Another weekend, another New York Times Book Review. I’m already interested in Geraldine Brooks’ novel People of the Book and the real-life “Sarajevo Hagaddah” it revolves around, and Lisa Fugard’s consideration increases my appetite, even though she is “left wishing Brooks had found a less obtrusive way to gather up the many strands of her narrative.” If wishes were horses …
I’m also interested in The Delivery Man, the debut novel by Joe McGinniss (in fact I’m about to read this story of Las Vegas depravity and prostitution) and I really like Ed Park’s vibrant write-up, which references R. Kelly, Joan Didion and (perhaps too often) Bret Easton Ellis. And I don’t know if I will ever dive into Roddy Doyle’s The Deportees and Other Stories, one story of which continues the tale of his Commitments, but Erica Wagner’s review is fine enough, and so is Ann Hodgman’s introduction to Max Apple’s The Jew of Home Depot. Four worthwhile fiction reviews, not bad at all.
I’ve got to dislike something, though, and the attention-hungry poetry critic William Logan provides a big target with his pretentious review of Geoffrey Hill’s Treatise of Civil Power, a poetry collection that appears to be incomprehensible without a specialist’s knowledge of obscure British history. I know British history better than most, I think, but this book appears to be about as appealing as a hair shirt, and William Logan is way too impressed with himself for being capable of appreciating it. But it’s Logan’s bombastic phraseology — “gouts of praise”, “hang the cost in moral uplift”, “hedge his love with the thorns of attitude” — that makes me feel like I’m stuck in a dreary poetry hut inside a bad renaissance fair. Enough of both Geoffrey Hill and William Logan; let them enjoy each other, but I enjoy neither.
This Book Review contains enough books with Jewish or Holocaust themes to make me wonder if the editors briefly considered matching the recent Islam Issue with a Judaism issue. Rachel Donadio’s closing piece on the early reception of Elie Wiesel’s Night is surprising and very worthwhile; I had no idea that this book met with so much rejection and apathy before it became a classic.
On the political front, Jacob Heilbrunn’s review of Condoleeza Rice: An American Life by Elisabeth Bumiller is perceptive, though I find myself wanting to echo his restrained commentary more pointedly, as when he says:
Despite their close relationship, Bush had only a hazy notion of what role a national security advisor should play.
and I want to mention that Bush seems to have only a hazy notion of a whole, whole lot of things. And those who have been following political critic Jim Sleeper’s recent charges of conservative bias in the NYTBR will find a significant update in the Yale Daily News, which reveals that Tanenhaus discussed the question of the Book Review’s alleged lack of political balance at a “tea” with Yale students. Sleeper, interviewed for this article as well, states that Tanenhaus has been on a “charm offensive” lately. Just what we need: another surge.