Monday, April 21, 2008

Folk Take on the NY Times Book Review: It's a Ringer!

Well, I review books. I do. I review for both blogs (Great American Pin-Up, Feminist Review, and CutBank Reviews) and for print magazines/journals (I won't be an ass). I list the names because I hope you check some of the places out: they're pretty darn awesome. Before I begin, you should know that I both like and dislike reviewing.

Likes include: working with some
awesome editors (I'm not sucking up: it's the truth); I'm sent free books (come on y'all: I'm a freelance writer working in her pajamas; this is very much needed); and I discover some really great writers (i.e. Edward Palvic!!! Janet Holmes!!! Selah Saterstrom!!!). I like how reviews can pique a reader's interest and push them into new work. I like the various literary communities.

Dislikes include: striking a balance that isn't too nice or too mean; how the literary community is pretty incestuous (the more I wade into its waters, the more I see how everyone knows everyone and people review their friends' books
all of the time); reviews at "top dawg" publications are all about networking and politics and ridiculousness (no, I do not want to drop Foucault's name while drinking wine; no, I do not want to talk about writers who are "overrated").

Now, as I said, I work in my pajamas and hate name-dropping: do I
look like the type who networks? Yeah: I tried it once and had to excuse myself so I could throw up in my mouth. So anyway, I love it when reviewing (or literary criticism) is thrown into the ring and the boxing gloves come out. The following are some recent left and right punches thrown towards the reviewing community.


Bitch Magazine enters the ring:

Sarah Seltzer's "Hard Times: At the New York Times Book Review, all the misogyny is fit to print"

"The New York Times Book Review has never exactly embraced passionate advocacy—unless it was promoting Pynchon’s and DeLillo’s place in the postmodernist canon. Even worse, it has become the place where serious feminist books come to die— or more accurately, to be dismissed with the flick of a well-manicured postfeminist wrist.


And then we have, The Literary Saloon:

Michael Orthofer takes on the NY Times Book Review for focusing on English-only titles
(i.e. taking a dump on translations)*

"We recently discussed the New York Times Book Review's coverage (or rather: lack thereof) of translated titles, and note that the streak continues with the 6 April issue, in which 15 titles are reviewed (all in full-length reviews) and not a one was originally written in a foreign language.
That makes three of the past four issues in which there hasn't been a single review of any title originally written in a foreign language. So much for Douglas Kibbee's observation that: "Now it's rare to go a single issue without having a translated work in it."

*Note: the blog has been covering this for some time. Poke around if you want to read all of the pieces.


Literary Kicks weighs in too, and they take on specific reviews (the crowd goes OOOOH!)
(and they provided me with the links listed above, though I had already read the Bitch piece).

I hate intellectually lazy and self-satisfied critics, and I hate a book review that reads like a blurb.

There are no prime offenders this week, but there are a few minor examples. Terrence Rafferty's cover piece on The Journey Home, a novel about disaffected young Dubliners by Dermot Bolger, is a rave, but I feel an undercurrent of yawns throughout. The book's big conflict is that the young suburban characters 'can't get a grip on what it means to be Irish anymore'. Okay, but that's hardly a riveting plot, and in fact somebody already made a halfway decent movie about something like that called The Commitments. Dermot Bolger's novel sounds fine, maybe even a book I'd try to read, but Terrence Rafferty completely fails to convince me here that the book is seminal or unique enough to deserve an NYTBR rave cover review."


I guess the NYBR is now "da man" of book reviewing.
Interessant (do you care that I'm relearning Deutsch?).

No comments: