Reviewing the Review: April 8 2007

I’m starting to like William Logan, a poetry critic who’s been staking out controversial positions in the New York Times Book Review. He pissed me off a few weeks ago when he mugged an unsuspecting Hart Crane, but the outline of Logan’s mission is coming into clearer view with this week’s cover article on Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems. Eschewing the reverence too many critics would show for an aging Nobel laureate from St. Lucia, William Logan tells us exactly what he doesn’t like about Derek Walcott, and does so with a fair amount of bravado. Logan ultimately gives the Caribbean poet a begrudging pass, but the good thing about this type of criticism is that it leaves me wondering who Logan is going to take on next (and, also, which poets he favors).

Expert poetry criticism should be a core competency of the NYTBR, and in this sense I’m glad the editors are bringing William Logan in to beef up the crew. But, if Logan’s going to continue to write opinionated pieces like this, he’s got to sharpen his own stylistic toolkit. His gymnastic phrasings are ambitious and sometimes impressive, but none of them soar as smoothly through the air as, say, Liesl Schillinger’s, and a few of them land with flat feet and bent knees. For instance, Logan should know that an over-used quip like “Walcott never met a metaphor he didn’t like” is not fresh enough for the New York Times Book Review.

Actually, the editors should have known this as well. This isn’t Parade magazine, people. Anyway, I am glad to see William Logan flexing his muscles at the Book Review, and I’m looking forward to his next articles.

The afore-mentioned Schillinger considers Cultural Amnesia, a book of essays by popular British critic and all-around big talker Clive James, whose folksy style has been the target of much criticism from the likes of Gary Indiana in the Village Voice. Liesl likes this “British Bill Bryson” much better than some others do, though she finds him a bit exhausting and often sloppy. The only thing I’ve ever read by Clive James was a recent piece on Leni Reifenstahl right here in the NYTBR, and I thought it was outstanding. Gary Indiana doesn’t sway me on this one; based on that article and this review, I think I like the guy.

Speaking of Parade magazine, I am totally unconvinced that super-model Paulina Porizkova’s “novel” A Model Summer deserves a full page in this publication — and I don’t care if she’s in this season’s “Dancing With The Stars” or not. Alex Kucyznski’s gratuitous review of this clearly lightweight roman a clef especially does not deserve a full page when controversial Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare gets only a one-paragraph capsule (a very useful paragraph, however, by Lizzie Skurnick) for his new Agamemnon’s Daughter.

This week’s issue continues with a blase review of Erica Wagner’s Seizure by Madison Smartt Bell and an unenthusiastic report on Nuruddin Farah’s Knots by Christopher De Bellaigue. I am not familiar with the work of A. M. Homes, so I didn’t have the same strong objections to Kate Roiphe’s review of Homes’ memoir about the discovery of her birth parents as Ed Champion, but I do like Ed’s use of the phrase “nuanced criticism” to describe what he’d like to see more of in the New York Times Book Review. That says it pretty well. Let’s cut the super-models too.

One Response

  1. Easter soup in a canYou make
    Easter soup in a can

    You make some good points here, maybe you could champion them a bit louder.

    America … Paulina Porizkova’s novel, Andy Warhol’s soup can, American idol-atry. The NYTBR isn’t fresh enough for the NYTBR. Our last messiah (this being Easter) was a Brit named Lennon. His literary song Working Class Hero, sums it up – they’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.

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