Reviewing the Review: August 14 2005

Today’s New York Times Book Review is nowhere near as annoying as either of the last two.

The front cover promises William Vollman on Nietzsche and Francine Prose on Eudora Welty, and that’s a good start. Vollmann and Nietzsche ought to go together like peanut butter and jelly, and in fact they have a lot to talk about (Vollmann also occasionally mentions the book he is reviewing, Friedrich Nietzsche by Curtis Cate). I have a feeling Vollmann could write several volumes about Nietzsche, but the short primer he presents here is useful and interesting.

I also learned a few things from Prose’s prose on Welty — like the fact that Eudora Welty was a copy editor for the New York Times Book Review itself in 1944. I’d love to see the archives from that year; in fact, I hope the NYTBR will follow the lead of the New Yorker and start publishing their archives in trade book form. Let’s get that book out already.

I enjoyed A. O. Scott’s witty review of Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park (“Ellis does not seem especially interested in changing anyone’s low opinion of him, preferring to perform a pre-emptive character assassination on himself”). It’s a respectful review and mainly a positive one. I’m reading Lunar Park myself now and I will certainly have more to say about it soon.

There’s a decent amount of fiction coverage, and I’m going to be looking out for books by Edie Meidav, Xinran and Mary Anne Mohanraj for bookstore skimmage and possible purchase.

This Book Review’s one false note — but a loud false note — is Dan Chaisson’s overly worshipful review of Migration, the career collection of poet W. S. Merwin. We hear stuff like this: “What replaced them … were distilled lyrics, unpunctuated, employing a new sit of stripped integers: bees, larks, dust, streams”. What happened to Mopsy and Cottontail? And what the hell does that even mean? We also hear a poem described as “the sort of Yeats poem Berryman would have written to impress R. P. Blackmur”. Check, I was thinking the same thing. The Book Review lost me on this article, but the rest of it holds up just fine.

3 Responses

  1. I’m afraid to answer, knowing
    I’m afraid to answer, knowing that I am speaking to the inventor of Henry James Chili and D. H. Lawrence Corned Beef Hash. I know what’s coming, if I say anything at all.

  2. Boysenberry JamI must say I
    Boysenberry Jam

    I must say I think seedless boysenberry jam is the greatest food on the face of the Earth. Goes great with peanut butter.

    I went to the NY Times and read the article about the guy who wrote Less Than Zero. I did this only because I’d seen you’ve been reviewing the review. It was interesting to see how he’s marketing himself and being marketed. I went to the web site even of Jayne Payne.

    It seems to me rather than fictionalizing his life he is fictionalizing his fiction with him as the fictional character wherein the fiction is that he is not a fictional character.

    It seems that TV has been there first. Seinfeld was the pioneer. Jerry Seinfeld wasn’t really a guy in New York with friends George and Kramer and Elaine, but that was Jerry Seinfeld’s name and ostensibly Jerry Seinfeld was playing himself etc…

    Then there was Drew Carey, Andy Richter, George Lopez and virtually every TV sitcom has the same premise.

    This fictionalizing a real person as if they are a real character being written about but what is written about them is fiction seems to be a trend as well. A few posts ago I made a cryptic comment about Michael Chabon and CB Colby. Chabon has been lecturing that a well known children’s writer named CB Colby was in reality a former Nazi propagandist who pretended toa be jewish camp survivor to escape prosecution, and with the help of a former actual concentration camp survivor whom he met in Europse after the war and married, moved to the US and pulled off the scam, by, among other things, putting on a fake camp tattoo. To make matters worse, the real Nazi, fake jewish holocaust survivor turned children’s book author wrote a book called the Book of Hell which was his initially critically acclaimed memoir of the horrible life in the camp.

    OK, it sounds like a story for his next novel, but the problem is CB Colby was a real author who wrote the books Chabon attibutes to him. But there is no “Book of Hell”, no person who did any of the things attibuted to the very real CB Colby, author of the classic “Strangely Enough”.

    Easton makes the drug addled character himself, at least. Chabon is making the rotten fictional character based on someone else who is real (or was, since he’s passed away — nice way to avoid a slander suit).

    Also, I note how much the B&W pub photo of Easton reminds me of old pub photos of Kerouac in the Town and City time period. Are publishing house going retro or have they simply still used the same standard official author shot approach after 50 years.

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