Reviewing the Review: December 7 2008

At least the Holiday Books issue of the New York Times Book Review is a thick issue — at 72 pages, exactly three times as many pages as last week. Those who monitor the health of the book industry by the amount of ad space publishers buy in the Book Review will be reassured following a week of bad news. Simon and Schuster bought a full page ad, and so did Scholastic (well, yeah), Bantam Random House, Little Brown, Norton, University of California Press, Grand Central (double page, big spenders) and Thames and Hudson. Of course, all these deals were closed weeks or months ago, but it stiill feels good to see somebody spending money … on something.

These end-of-year Christmas season full-page ads are just holiday tip envelopes to the Book Review anyway — and one wonders why Knopf isn’t doing any greasing here, but that must take place elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine that these aggregate ads (with taglines like “The Seasons Real Treasures” from Norton and “You’re Going to Need a Bigger Stocking” from Grand Central) move many units, though the other full page ads scattered throughout the issue for self-publishers and “Better Sex” DVDs probably do. And why, you ask, am I reviewing the ads in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review instead of the articles?

Well, I’m reviewing the ads instead of the articles because this is the dreaded annual Holiday Books issue, and I’m not going to sit here reviewing a bunch of articles about coffee-table books. This gift-wrappy issue is very light on literary content, though there is a Best 100 Books of the Year list that fails to include the best novel I read this year, Roxana Robinson’s electrifying Cost. Furthermore, with regard to Alan Light’s People-magazine-level review of a picture book called The Clash, I have to wonder how the New York Times can pay somebody for writing this:

… the Clash has become the lone punk representative in the classic rock canon.

Um. Sex Pistols. Ramones. Patti Smith. Talking Heads. The Police. Elvis Costello. Blondie. Anyway … Kathryn Harrison is intriguing on Les Strandiford’s The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirit, and I really enjoyed Paul Collins’ endpaper on the literary career of a highly creative sporting goods catalog author named George Leonard Herter. This is about as good as today’s Holiday Issue of the Book Review gets.

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I dropped by the Small Press and Indie Book Fair in midtown Manhattan today, and found a fairly swinging scene. Indie publishers aren’t really worrying about the book industry’s retail crisis — they’re already lean and mean, and they often focus on dedicated sales channels. The fair continues tomorrow, climaxing in our trivia smackdown at 4 pm, so please come on down to support the litblogging team if you can. The fair is free, and there’s a lot to see.

4 Responses

  1. Hey deemikay — actually,
    Hey deemikay — actually, when I included “The Police” in that list, I knew if it would confuse people. They don’t seem very punk, but it’s a fact (I was there, I know) that the Police emerged as part of the 70s punk scene. Other bands that also don’t seem punk but emerged as part of the punk scene in the 70s include Dire Straits, the B-52s, Devo …

  2. Joe Ridgwell’s sending me a
    Joe Ridgwell’s sending me a review of Mark SaFranko’s Loner’s. That should be good.

    Some say The Ramones invented punk. Others say it was The Sex Pistols. No one did it with more glam than The Clash.

    But of greater importance is your reference to the iconoclast Charles Dickens and the icon A Christmas Carol. These personify and embody the power and authority of literature – to define how we think and act. All of us know the story, most of us agree with the message, and quite a few act accordingly. I doubt if any of this year’s top 100 books will have that kind of impact. But why is that?

  3. Hmmm… calling them punk is
    Hmmm… calling them punk is like saying that Blondie were disco because Heart of Glass sounded “a bit disco”.

    Three jazz musicians jumping on the bandwagon may have meant they got included in the scene by those outside it, but they weren’t part of it.

    However, I’ll happily call the B52s and Devo punk (it’s all in the mindset, at least on this side of the Atlantic.)

    But as it’s such a minor point we can agree to disagree. 🙂

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