Reviewing the Review: Sept 25 2005

Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for a Sunday New York Times Book Review today.

There were a few articles worth finishing, but I’m not sure any will turn out to be worth remembering. For instance, Walter Kirn’s summary of E. L. Doctorow’s promising civil-war novel “The March” spends interminable paragraphs working a snake metaphor (a snake is apparently what Sherman’s army was like as it marched through Georgia). The metaphor also inspires the issue’s cover art, but it doesn’t inspire me. In fact, I feel both the critic and the illustrator straining to find a theme. What’s the hook gonna be? The snake metaphor slithers through Walter Kirn’s entire article, and it reminds me of an ambitious but mediocre funeral speech I once heard where the rabbi had never met the guy who died.

There are a few mildly interesting pieces, like David Kirby’s summary of the life of an enigmatic poet from Michigan, Larry Joseph, and a notice of a new Nicholson Baker adventure, The World On Sunday (Nicholson Baker can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned). I may look at Nicola Barker’s Clear, Scott Bradfield’s Hot Animal Love, Elena Farrante’s Days of Abandonment or John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels next time I’m in a bookstore, thanks to a few competent reviews.

John Leonard contributes a fairly interesting iconography of James Agee, and there’s a boring endpaper by Nora Krug about the attitudes of major publishing companies towards fixing errors in books.

Not for the first time in recent memory, the best literary stuff in today’s New York Times isn’t found in the Book Review. There’s a funny Neal Pollack story in the Magazine, followed by a really touching piece by the always perceptive Joan Didion about the recent sudden death of her author husband John Gregory Dunne. The piece is surprisingly raw, perhaps even histrionic, as she describes her shock after her best friend’s death. I don’t usually shed a small tear on a Sunday morning, but I did feel happy to think that ol’ Dunne was loved so much at the end of his life. I wonder how often that can be said about a writer.

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