Reviewing the Review: October 9 2005

I wonder if there’s some kind of inter-office rivalry going on at 43rd Street in the eponymous Times Square, because it seems every section of the Sunday New York Times has been scooping the New York Times Book Review on literary stuff.

The Arts & Leisure section snapped Philip Roth up for the front page not too long ago, and Anne Rice and Richard Ford wrote op-ed pieces for Section A after Hurricane Katrina. The best reading you’re going to find in today’s New York Times is another op-ed piece, a simple and valuable tribute by Oscar Hijuelos to the late playwright August Wilson. As for this week’s Book Review, the cover features Joan Didion’s new The Year of Magical Thinking, which is a well-deserved placement since this hard-edged book about family, death and tragedy is practically an instant classic. The only problem is, the New York Times Magazine already knocked this ball out of the park with a Didion cover piece two weeks ago.

Maybe the internal competition will help kick the Book Review out of its slumber. Rachel Donadio summarizes Joan Didion’s career in a companion piece to this week’s cover book review by Robert Pinsky, but both Donadio’s article and Pinsky’s review seem overly drenched with praise for the recently grief-stricken Didion, and I think you’re better off just reading Didion’s book and skipping all this airy ephemera.

The issue also contains a decent endpaper by A. O. Scott appreciating Kurt Vonnegut, which is fine even though a hundred litblogs (including LitKicks) have been busily appreciating Kurt Vonnegut for years.

The situation improves when you turn to the fiction reviews. Chelsea Cain provides a few entertaining capsule summaries, Lucy Ellman completely tears into an apparently unsatisfying novel by Wendy Lesser, and Stacey D’Erasmo is much kinder to Joyce Carol Oates. It’s the fiction section alone that breathes life into today’s ponderous Book Review.

4 Responses

  1. questionThe Year of Magical

    The Year of Magical Thinking — this is nonfiction, yes?

  2. Yes — it’s about the death
    Yes — it’s about the death of her husband, the author John Gregory Dunne, and also about the sad illness of their daughter Quintana Roo (I always thought that was a great name). The story is told in a somewhat high-pitched, almost hysterical tone — the voice of a person in the midst of crisis — and I think it’s this tone that makes the book feel so unique. It certainly fits the subject matter. The sad subtext is that Quintana also died, after the book’s close.

  3. VonnegutI recently read a

    I recently read a piece on Vonnegut – was it in the Parade section of the newspaper? I don’t recall. Anyway, I remember thinking that he’s getting up there in years, but he’s still going strong – vocal/forthright as ever, far as politics goes. Then again, there’s a lot to be vocal/forthright about.

  4. Vonnegut is a great writer. I
    Vonnegut is a great writer. I heard that Levi saw him on the street but didn’t want to bother him. I don’t know if I would have that kind of restraint. I would have probably said something to him. But then again, I can be a pest.

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