I have no problem with the New York Times Book Review stamping an individual staff editor’s vision all over one particular issue. But I am not crazy with the results achieved in today’s Book Review, brought to you by Rachel Donadio.
I think it’s cool to have one staffer compose the editor’s note, the back page essay and a significant article. Unfortunately, I think Donadio serves up three duds in a row.
Her back page essay contemplates the question of whether or not fiction is dead. This is a boring and pointless question which can only lead to ponderous and solipsistic answers (and so it does).
Taking the “ponderous” thing further, Donadio also contributes a breathy, overly respectful interview with V. S. Naipaul’s aura, in which the acclaimed (and boring) author tells us that Islamic fundamentalism is an issue we need to think about (wow), and that Joseph Conrad is overrated.
This is also preceded by a cutesy editor’s note (“Up Front”, on page 4) in which Donadio tells the usual cutesy anecdote about the revered author’s cutesy wife and humble cottage. How many times do we have to hear a new version of this anecdote, whenever a famous author is interviewed?
Heaping the insults further upon us readers, the most annoying article in today’s Book Review is Brad Leithauser’s condescending swipe at the work of Ted Kooser, a poet we’ve grown to like here at Lickicks.
Leithauser quotes some Kooser verses he considers soapy and sentimental, and tells us that some of Kooser’s cheerful imagery recalls a sales clerk telling customers to “have a nice day”.
Okay, but Rachel Donadio’s opener was pretty soapy too. So the Book Review better watch what it says.
There are also a couple of good moments buried within today’s NYTBR. Jean Thompson’s brief review of Jim Harrison’s “The Summer He Didn’t Die” is brisk and informative and makes me want to run out and start reading. Liesl Schillinger, who annoyed me greatly last week, is back in my good graces with a funny, vivid synopsis of two similarly titled new novels in the divorced-chick-lit category, “The Starter Wife” by Gigi Levangie Grazer and “The Starter Marriage” by Kate Harrison. I’m not likely to ever read either book, but I did enjoy reading the review.
And, Michael Knight’s appreciation of “Magic For Beginners”, an apparently odd book of suburban absurdist horror, easily grabbed my interest. I’d like to learn more about this author, who has been snubbing mainstream publishers and promoting herself via her indie company, Small Beer Press.