« MONDAY AT TEV: MJ ROSE | Main | On a Quest »

July 25, 2004


Dan Wickett

Great list Mark, and great general letter to begin with. I've quit paying attn to the NYTBR, barely skimming the weekly email I receive from them. I can't remember the last book I followed up on after reading a review there.


M.J. Rose

Great letter!


word, mark. for a brief moment yesterday, i felt like the universe contracted in on itself and formed some sort of parallel time warp thingie. then i looked up, confused - no, there was my foreign affairs, across the room on the coffee table. funny you mention fa in your letter, heh.

Kevin Holtsberry

I have to agree. Both Gaddis and Kennedy played a big part in my undergadute and graduate education and I am fascinated by their work and ideas. But the connection to the NYTRB seems tenuous at best. At least Gaddis has a book out recently. Seems silly given the many other places a discussion like this could have gone to put it in the book section. Perhaps if enough people communicate their displeasure a repeat can be prevented.

Ron Hogan

In all fairness, the NYTBR already reviewed Lisa's novel as well as Stephen's.

I'm actually in favor of these back-page chats--certainly in preference to the limp essays that usually run there. I think this second installment, which actually featured two people who had reviews running in the current issue, was a bit more effective than the first. The execution might still need a little refinement, but I don't see any reason why a good book review can't have room for discussions that springboard from the issues brought up in the reviews...and, of course, the books.

Jimmy Beck

If I wanna read long, boring essays about the savage history of imperialist America, I can always pick up Harper's, The Atlantic or any of a dozen other publications. This is why I no longer subscribe to the NYT. I can extract the thousand words I'm interested in online and be done with it in about 5 minutes--10 on Sundays.


Thanks for keeping me honest, Ron - the dangers of advancing age and increased alcohol blood level. You better than most will recognize my list are largely representing the contents of my post-BEA suitcase.

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one; when the NYTBR hits 64 pages then perhaps I won't feel the loss of a single one so keenly. But until then, this kind of exercise has no place. If ST wants to be a political reporter he should move to the Washington Bureau.


The NYTBR is a windmill , brother Mark.

Also, I am willing to bet that Margot Livesey's new novel is reviewed (is it even out yet?) there.

I bet, upon reflection, you would agree. What were you thinking?


I'm sure the Livesey will be reviewed at some point, but it hasn't been yet.

I'm okay with agreeing to disagree. But, hey, at least this time they're talking about something inspired by what they read in books!

R.H. Weber

This is R.H. Weber, author of HOMELAND: A Novel. Thanks for the mention.
And you're right, NYTBR not valuable for book reviews any longer. Compare a recent copy to a copy from 25-30 years ago. NYTBR was never the NYRB, but NYTBR has certainly taken a nosedive since those years. Tough to figure out what it's supposed to be doing now ... besides selling ad space.

Sam Tanenhaus

Point taken. Here’s our reasoning. First, we’re trying to make the Book Review a timely and lively publication that connects books to the broader culture in the best tradition of American literary sections going back to Partisan Review, the New Republic, and the Nation in the 1930s up through The New York Review of Books today. Our hope is that by making the Times Book Review more relevant week to week we'll draw more readers into the world of books. Beyond this, the back page has historically been a place to widen the discussion and explore different aspects of the literary-intellectual life. That life, I might add, has many dimensions, no less so today than in prior eras, and we want to do justice to that multi-dimensionality in our pages (not only on the back page). This is why we did an issue on music books a while back and followed up soon after with an issue in which prime space went to four short-story collections. We also recently published a “Chronicle” on first novels (and then singled out two of those novels for our Bear in Mind feature). And stay tuned: you’ll see fiction prominently reviewed in the weeks to come. Thanks for watching us so closely.
Best regards,
Sam Tanenhaus
New York Times Book Review


I worked with Sam's wife, now more than a decade ago, and remember when Sam had first started out writing his ultimately excellent biography of W. Chambers. I remember being struck by his genuine open-mindedness in tackling a difficult subject. I have no doubt that he exercises this same receptivity to new books, topics and ideas--both fiction and non-fiction--at the NYTBR.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."