I go down to the main editorial building of the Cleveland Plain Dealer every couple of months to go through and select pre-publication books to review for the paper. But the last time I went--just last week--will be the last time I will go to that location, for the paper, much diminished these days, is moving to some other sites. The books editor--Joanna Connors--will have a new home--out at the building near I-480 and the airport, the place where the paper is actually printed.
When we first moved to the Greater Cleveland area in 1956 (I was about to enter 7th grade), the paper was a massive institution in the region--in the state, actually. Reading the Sunday paper was a ritual in our house. After church we would spread out the sections (Dad and Mom had first dibs) and spend much of the afternoon going through it. It was heavy, that Sunday paper, and carrying it in from the street was no simple task for a wuss like me.
A few years later, I was amazed that I knew someone who wrote for the paper. A Hiram College English professor--Abe C. Ravitz (who would later become my favorite professor)--did book reviews for the paper, and it was always a thrill to see his name and the little blurb that said something like Ravitz is a Professor of English at Hiram College. I saw him all the time around Hiram (a very, very small town), and I always felt I sort of deserved a little of his glitter, for I lived in Hiram, too--and my dad taught at the college! Nonsense, of course. But I was in junior high.
Skip ahead to 1983. That was when the Plain Dealer created something it called "The Board of Contributors"--local writers who would contribute op-ed pieces to the paper about once/month. I put my name in the hat--and was thrilled when I was one of the 30 members of the Board whom the paper selected. I wrote op-ed pieces for them very regularly until the Board idea sort of fizzled out--and then the op-ed section shrank--and then I was in the PD much less often.
In 1999, I began doing book reviews for Kirkus Reviews--and after I'd done a good number of them, I contacted the PD about writing for the paper. After some false starts and spinning wheels, I wrote my first review in 2000--and have been doing so ever since. I'm not sure how many--well over 150, I'd guess.
The trip down to the editorial offices in the PD's new building was always a thrill. See photo! When I first started going there, the place was filled with reporters and editors and photographers, all floors.
And then ... the Internet. And generations of young people who don't read the newspaper. And declining ad revenues. And declining subscriptions. And ... a sad novel with multiple chapters all over the country. The PD moved into smaller parts of the building; other tenants took over the bigger, more attractive parts. And when I was there last week, most everyone was gone. Scattered to new venues. Joanna Connors was there, packing up and readying the "book room" to move to its new location. I felt as if I'd walked into a funeral home ... during a wake with no lilt of memories.
Book review space in newspapers is diminishing all over the country. The Plain Dealer recently cut its coverage from two pages to one on Sunday (there are no daily reviews anymore), so PD readers see three reviews/week instead of six (or more). (And, as many of you know, the PD does not publish a physical paper every day--though they do publish each day to the web.)
As I drove home from the paper last week, I felt enormous sorrow--for the professional staff of the paper (and for everyone else who labored there), for the city of Cleveland (whose paper clings to life only by static electricity), for readers of books in Northeastern Ohio. And for myself, too, for the weight of the loss is heavy, even for a freelancer like me, a fan of newspapers (we take three dailies), a lover of books, a lover of the printed word.
Things will not return to be as they were. This is a lesson life teaches us, over and over and over again.