David Orr tackles the popularization of poetry in today’s New York Times Book Review, outlining a controversy that’s been brewing between Garrison Keillor and several traditionalists. Keillor has published two anthologies of homespun-flavored poetry selections, enraging the academic, critical and publishing communities by committing the unspeakable crime of selling tons of books. It’s nice to begin a weekend morning with a David Orr column on poetry. I even like it that he dismisses Charles Bukowski and Raymond Carver as “soggy tough guy” poets — I think he’s completely wrong, but at least we’ve got something to argue about.
Why is it that the Book Review is always either excellent or terrible, with little in-between? The last two issues were dead on arrival, but this one springs to life with one vivid, clever piece after another. Somehow, each week’s critics seem to feed off each other’s energy, or lack thereof (perhaps through the magic of synchronicity, or maybe they just email drafts to each other).
There were so many well-written pieces today, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and just offer a few samples:
David Leavitt on the new Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature:
“… literature is not, as it is sometimes regarded today, a kind of immense vitamin, good for us if difficult to get down. It must also have a wild and vital flavor — of giant peaches, green eggs and ham, the gingerbread from which witches construct their houses.”
Sam Swope on Carl Hiassen’s young-adult novel about an environmental crime in Florida, Flush:
“Every now and then Hiassen stops the action to admire the turtles or the sky or the water, and in these moments you feel how much he cares about the natural world, but he never lets outrage get in the way of a good story. Or maybe he’s just found a way to channel his anger and at the same time inspire some youngster to action, for he sneaks an important message into this book that with any luck the censors won’t notice: sometimes breaking the law is the right thing to do.”
Daniel “Lemony” Handler on two illustrated children’s books, Whatever by William Bee and Terrific by Jon Agee:
“If you’re looking for moral lessons, you might check the latest finger-wagger by the pop star or the talk show host, with smarmy redunant artwork to match. William Bee and Jon Agee tackle their themes with smarts and surprise rather than an eye for what they might teach people shorter than themselves, traits that mark great work.”
Charles McGrath, former editor of the Book Review, on Mother’s Milk, a Waughian comedy of British manners:
“You can’t help liking these people, even as you realize that if they met you in real life they’d cut you dead.”
Wonkette Ana Marie Cox on A Time To Run, a work of fiction about a supreme court nomination battle by outspoken California Senator Barbara Boxer:
“… the Ellen we follow to this somewhat cynical end is blandly eaarnest, selfless, honorable, humble, caring and resolute. She is perhaps exactly what Democrats want in a candidate, though pretty much the opposite of what you want in a novel’s protaganist.”