Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

The Critical I: Six Questions for Tom Walker


AS PART of an ongoing series, the NBCC will be talking to book editors and critics around the country. We recently caught up with Denver Post book editor Tom Walker from his post in the mile high city.

Q: So how long have you been thebook editor of the Denver Post, and how did you get your start in newspaper work?

A: I've been books editor at The Post since 1998, and I must say it's been the most enjoyable position I've held as a journalist. I broke into the business while a college senior as a sportswriter in 1971.

Q: Sportswriting is a type of journalism with lots of conventions — or cliches, or so it would seem by reading those Best American Sportwritingcollections. What are the cliches of book reviewing you try to avoid?

A: Good question…There are only a few that drive me up the wall. “So and So's book will keep you up all night” is one that doesn't make it through. Or, any sentence that uses the phrase “page-turner” is subject to the delete key. You get the picture.

Q: You have some great bookstores in Denver, and so there are lots of writers coming through. What makes you decide someone is worth an interview rather than a review? Or nothing at all?

A: It's usually a matter of variety. Who have we interviewed recently? For what kind of book? Of course, when some of the really big names come through, we'll either try to interview them ahead of their visit or catch them while they are here. Of course, if we've interviewed an author within the last couple of years, either on a swing through town or picked them up for a previous book, we'll take a pass on them. Sometimes, when the author is creating a stir, politically or otherwise, the news side will be interested in interviewing him or her. The Tattered Cover by itself can bring in 500-plus authors a year and they are not the only bookstore that brings in authors. It's just a matter of the math. We miss more than we get.

Q: What do you read during the week? Do you read along with the critics — flipping through the books that are being reviewed? Or are you more apt to be looking at what's come in recently?

A: I'm more apt to read things that are coming in with an eye toward either sending it to a critic or reviewing it myself. I don't back-read the reviewers, unless it's for my own pleasure because the reviewer made such a compelling case for reading the book. We are lucky in that we have a selection of really strong reviewers and I trust their opinions.

Q: What has to happen for you to add a new reviewer?

A: It doesn't happen very often, but when it does it's usually because they have convinced me — primarily via e-mail — that they would make a good addition to the books section because of something different they can bring to the table. It can be something as narrow as arcane knowledge or experience in the area being written about in a book we'd like to review or something as broad as a writing style that is different from what we've been running in the section.

Q: What reviewers outside your section do you read most regularly?

A: I don't have any favorites, really. I look more for the books that are being reviewed than the folks doing the reviewing. If I'm interested in reading other reviews, I'll look at several sources, probably the same sources everyone else looks at.