(Apologies for the delay ... We've been having template problems which we believe are resolved, and will allow timely posting next week.)
A wildly uneven issue and, though not the outright failure of last week, still leaving a good deal to be desired. Most disappointing - for a book review with avowed intellectual pretensions - is their weakness for "theme issues" ... It's Oscar week! Let's do an Oscar issue!! ... It's opening day! ... Let's to a baseball issue! ... It all feels decidedly unimaginative and unserious and besides, who needs three baseball reviews in an issue containing only nine reviews? Excuse us while we defribulate ourselves back to consciousness ... On to the grades:
Full length fiction reviews: 2 plus a crime fiction roundup.
Full length non-fiction reviews: 6
Columns: First Fiction and Discoveries.
TITLES, AUTHORS & REVIEWERS
DeVoto's West by Bernard DeVoto. Reviewed by Jonathan Kirsch Grade: B+
Luckiest Man by Jonathan Eig. Reviewed by Allen Barra Grade: B
The Old Ball Game by Frank Deford; and Best Baseball Writing 2005 Edited by Matthew Silverman and Greg Spira. Reviewed by Roger Kahn Grade: F
Aces by Mychael Urban. Reviewed by Rob Neyer. Grade: C
Mr. Lucky by James Swain; A Window in the Copacabana by Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza; Knight's Gambit by William Faulkner; and Serpent Girl by Matthew Carnahan. Reviewed by Eugen Weber. Grade: F
Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud by Jonathan Safran Foer. Reviewed by Richard Eder. Grade: B
The Bottomless Well by Peter Huber and Mark Mills. Reviewed by Robert Blohm. Grade: B
The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman. Reviewed by Wendy Smith. Grade: D
Hans Christian Andersen by Jens Andersen. Reviewed by Jerry Griswold. Grade: C
First Fiction Column: Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue by Mark Kurlansky and Snow White and Russian Red by Dorota Maslowska. Reviewed by James Marcu. Grade: B+
Discoveries Column: Unformed Landscape by Peter Stamm; The Harvard Black Rock Forest by George W.S. Trow; and Confessions of a Slacker Wife by Muffy Mead-Ferro. Reviewed by Susan Salter Reynolds. Grade: B
WHAT WE LIKE ...
Richard Eder's review of the Jonathan Safran Foer was thoughtful and serious, refreshingly sneer-free in its assessment of the book's shortcomings ... Eder continues to be a source of welcome literary coverage, and we only wish the boys downtown would give him some more space to work with ... We admit to beginning Kirsch's review of the DeVoto essays with a groan - "Lovely, another collection of California/West/Historical essays" - but to his credit he quickly won us over, making the collection sound vital and worth checking out ... Similarly, it's a credit to reviewer Allan Barra that he interested us in the Gehrig biography despite our near total lack of interest in All Things Baseball ... Blohm's review of The Bottomless Well is an effective rebuttal to what seems a fairly ludicrous book ("Consume more energy! Waste it virtuous" its conservative Manhattan Insitute-based authors declaim.) ... and the back page columns continue to be reliably readable an engaging ... Both of James Marcus' First Fiction choices sound interesting (the Literary Saloon and the Reading Experience will be pleased to see experimental literature in translation) ... and two of the three Discoveries piqued our interest, even if Reynolds unaccountably ends the last piece advising "Readers may well find this sort of thing liberating" without offering much about her own position.
WHAT WE DON'T ...
To distort Mae West a bit this week, when they're good they're readable; when they're bad they are wretched, indeed ... We give outright F's to Kahn's baseball review, a distasteful blur of unabashed self-aggrandisement and lousy writing - a truly perilous combination; and to Weber's round up of crime titles, which displays none of the usual signposts of a roundup - cohesion of themes, subject matter, setting, et alia - and includes a lede so impenetrable we gave up after the fourth go ... Neyer's review of Aces was workmanlike but came at the end of the baseball review lineup (forgive the pun) and we were past the point of caring ... Despite Wendy Smith's enthusiasm for some of Alice Hoffman's output, the latest effort sounds just wretched (a lightning strike survivor is named Lazarus ... get it? Subtle, very subtle) ... and the review of Hans Christian Andersen bio misses a chance to be just the sort of scholarly review that gets Wasserman all aroused; instead it obsesses about the subject's sex and romantic life.
GRADE: C- Inconsistent quality (well, that's not totally accurate - the lousy reviews are pretty consistent in their awfulness), a tedious penchant for theme issues and a general neglect of serious fiction titles is fast becoming the order of the day.