and cheese party was getting underway, a heavy-set, distinguished-looking man walked in the front door of the bookstore and strode towards the stage. “Is that Salman Rushdie?” someone said, eyeing the back of the man’s bald head. “Yes,” came the answer. And it was!

Here’s what Rushdie had to say about the newspaper review, more or less echoing Wasserman’s opinion that shorter reviews are proportional to their declining quality:

“It’s difficult if you just look at the newspapers now,” he said, “and remember how much more attention, how much more space was given to books in the very recent past. Many newspapers used to give three, four times the amount of space to books than they now do.”

But unlike Wasserman, Rushdie sees salvation in “the new media” – i.e., blogs:

“I think it’s rather unfortunate that some of the coverage tries to pitch print reviewing against the new media. I think they complement each other very well.”

The negative coverage Rushdie is referring to might be the media blitz surrounding the new book by Andrew Keen, a failed Internet entrepreneur and author of The Cult of the Amateur, a vituperative screed best summed up by its subtitle: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture. In it, Keen describes the blogosphere – and more generally, all facets of the digital age – as a forum where “ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.”

What’s peculiar is how the book came across this Quillblogger’s desk: It was handed out to journalists last week at a press conference hosted by Indigo, which launched a social networking community on its website on Sunday.

Apparently, Indigo isn’t afraid of acknowledging its critics.