The Electronic Age: Where Have All the Columnists Gone?

I have tried. I do not succeed, but I try. I sporadically attempt to interpret the nuances of social media. The deterioration of the language in tweets so annoyed me that I canceled the account, but I do “like” the beautiful if meaningless photos on Bookstagram. I also “like” blogs–for the reason that “likes” have become more common than comments.

Veronica Cartwright in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

Sometimes I feel like Nancy (played by Veronica Carter) in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Nancy is the sole survivor of a cadre of four resisters because she learns to imitate the man-eating-plant body snatchers’ walk and to repress human emotions. I may elude the Body Snatchers of Walking Smart Phones by pressing a tablet to my ear and pretending to have a call.

Jean Kerr, author of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Snake Has All the Lines, & Penny Candy.

No, really, I do not belong to this era. I would have preferred the age of domestic satire (the 1930s-1960s) – and then, thank God, I would have missed out on the pandemic. But where have all the domestic columnists gone? I love the Provincial Lady, Mrs. Tim, Betty MacDonald, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Emily Kimbrough, Shirley Jackson, and Jean Kerr. There are no such writers in the 21st century.

I also miss the era of book columns. There used to be a book column on every newspaper’s book page. I was startled last year when J.C. (James Campbell) contributed his last N.B. column to the TLS. I still miss it: it was a cozy weekly ritual to read it with a cup of tea. His replacement, M.C., works hard but lacks charm. He/she is improving. The past is past.

There are very few book columnists left. Here are three of the best of the last.

  1. The novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby is still penning “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” for the Believer. So much fun to read, and his latest column will make you desperate to read Kevin Wilson.
  2. If you’re not familiar with John Warner, the Biblioracle columnist at the Chicago Tribune, do what you can to get through the paywall. He was inspired by seeing a copy of Leon Uris’s Trinity in a Little Free Library to write the following witty column: “We’re not reading as much Leon Uris and James A. Michener — and that’s a good thing.”

He writes, “When I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, writers like Uris, John Jakes (“North and South”), James Michener, and James Clavell (‘Shogun”), reliably pumped out epic historical novels that served as definitive texts of a particular time and culture. Uris was also my main source of information on the state of Israel, via another best-seller from the ’50s, “Exodus,” that endured as a strong selling book well into my childhood.”

  1. Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Washington Post Book World, writes a weekly column (billed as a review, but actually a wonderful column that will introduce you to books you’ve never heard of).

Do you have any favorite columnists? Perhaps there are some in women’s magazines… It’s a strange world.

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