On the Road (to ruin) – on the diminishing returns of the book review

Jack Kerouac’s NYT review for On the Road made him famous overnight. Could that sort of thing ever happen on that sort of scale nowadays with the kids and their digital doodads and virtual hoohas and the social Twits and Faces and whatnot? Nar, says ye olde journo.

Looking back at this culture-shifting review, we might wonder whether such a moment can be replicated in our modern literary and journalistic landscape. The persuasive power of an individual review today is vastly diluted by the fragmentation of the media and the frantic chirping of cable channels, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and text messaging at all hours. Abbreviated attention moves on at an almost mindless speed. A trend rises and vanishes, all but forgotten before it ever sticks. A book and a book review — even if capturing a cultural turning point — today can’t help losing the competition for eyes to Twitter bursts and viral videos. One might wonder what social transitions are never noticed these days in all the noise.

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