In an age of quick reads, Bookmarks is for those who take reading seriously. The bulk of the book is devoted to summaries of published reviews, gathered and synopsized into neat bundles. Thinking of buying "Pygmy," the newest from Chuck Palahniuk? Well, here on page 38 is a brief plot outline, excerpts of six reviews ranging from the U.K.'s Guardian to The New York Times, and -- most useful of all -- a "Critical Summary" that slices and dices and aggregates the best of the informed opinions.
Just as Orbitz pulls together 10 hotel deals onto a single screen, so Bookmarks amasses and catalogues current literary criticism. It's a niche that many readers clearly believe needs to be filled. In fact, no less a fan than the late Kurt Vonnegut is quoted on the magazine's Web site, gushing in part, "nowhere else have I found such thoughtful and literate reporting on the state of the American soul."
There are rules to this scheme. Bookmarks pledges not to give away crucial plot points, and goes to great lengths to explain its editorial reluctance in providing a collective rating system for new books. But there's a caveat: "There is no substitute for reading the book yourself and forming your own opinion."
Up in the front of the book is a cool section dubbed "Have You Read?," in which subscribers send in their own reading lists and mini-reviews. Yet can it really be coincidence that the two readers selected for this issue -- from San Pedro, Calif. and Corydon, Ind. -- are both retired librarians? Similarly, "Book Group" provides in-depth profiles, in this case of the Smarty Pants Book Club, so named because its members actually get together and discuss, you know, the book at hand.
But Bookmarks isn't all bite-sized and anecdotal. The four-page feature on Jorge Luis Borges, definitively and aptly described as "the master of the postmodern short story," is a compelling read in which Andrew Benedict Nelson makes a convincing case that postmodernism itself is best expressed in the shorter form -- what he terms "a powerful intellectual kick at 20 pages." Readers of Bookmarks no doubt will find added metaphorical meaning in reading about "Library of Babel," a Borges story "where the sheer quantity of books has deprived them of all meaning." Indeed.
The "Contemporary Authors" feature in this issue focuses on the novelist Lisa See, and provides detailed summaries and reviews of her collected works, as well as a Q&A about her latest, "Shanghai Girls." A similar but shorter profile focuses on Martin Clancy, the Canadian author of the debut novel "How to Sell."
So is there any reason to find fault with Bookmarks? Well, yes. The big names and the big books get plenty of ink, from Alice Hoffman to John Updike to Anita Brookner. But what Bookmarks does so well it should do more often: namely, exposing lesser-known authors to a wider audience. Many writers complain the major book reviews and chain bookstores have something of a stranglehold on the industry, and funnel a relatively select few works through the distribution chain. To its credit, Bookmarks offers insights into books that otherwise might remain below the radar -- but bumping up the ratio of pages devoted to unknown authors would give readers something they won't find in any other magazine.
And therein lies the rub. Ultimately Bookmarks induces its own sort of ennui. Ironically, you come to realize there are so many books. Heck, there are so many magazines. And you've got absolutely nothing saved for retirement, so you'll finally have the time to read them all.
Published by: Bookmarks Publishing, LLC
Frequency: 6 times per year
Web site: www.bookmarksmagazine.com