August 03, 2008


Anne Fernald

Oh, lordy! Thanks for sniffing this out. The NYTBR sits untouched on the coffee table and I'll leave this lede be. Blech.

(Saw YOUR book in Three Lives recently--felt a rush of pride!)



I personally think Slate is a better publication than any of the others listed.

Also, Blake Bailey is probably more interesting than most Times readers anyway.


While I agree with you, semi-celebrities surviving tragedy aren't always very compelling, and Reed's historic house had almost no damage. And she got a book deal.

She ripped in to Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco on Air America, and Air America purged her interview from their archives. (Click on my name for info on that.)

My favorite Katrina story was that of the two erstwhile hippiesbohos blissfully waiting out the storm on their fire escape, complete with NYT photo. Then the guy killed and cooked his GF. Now there's a story.


Folks, just to be clear, I make no claims whatsoever for the book in question - both it and the author are wholly unknown to me. What I am talking about here is the ongoing, lamentable trend of book reviewers more interested in talking about themselves than dispensing their critical obligations to the books in question. (Go read the whole piece, and find where Bailey starts talking about his dinner party.) If this is the kind of book reviews that are out there, one can hardly deplore their disappearance.


I don't know; I didn't think it was so bad. Kind of interesting for a piece to talk about the covert competition between reviewer/critic and writer, a la Harold Bloom's anxiety of influence. I can think of worse examples (including the recently PBS-lauded Christopher Hitchens). I thought the Lee Israel/plagiarism review was good - and more straightforward in the same issue -but I'm okay with writing this one off to lit'ry license. To use it as an argument against book reviews in general strikes me as ad hominem.


I agree w/Mark on this. This reads like some kind of teenage book report, crying out "look at me" ...


Well, I -- yes me, the ostensible NYTBR hater -- actually enjoyed the strange context within this opening paragraph. I mean, this was baroque batshit crazy stuff reflecting the self-absorbed twaddle that Bailey divined from Reed's book. And then we get the second paragraph in which Bailey contradicts these seeming prejudices (reflective of Reed). There was the wry suggestion that Bailey's own solipsism was a stand-in for what Reed seems to know and empathize about New Orleans. But then you'd have to know that Bailey did lose a good deal of research for his Cheever biography. And then you'd have to have more of a tolerance for the ironic use of first-person like this.

Also, Bailey wrote a terrific Richard Yates bio. So he's okay in my book. I think you missed the humor here, Mark.

Antoine Wilson

I think you missed the humor here, Mark.

Also possible:

I think you missed the mark here, humor.

In any case, I really enjoyed Bailey's depressive Yates book (as in causes depression) and am looking forward to his Cheever bio.

Cheers, A


Damn, you could cut the envy in that review with the proverbial knife.

Luke Moody

As a book review, I'm not too crazy about it, but Bailey has a great point, and after reading the review, I certainly don't want to read Reed's book, so in a sense, I guess, the review does what it set out to do. Reed sounds like a turd, exploiting the greatest civil disaster in American history for her own ends. Shameless and exploitative. I'm sick and tired of people like Reed, and so is Bailey, and maybe the NYTBR isn't the best place to take aim at people like Reed, or maybe it is.

Joe M

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. The elliptical Times book review, wherein the writer doesn't get around to talking about, you know, the book, until the third paragraph, just makes me want to scream. Get to the point!


Obviously, Bailey needs to get a blog.


Let alone the likes of Lisa See writing reviews for the LA Times... anybody heard of the division between state and church? you can't be judge and jury... oh well

Cogito Ergo Doleo

Mark, ITA. Any reviewer worth their weight in withits knows the first rule of reviewing: Never use the first-person singular when writing about a book, if for no other reason than to achieve aesthetic distance (or, at least, a semblance of same). A review ought to be an informed and educated opinion (and, as we all know, *all* reviews are, by definition, autobiographical), not a self-promo one-hand-clapping off-show. Good for (or on) you for having the head / heart smarts to say so (or, as Alanis sez, Kudo :)).


I love Ed.


I rather liked this review, given it draws the attention not just to the writing but who exactly got a book deal and why.
You can look at it as envy. Or, you could look at it as putting all the facts out, in a rather snarky way.

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