We imagine it will be a month or two before we begin to see the effects of incoming editor David Ulin on the book review pages. But we figured it couldn't hurt to pop back in for a look (we've been away for a while), especially since we were in recovery mode and not riding this weekend. It reveals no great surprise to tell you all up front that we're looking at another decidedly mediocre outing. What was a bit surprising, though, (even if it shouldn't be) is how much smarter we Angelenos appear to be than both our East Coast brethren (and pretty much everyone else, too) - not that we're in competition or anything.
Now before you shake your head with bemusement at the final breakdown of good sense here at TEV, consider, if you will, the Best Sellers lists of both the NYTBR and the LATBR. What does NYTBR say the top three books the country is reading are: Anansi Boys, Goodnight Nobody and The Da Vinci Code. Ho-hum. West coast smarties, by comparison, find The March, On Beauty and Shalimar the Clown gracing our top three. And it doesn't stop with hardcover - we're smarter in paperback, too! Our top five paperback fiction includes the likes of The Known World, The Line of Beauty and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. By comparison, NYTRB includes a Baldacci thriller, a Nora Roberts and other horrors. We could hug the whole lot of you ...
Now if we could just do something about the Book Review itself ... Hope you're busy, David - too busy to read this:
Full length fiction reviews: 0. Not a single, full-length fiction review. A full page is given over to two chick-lit titles (well, it's actually a half page with a ludicrous half-page illustration) and the Calvin and Hobbes collection gets a full gatefold spread. There's even a full page given to a poetry collection! (Gusty move, kids.) But nothing this week for the reader of serious fiction.
Full length non-fiction reviews: 3.
Also included: Letters. Now this one seems pointless - a precious half-page given over to letters. When you've got a 35 page book review, we can talk about letters. Obviously, someone wanted to show off that Dershowitz bothered to write in but c'mon people ... a little restraint? It isn't as though the world is starved of Dershowitz's words of wisdom ...
TITLES, AUTHORS & REVIEWERS
Warren Beatty, A Private Man by Suzanne Finstad. Reviewed by Richard Schickel Grade: B
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. Reviewed by Nicholas Delbanco Grade: C-
Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid. Reviewed by Geraldine Brooks Grade: C+
Mozart and Leadbelly by Ernest J.Gaines. Reviewed by Mary Ellen Doyle. Grade: D+
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Reviewed by Charles Solomon. Grade: A-
Ashes for Breakfast by Durs Grubein. Reviewed by Benjamin Lytal Grade: A
Confessions of a Serial Dater by Michelle Cunnah; and My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler. Reviewed by Carol Wolper. Grade: D
Discoveries Column: Japanland by Karin Muller; In Case We're Separated by Alice Mattison; and What Happened Here by Eliot Weinberger. Reviewed by Susan Reynolds. Grade: C
SCORING THE BESTSELLERS
Aimee Bender's Willfull Creatures seems to have dropped off the list but Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan hang in at #13. There's generally a higher proportion of serious fiction showing up on this list than the NYTBR list. Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision noses its way into the bottom of the list showing up at #15. And, of course, L.A. is no more Oprah-immune than the rest of the country, as A Million Little Pieces sits comfortably atop the paperback list, where we expect it will remain for quite some time. (The Oprah Effect hasn't yet appeared to lift My Friend Leonard onto either the NY or LA lists but we've got our eyes peeled.)
WHAT WE LIKE ...
Pretty hit or miss, as it turns out ... Schickel's review of the Beatty is admirably snarky ("virtually unreadable") but goes on far too long for its own good ... The Calvin and Hobbes review scores high although we wonder if it's merely our residual love for the strip, especially given an inexplicably long digression on "Frazz" that knocks a half-point off the score ... The poetry review gets a clean "A" on principle - any time you give a full page to a German poet in translation, we're gonna thank you ... Little else, though, to be thankful for.
WHAT WE DON'T ...
The Berendt review ironically notes its own deficits at the outset, observing "it's hard to be original about this fabled place." ... Apparently, it's also hard to be original in this review, which is a virtual carbon copy of the dozens of reviews that have already appeared on this title - weeks ago, for that matter. So what took you guys so long? ... We can't recall reading a more plodding book report than the review of the Gaines collection, which takes an earnest, linear approach to the book ... The first part is an intro and it's good ... the second part is an essay and it's really good ... the third part ... Well, you get the drift. We exaggerate slightly for effect. But only slightly ... No earthly idea why someone thought it was a good idea to devote a full page to two forgettable chick-lit volumes ... at least drop the horrible line art and use the half-page responsibly ... but no, no, no ... let's get the lady in the lingerie and the man in the speedo front and center ... Color us aghast ... Even the usually reliable Susan Reynolds misses the bar this week - the first of her three reviews seems chopped, confused and disarrayed ... and the last seems to take unaccountable issue with the inarguable observation that "George W. Bush is the least qualified person ever to become President." Oh yeah, and it seems links to the Book Review are once more unavailable. Which, you know, on the whole makes our lives a whole lot easier but sucks for you.
GRADE: D. Lose the letters, lose the lousy line art and remember to review the odd novel or two, ok folks? David, you've got only one direction to go ...