Reviewing the Review: April 6 2008

In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop” warns the front cover of today’s New York Times. Well, not this blogger, because I know enough to take breaks when I need them. And you should too.

Two notable new New York Times Book Review critics debut in today’s issue. Joshua Henkin, whose pleasing novel Matrimony really should have been a contestant in the Morning News Tournament of Books, shows up with a favorable spin on Fiona Maazel’s Last Last Chance. As a writer known for sensitivity, humor and literary erudition, Henkin is a perfect choice to write for the New York Times Book Review, and I hope we’ll be reading him again here.

As for Maazel’s book, I heard a live preview at Amanda Stern’s Happy Ending recently, and I’m enjoying the corrosive mood and pointed humor — “fueled by attitude” as Joshua Henkin says.

Today’s other notable debut is singer-songwriter Liz Phair, though her admiring review of Black Postcards: A Rock and Roll Romance by Dean Wareham is more competent than remarkable. Still, a literary Liz Phair in the NYTBR is the type of surprise that can brighten up many people’s Sundays.

Two excellent poetry reviews, Mary Jo Salter on Grace Paley’s Fidelity and James Longenbach on Jorie Graham’s Sea Change, form the high point of today’s issue. And today’s low point is the endpaper essay, another Joe Queenan stab at humor that adopts a bland, chuckle-happy style more appropriate for Reader’s Digest than the Book Review.

I didn’t respond as well as I’m probably supposed to to Liesl Schillinger’s cover piece on Jhumpa Lahiri’s much-praised collection Unaccustomed Earth, probably because I really just don’t feel like reading this book right now, but if it keeps getting all these good reviews then I’m going to feel left out when everybody else starts reading it.

And I’m not sure what to think about Siri Hustvedt’s The Sorrows of an American, which Sylvia Brownrigg calls a “complex and contemplative new novel” that “offers pleasures across many registers” but ends up with “an air of anticlimax”. Brownrigg mentions that some characters are “deeply mourning the death of Inga’s husband, Max, a novelist who status as a cult figure may bear some resemblance to that of Hustvedt’s husband, Paul Auster”. According to this description, The Sorrows of an American may resemble a novel by Hustvedt’s husband, Paul Auster, as well.

One Response

  1. It’s all good in the
    It’s all good in the neighborhood. Without intelligent and erudite book reviewers, guys like me would be up the creek without a paddle. I am currently reading “LEGACY OF ASHES, a History of the CIA” which was reviewed on your other site: “The Cherry Orchard”… Highly appropriate time for cherry blossoms in DC and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the Japanese Beetle hitched a ride on the Japanese Cherry Tree gifts and now is a regional pest. They love this kind of weather. Moles are kind of pesky like that in the CIA…

    Hopefully, to extend the metaphor, more CIA cherry trees will bloom that are resistant to Japanese Beetles or moles hitching a ride. We need more language speakers in the field and on the net. I wish I could pick up on the language like I pick up on the foood! Foreign language is not my strong point. I wish foreign language WAS my strong point… So, I blog on the internet.
    Hey, I take breaks, too, otherwise my head starts spinning and I have to take an aspirin or something. Moderation in all things, folkses, moderation in all things.The cover of the TIMES has a point. Easy does it.

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