One More Friend Gone
I learned this morning that Eden Ross Lipson had died http://tinyurl.com/ry43dw. Eden was the longtime editor of reviews of books for young readers in the New York Times Book Review. She was the doyenne (I just looked it up, the female form of "doyen": "a person uniquely skilled by long experience in some field") of all matters related to children and books at the Times. Though it was just a bit before my time, older editors I met told me that the reputation of the TBR (Times Book Review) had suffered under George Woods, who was thought to be too cosy with his friends in publishing. Eden came in like something between a wild west sheriff and Victorian queen to establish a reign of elegance, propriety (not to say prissy in taste, but ethics and standards in the conduct of the TBR), and one might even say distant majesty to the review. To be reviewed in the TBR, to have a book selected on its 10 Best Illustrated Books, was to join, for that moment the world of the Times itself — intellectual, gifted with taste, yet urban, wise about the world. Eden always hosted the 10 Best ceremony, as waiters brought around chilled shrimp she would talk about the work of the committees, the glories of the winners, but also always about how many books were to given away and used in schools.
As I write this Eden is sounding more Upper East Side than she was. After she retired I ran into her at some lefty play in the East Village — I think she lived near there. Her son, I recall her telling me, was a big fan of Stephen Sondheim and his brilliant/challenging lyrics. She was all of what New York is, not really Upper Crust at all. If I can think of one children’s author who most reminds me of Eden’s TBR it is Karla Kuskin, or maybe the line quality of Peter Sis.
Eden and I had a long-running disagreement, which actually was not between her and me so much as between the TBR and the YA world. I was also asking for more reviews of books for teenagers. She (as well as Charles McGrath, then overall editor of the Review) said that their real readership was grandparents looking to select gifts for younger kids — which also meant the few children’s publishers who supported the Review with ads were pushing big holiday gift books. They were surely right. But I always felt that the TBR also defined — and wanted the role of defining — what good literature was. It set a standard, and by not reviewing much YA, they implied it was not deserving of serious attention. That dispute faded — YA rose in the world, in stores, and in the pages of the TBR. But, at the same time, book reviews all across the nation have faded, the TBR has shrunk, publishers buy even fewer ads. Julie Just now runs the children’s section, and she has the benefit of Eden’s long reign: she no longer has to clean up Dodge City — the Review’s reputation is in tact. She seems open to reviewing all manner of books, but like all journalists, especially book reviewers, she has fewer pages, less opportunity, and the shadow of a changing digital world.
So yet another goodbye, this time to Eden. Strange in a way — Craig the publisher, Eden the reviewer — they were an era together, and passed away together. Goodbye.