It’s alarming to hear that the Los Angeles Times’ budget cuts have doomed its Sunday Book Review, which will cease to exist as a standalone section of the paper after this weekend’s issue. This announcement was blunt and sudden, and now, protests aside, the deed appears to be done.
The Los Angeles Times will remain a lively presence in the bookosphere, and those of us who read their literary articles online may barely notice the disappearance of the standalone weekly publication. I’ve only read the physical publication myself a few times when visiting the city (along with one weekend when they were kind enough to review my book), so I can’t honestly say I’ll miss the LATBR. But I bet a whole lot of West Coasters will, and for those readers this must be terrible news.
So, now, is the New York Times Book Review in trouble? Nope. The NYTBR is unlike every other American newspaper book supplement, mainly because publishing industry insiders read it. That’s why the NYTBR brings in healthy ad dollars — these ads are targeted towards publishing professionals and booksellers more than towards general readers in the first place — and this means the NYTBR will stick around. The LATBR was never as thick or substantial a publication as the NYTBR anyway, so comparisons really don’t hold. Still, I am sad to hear of LA’s loss, and I agree with the many protesters that the Los Angeles Times has made a harsh and short-sighted decision.
Perhaps I ought to regard this weekend’s New York Times Book Review with an adoring gaze in light of this news. However, the sleepy publication that arrived on my doorstep this morning hardly warrants it. The cover article offers Charles McGrath’s appreciation of Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House by Miranda Seymour, an apparently “odd and oddly affecting book” about growing up in a Jacobean manor house in Nottinghamshire, England. This is the cutting edge? The book sounds like a quaint little memoir, but I don’t care for doll houses and don’t see why I should care about a Nottinghamshire manor house either. Also, I’m sure Noel Coward said it all better here:
The Stately Homes of England,
Although a trifle bleak,
Are more or less unique.
We’ve a cousin who won the Golden Fleece
And a very peculiar fowling-piece
Which was sent to Cromwell’s niece,
Who detested it and rapidly sent it back
With a dirty crack.
A note we have from Chaucer
Contains a bawdy joke.
We also have a saucer
That Bloody Mary broke.
We’ve two pairs of tights
King Arthur’s Knights
Had completely worn away.
Sing Hey! for the Stately Homes of England.
Who can beat that? With a cover piece that reads like a transplant from the Real Estate section, this NYTBR has nowhere to go but up, and James Campbell’s thoughtful analysis of Larry McMurtry’s Books: A Memoir provides a brief ascent, especially when Campbell risks the opinion that the esteemed McMurtry has grown lazy and soft in his recent work:
McMurtry, who has turned Archer City, Tex., where he grew up, into a “book town” and helped give it a public library, is a genuine bookman — a reader as much as a collector — but the character of the books he loves is absent from his memoir. The detail that sticks in my mind does not concern a lovely copy of “The Sun Also Rises” or a “one-of-100 Ulysses”; it is the information that while McMurtry used to get up early “and dash off five pages of narrative,” nowadays he has increased his output to 10.
Liesl Schillinger is amusing on the subject of Shakespeare cheerleader Jess Winfield’s My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakespeare, which she describes as “lusty, pun-drunk” and appears to find wearyingly cartoonish. I concluded the same thing recently when I contemplated this tome in a bookstore and decided not to read it.
Finally, as a committed pacifist I must take exception to Ed Champion’s remark, however jestingly intended, that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if somebody kicked outgoing NYTBR editor/writer Rachel Donadio in the teeth. I am glad to hear, though, that Ms. Donadio is leaving the Book Review to become the Times’ Rome Bureau Chief. I wish her well there. Literary criticism just wasn’t her thing.