Critical Mass

In Other News (December 2007)


The New Republic has done an issue on books, worth checking out. It features an editorial by the editors which concludes with a few sentences that ought to be faxed out to newspaper owners at the start of each fiscal quarter:

“The responsible and lively and ambitious coverage of books may not be much of a revenue stream, but it is a formidable thought stream, and knowledge stream; and it should be an honor to preside over it. When a book review is done well, it transcends leisure. It inducts its reader into the enchanted circle of those who really live by their minds. It is a small but significant aid to genuine citizenship, to meaningful living.”

There’s also a review of Gail Pool’s book on reviewing by James Wolcott, which is very thorough, contains numerous arrows back to pieces by the great Wilfred Sheed (pictured above), and includes this hopeful reminder of what book reviewing can be:

“You wouldn’t divine from this landscape survey of the literary flatlands the thunder and illumination of which book reviews are capable when the right reviewer and the right book meet head-on. Book reviews at full billow can become cultural events: acts of exaltation (Mary McCarthy on Pale Fire), social advocacy (Dwight Macdonald on Michael Harrington’s The Other America), reassessment (Brigid Brophy on Franoise Sagan), wrecking-ball demolitions (Macdonald on James Gould Cozzens’s By Love Possessed, Sheed on Norman Podhoretz’s Making It, Whittaker Chambers on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Alfred Chester on John Rechy’s City of Night, Pauline Kael on Mailer’s Marilyn, Dale Peck’s Sweeney Todd exploits in these pages), reconstructive character surgery (Clive James on Zachary Leader’s biography of Kingsley Amis in the Times Literary Supplement), and literary resurrection (Gore Vidal on Dawn Powell). Why not reach for the stars?”

Over in England, Dinaw Mengestu’s mournful and exquisitely poised debut novel, “Children of the Revolution,” has won the Guardian First Book Prize.

Alexander Yurkowsky on Philip Whalen’s “Collected Poems.”

NBCC member Joshua Cohen recently reappraised Viktor Shklovsky and Emuna Elon’s “If You Awaken Love,” “a serious and insistently dark comedy of politico-religious matters and manners.”

Louis Menand on why we read diaries.

Charles Simic might make you want to eat with your hands.

Jon Sack sexes up the history of Iraqi Oil, says the Daily Star.