The literary centerpiece of today’s New York Times Book Review is a two-page spread of poetry reviews. Ten books are meticulously considered, bestowing much-needed attention on authors like Adrian Castro, Arthur Sze and Patricia Ferrell and small presses like Graywolf, Sarabande and Copper Canyon.
As a guy who loves poetry, I should be pleased by this, but something about the format doesn’t work. Each review by Joshua Clover and Joel Brouwer is fairly well-written, but together they add up to a dreadfully boring page, and it’s a big struggle to chew through it all. There’s no shape to the assembly, no emphasis, no variation. I give the New York Times Book Review credit for devoting so much paper to this form (let’s face it, poetry doesn’t sell books and it doesn’t sell newspapers either). But there must be a better way they could be using this space.
On the more satisfying front, there’s a fascinating review by John Simon of Richard Schickel’s new extensive biography of theatre director and filmmaker Elia Kazan (I really want to read this book) and an engaging review by Terrence Rafferty of John Banville’s The Sea. Rafferty agonizes and wrestles with himself over whether or not he approves or disapproves of Banville’s theatrical ponderousness, and in the end I’m not sure which side lands on top. But John Simon and Terrence Rafferty both know how to write, and they make today’s issue a bearable one.
Finally, cartoonist Rick “Animal House” Meyerowitz shows up with a funny endpaper depicting other books lit-critic Dale Peck might write now that he’s published his first children’s book (“America: It’d Be Better Without The People”, “Yoga: Oh, Come On!”). It’s a funny page, but on the other hand I am really getting sick of the hype that continues to surround Dale Peck. I really don’t see why it’s so incredible that Peck once called Rick Moody the worst writer of his generation. Isn’t that the kind of thing a critic is supposed to say? What the hell have all the other critics been doing, if not criticizing?
Apparently it’s a monumental occurence when a literary critic removes the mask of politeness and speaks a harsh opinion. And they say there’s cronyism in the White House. Seriously, people, get over Dale Peck! And just for the record, there are many, many, many worse writers around than Rick Moody. Some of them are even sweeping up big awards.
Enough about all that. Speaking of the Moodmeister, there’s a lively interview with Robert Birnbaum in the current Morning News. Birnbaum and Moody kick around the literary biz, the Mets, memories of The Ice Storm and, oh yeah, Dale Peck.