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March 04, 2004

A Female Dwight Macdonald. That's All I Ask For.

by Ron Hogan

As regular readers know, I fully support the movement among book bloggers and their fans to get the Book Babes replaced. This morning, Margo and Ellen responded to the petition and, as usual with them, completely missed the point. Reacting to the protest, Margo declared, "I think it may be time to explain to those who read this column why we did choose to call ourselves the Book Babes."

No, dear, we understand you're trying to be hip and ironic and all Dorothy-Lamour-in-The-Big-Sleep "sexy." Nobody has a problem with that. We just don't think you have anything much to say about literature, no, scratch that, about books worth listening to, and while the site's much-vaunted civility prohibits me from using the precise word I'd use to describe your interviewing technique, I'll just note that you've gamely swallowed everything guys like Bill Keller and Joe Eszterhas feed you in interviews. (And come to think of it, why haven't you interviewed any literary women since I started reading your column? Or, if my perusal of your archives is correct, since talking to Erica Jong--oh, real contemporary there, girls--back in October?)

Over at The Elegant Variation, Mark chips aways at their illogic much more fully than I'll do here, so you should read what he has to say. But when these so-called literary critics run around saying things like

It seems to me, literary conversation has been left too long in the hands of an elite whose approach is too stuffy for my taste.

my immediate reaction, after wondering why nobody caught that unnecessary comma, is to wonder what the hell planet these people live on. I mean, really, where is this rarefied high-faluting book culture the Babes rail against? The New York Review of Books? No offense to an outfit that does a fantastic job of bringing some great books back into print in addition to running some of the best book criticism around, but what real impact does it have on the broad national conversation about books anymore? Maybe they're thinking of The Believer. I honestly don't know. What I do know is that setting yourself up as a voice of the common book buyer against imaginary elitist gatekeepers is probably an easy way to gain sympathy; it certainly seems to have saved them from having to develop original thoughts about actual books.

Tell you what, Poynter, I'm willing to meet you halfway if you're willing to meet me halfway. Just ditch one Book Babe, and I'll be a happy man.Of the two Babes, Ellen Heltzel seems (to my mind) to possess slightly more of a clue (the dimwitted comments above have all been from Margo Hammond). But even she conflates "the educated classes" with "elitists" in a way that undercuts her otherwise compelling argument about the comparative staffing of book reviewers and reporters at American print media outlets. I suspect she might have a lot more to say if she didn't have to share her column inches.


That is sheer brilliance! Inspired! I wish I'd thought of it! How about this refinement - pair the remaining babe with Ed and watch the fur really fly!

Whoa. Would pay real bucks for a ringside.

Posted by: TEV at March 5, 2004 12:08 AM

>Just ditch one Book Babe, and I'll be a happy man

Dividing the Book Babes -- an elegant solution, and a neat literary pun besides.

Posted by: Sam at March 5, 2004 08:48 AM
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