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August 08, 2004

It's Time To Do It Right

by Ron Hogan

The summer issue of the New York Review of Books had been sitting on the floor in front of the couch for a while (it's the Significant Other's fault; the paper came with the Salon subscription) until I finally picked it up this afternoon, looking for some "light" reading between my own book reviews. I was pleased by Geoffrey O'Brien's take on Fahrenheit 9/11, not only because of his critical reaction to the film, but also because, in the aftermath of Leon Wieseltier's body slam of Nicholson Baker in the Times, it was refreshing to see an essay that made a sustained political argument through close analysis of its presumptive subject, namely Michael Moore's film.

Now, I realize O'Brien had quite a bit more space to play with than Wieseltier, but that's no excuse for Wieseltier singularly failing to achieve a close reading of his assigned text or a genuinely thoughtful comparison of his assigned text to the author's previous works, two areas in which O'Brien's essay excels. And when O'Brien does address big-picture issues, they emerge from the assigned text in a much more organic fashion. If I were running the NYTBR, which I admit that I'm not, I'd hand every potential reviewer a copy of O'Brien's review and tell them, "Give me something like this, only one-third the length."

Or, in all fairness to the Book Review, I might send them to Barry Gewen's desk to discuss how he mentally organized and wrote his review of Gordon Wood's Ben Franklin bio, a swell article that I fear will be entirely overlooked thanks to Wieseltier's "scummy little book" antics.

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