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October 09, 2004

And Now, Back to Happier Subjects

by Ron Hogan

It had been bandied about all last week that as part of the NYTBR makeover, the second "new" issue was going to feature a full-page review of Nora Roberts, thereby proving a commitment to commercial fiction. What the buzz didn't tell me was that said review would be written by Elissa Schappell, one of my favorite writers. She achieves a very useful balance between actually reviewing Northern Lights and providing a background context on Roberts. If all the reviews that took Sam Tanenhaus' "news about the culture" approach handled it this deftly, we wouldn't have anything to complain about. Likewise the two-page review Walter Kirn gives to Jack Kerouac's journals...and I note with some interest that his excellent summation of why Kerouac matters makes no mention whatsoever of a recently published so-called "definitive biography;" given the recent NYTBR penchant for grouping as many worthy books as possible into reviews, I can only assume that Kirn and Tanenhaus and everyone else share my opinion of its awfulness.

But...I really think Sophie Harrison dropped the ball in her review of David Lodge's Author, Author, especially when you stack it up against Daniel Mendelsohn's review of The Master, a comparison Harrison invites by invoking the subject of Toibin's novel about Henry James. Her treatment of that matter seems cursory to me, as does her handling of the issue of fictional stories about historical figures. Susannah Meadows does a fairly decent job of reviewing Unfit for Command in the space provided, but it seems too little, too late...and is Laura Miller trying to turn the publication into the Sherlock Holmes Book Review or what?

That said, I know a lot of NYTBR critics are going to say Franklin Foer's essay on neo-conservatives has no business being there, but I kinda liked it, even if it wasn't, strictly speaking, a book review.

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