Reviewing the Review: August 21 2005

I haven’t yet read Chris Cleave’s new novel about modern terrorism in London, Incendiary, mainly because I haven’t yet heard a review enthusiastic enough to make me want to. The book gets another mediocre review from Ian Samson in the New York Times Book Review today, and Samson repeats the fact you’ll hear in every article about Incendiary: it was published on the day four bombs actually blew up in the London tube.

I don’t think that’s a whole lot to recommend a book. The fact that the book was published on July 7 doesn’t actually mean anything, and we should have better things than this to talk about. This points to a larger truth: four years after our planet entered a new age of urban terrorism, literature hasn’t contributed much to the discussion. As poets and writers, we really must begin speaking with a louder and clearer voice.

Rants about global politics aside, today’s Book Review is a fairly vanilla affair. Daphne Merkin does a decent job of telling us why we should care about a new biography of Depression-era one-hit-wonder Henry Roth (Call It Sleep, of course, being that one hit). I will look out for that book, and I may also look for Ellen Gilchrist’s collection of California hippie stories, Nora Jane, which sounds amusing even though critic Suzy Hansen ultimately condemns the book as deluded.

Elsewhere in the pages, The Tattoo Artist by Jill Ciment is faintly praised, and How To Be A Man by Thomas Beller is rudely overlooked with a capsule review.

Finally, there’s a funny endpaper essay by Charles Taylor about bookstore slouches who lounge at Barnes and Noble or Borders in such numbers that the aisles remind Taylor of the choked streets of Atlanta in the Civil War scenes of Gone With The Wind. The article has a few good laughs, and it’s about as good as today’s issue gets.

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