Reviewing the Review: June 1 2008

A rare Nicholson Baker byline graces the table of contents in today’s New York Times Book Review. A devoted newspaper archivist as well a literary sporting male, Baker was the obvious choice to review a newspaper collection called The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York by Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy J. Gilfoyle and Helen Lefkowitz. Naturally Baker likes the book, though I doubt he was responsible for the too-cute article headline, “Sex and the City (Circa 1840)”. As glad as I am to read Nicholson Baker in the NYTBR, I can’t help wishing they’d engage this writer’s more controversial expertise in global politics and invite him to review a book about, say, Iraq, or China, or William F. Buckley next time. Then maybe we’d have some fireworks.

This weekend’s NYTBR is the “Summer Reading” issue, covering a wide range of supposedly enjoyable books. I never expected to catch myself enjoying a Marisha Pessl article about Bob Dylan — what can a twenty-something lit-darling possibly know about Bob Dylan, other than the fact that he was the subject of a Heath Ledger movie? — but she surprises me with a perceptive and well-written consideration of his expressionist paintings, newly collected by editors Ingrid Mossinger and Kerstin Dreschel as Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series. This book proves (as the “Self Portrait” album cover proved four decades ago) that Dylan can paint, and this article proves that Marisha Pessl can review visual art.

Music and visual art provide much material in today’s Book Review. Roger Steffens and Peter Simon’s Reggae Scrapbook is well-treated by Baz Dreisinger. I still think Alan Light is a lightweight rock music critic (I’ve said that once before and I still can’t figure out if it’s a pun or not), but he’s about as good as he ever can be on Willie Nelson: An Epic Life by Joe Nick Patoski. David Kirby writes vividly about Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death and Country Music by Dana Jennings:

But we’ve all got a date with the hangman, and until then, a bunch of music to be listened to, a heap of dancing to do and a three-legged dog that wants you to scratch his ears. And only you.

I should probably feel excited to hear Richard Russo raving about a new comic novel, Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles, but I can’t work up the enthusiasm.

Martin Amis’s dad Kingsley’s essays about liquor life are collected in Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens. I like Dominique Browning’s review of the book, yet a thick early-summer mental haze also dulls my appreciation for this piece, and for several other articles in this crowded Book Review. It’s my own fault; I’m a sharper reader some weekends than others, and this Book Review finds me inexplicably just not in the mood for a Book Review. I’ll try to slap myself into a more attentive state for the next issue.

One Response

  1. I’m amazed that you stay as
    I’m amazed that you stay as sharp as you do, without some sort of burn-out or emotional apathy. You seem to stay on a very even keel. Someday I’d like to read “The Life of Levi Asher.” Maybe you could write it. It’d make for better summer reading than anything I’ve seen in The Guardian or the NYTBR. Though I did finish Joe McGinniss’ book, and that turned out to be pretty good. Read it when you get the chance, lemme know if you figure it out – it’s simply complicated, which is nice touch.

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