Reviewing the Review: July 24 2005

Today’s New York Times Book Review gives us a lively, rich mix of titles, even if most of them are eventually dismissed with the Book Review’s trademark yawn.

The selections include a novelization of the Patty Hearst story, Trance by Christopher Sorrentino, which is described as following a Don DeLillo template but does not sound as exciting as it should be, and a story collection, We’re All In This Together by Owen King. Owen King is the son of Stephen, and is also apparently his lookalike (as evidenced by the accompanying photo) and his writalike (as evidenced by the description of the book). Based on this notice, we may expect Owen King to end up a no-hit wonder like Mark Vonnegut, David Updike and countless other literary nepotees, but who knows? The King family does specialize in surprise.

The cover article is about Cormac McCarthy’s new postmodern tale of bad guys chased by other bad guys, No Country For Old Men. There’s a great illustration, and Walter Kirn reviews the novel respectfully. However, I have tried to read Cormac McCarthy, and I don’t go for his brand of sinewy, cowboy-flavored literary beef jerky. I think I’ll pass on this book, but I may seek out “Star Dust” by Frank Bidart, a poetry collection that receives an exceedingly gentle and encouraging review by critic Langdon Hammer.

I always look for good, catchy writing in the Book Review, and sometimes I even find it. The most well-written article this week is Chelsea Cain’s consideration of the new Terry McMillan novel, The Interruption of Everything, which is snappy and fun (“Critics have been blaming pop culture for the ubiquity of the American knucklehead since before Paris Hilton was born …”). Litblogger Maud Newton writes fairly well in reviewing Josh Emmons’ The Loss of Leon Meed, but the performance is nonetheless disappointing; this may be the first appearance by a true independent litblogger in the Book Review (“so-and-so is an Editor at Salon” does not count), and I wish she didn’t play it so safe. I also can’t quite figure out, after twice reading the review, what the hell is going on in the book she is reviewing, and I’m not sure if this is a problem with the review or a flaw deeply inherent in the book. Either way, though, props to Maud Newton, one of the very best of the litbloggers, for showing up in this space.

A biograpy of Ray Bradbury, The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Welter, and an essay comparing Hillary Clinton to Mary Wollstonecraft round out today’s rather full and fairly satisfying issue of the Book Review.

4 Responses

  1. Eden ExpressI read Eden
    Eden Express

    I read Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut many years ago and was very impressed. It wouldn’t be fair to compare it to Kurt or to novelistic work of any kind in that Mark Vonnegut’s Eden Express was a memoir or autobiographical fragment about his schizophrenia.

    I remember how he described his schizophrenia so well that it made me think I was getting schizophrenia.

    Your mentioning Mark Vonnegut reminded me of this book I hadn’t thought of for more than a decade — yet I remember the scene where he was working in the forest and time slowed down so much and everything became like slow-motion which was the beginning of his full breakdown.

    And now, apropos of nothing, why did Michael Chabon slander the great classic American pulp non-fiction writer CB Colby as an escaped Nazi pretending to be a holocaust survivor?

  2. Good point — I didn’t mean
    Good point — I didn’t mean to dismiss Mark Vonnegut (I never actually read the book), but his name just came to mind when I was thinking of kids of famous writers. I wonder if this book is still in print — I’d like to check it out.

    I do think David Updike qualifies as a no-hit wonder, though (and I didn’t read his book either).

  3. yawn, indeedIf the New York
    yawn, indeed

    If the New York Times Book Review is itself one big yawn, which is a little obvious, it has no one to blame but the yawning, fawning people who run the thing. Every single time they review one of my books they never, ever bother to focus on the book when it’s much more fun to eviscerate my guts personally. They find me “disturbing.” At first, I was appalled. Now, I wear it like a badge. When my last book came out — GERONIMO’S BONES — I went to the publisher, and I said: “Look I have this book coming out that has a decidely Native American sensibility to it, and let’s be real, there is NO ONE associated with your newspaper who is even remotely qualified to comment on this book. I humbly ask you to NOT review it.”

    The publisher agreed.

    The Little Gnomes at the Book Review were miffed. Last I heard, I would never have lunch in their town again.

  4. Reviewed in the NYT Book
    Reviewed in the NYT Book Review or not (we don’t read it), the folks in my house are big fans of your books.

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