Reviewing the Review: August 7 2005

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.

3 Responses

  1. Informative!I would rather

    I would rather read Asher’s review than the NYTBR.

    Ms. Donadio reads more fiction than this poster who’s very curious about her solipsistic answers because the Great Firewall, or the one at this internet cafe, denies access to all the interesting Google matches. Declaring fiction dead seems something a BBS troll would do rather than a NYBTR reviewer because as long as people breathe, they’ll talk bullshit, the essence of fiction with a certain degree of a believability factor. Bad bullshit is any declaration of the demise of the novel or short story.

  2. Ted KooserThere is nothing
    Ted Kooser

    There is nothing wrong with a sentimental approach as long as it’s not recycled syrup. I think these two poems by Kooser stand solid and self-assured:

    Flying at Night

    Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
    Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
    like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
    some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
    snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
    back into the little system of his care.
    All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
    tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

    In January

    Only one cell in the frozen hive of night
    is lit, or so it seems to us:
    this Vietnamese caf

  3. Thanks, WW. Rachel Donadio’s
    Thanks, WW. Rachel Donadio’s essay did conclude in the end that fiction isn’t quite dead (just in a coma, apparently, and on life support). It’s not clear whether she’s talking about fiction as a business model for large publishing companies, or fiction as a personal force in the lives of millions of readers. It probably is true that fiction doesn’t perform very consistently as a revenue generator for mainstream publishers. But, just from my little vantage point here in LitKicks Tower, I know for an absolute fact that fiction remains completely alive, vibrant and exciting in the minds of people who love books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!