February 07, 2005


Dan Green

Great idea. Look forward to more installments. Maybe you'll shame them into unlocking.


This, I like.

Hmnn ... Perhaps I should take a similarly pedagogical approach to my "In the Locals" feature, where I review the literary content of Chicago's Sunday papers. Although, given the quality of our books pages, I'd probably forego the letter grades and proceed immediately with the corporal punishment.

"Sunday, February 6 ... that's a paddlin'. Sunday, January 30 ... that's a paddlin'. Sunday, January 23 ... ooh, you better believe that's a paddlin'!"

jim sleeper

You'll be glad to know that, contrary to the claim in your Feb 7 posting, The Los Angeles Times Book Review website is no longer locked up. It's wide-open again. The Tribune Corp., which had imposed the restrictions not long after taking over from Times-Mirror but apparently has seen the wisdom of making LAT reviews linkable again.
As whose best reviews were locked in, I'm delighted, and there are two I'd be happy to make available to anyone who missed them. One is a long review-essay on a book by Geoffrey Kabaservice, "The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment," in which I evoked at some length (for a newspaper) the culture of privilege and civic-republican leadership that nurtured Yale's national governing elites of the 1960s. In another review, I took on Samuel Huntingon's "Who Are We?" and, in another, David Chappell's really important "A Stone of Hope," a new assessment of the civil-rights movement.

I hope readers will find them now and, again, I'll be happy to send them to anyone who e-mails me at [email protected] -- Jim Sleeper

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  • 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."