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April 04, 2005


Margaret Able

Thanks for the review of the reviews! No matter what the NYT says, I enjoy reading criticism about book reviewing, just like I enjoy reading book reviews, books, articles, blogs... well, you get the idea!

Margaret at Bookish Marginalia


My God, that IS an amazingly self-aggrandizing opening by Kahn, and surprising for a writer of his usual caliber. What's with this "I am a bit put off by the cover" crap? I don't read book reviews to find out if the jackets look pretty, dammit! And the second half just descends into gibberish, though it isn't particularly helped by the first half, which has barely anything to say about the books he got assigned before he blathers on about Great Sportswriters He Has Read. (I mean, I like Lardner as much as the next guy, but come on, review the book on your desk!) I'm glad the Gehrig bio got much classier treatment from Barra -- I read it for PW, and I loved it.

Tod Goldberg

You do have to give it up to Weber for reviewing a book by William Faulkner for no particular reason (it isn't a reissue, it isn't new...it's the same old book that has been on the shelf for 50 years) and declaring it ill for having too many words in it (I'm paraphrasing, but it was something like that).


Boy I am with you on Eder.

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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."