After two weeks of traveling the world in search of the finest and most exotic psychedelics, Intern Alexis is back on the island, well-rested and happy to be home. But something is different: our precious little literary crankpot is unquestionably perky this week, finding the Times Book Review to be actually enjoyable (she all but takes her pants off for reviewer David Gates). We'd say she's returned a changed woman, but we'll blame those TMA muffins she picked up in Thailand.
After the jump, Alexis returns to her review of the Review and spares everyone of her ire — except for Joseph Joffe. There's always a little left for him.
As anybody knows, distance makes the heart grow fonder. And we think we needed a little distance from the old gray Book Review (two weeks, almost 10,000 miles) to realize just how much we missed her. Due to extreme jet-lag, we've been going to sleep at 9:30 p.m. and waking up at 6:30 a.m., and perhaps this has resulted in a dulling of our generally sharp wits, but we unironically enjoyed most of this week's reviews! Starting with David Orr's ode to Elizabeth Bishop in which he davens at her legacy and claims that "The publication of 'Edgar Allen Poe & the Juke-Box'... isn't just a significant event in our poetry; it's part of a continuing alteration in the scale of American life." Big words, Orr, but he follows through and takes us, previously smitten with Bishop 7 on a scale of 1-10, all the way to a 9.5. "The more one reads a Bishop poem," Orr writes, "the greater the sense of huge forces being held barely but precisely in check - like currents pressing heavily on the glass walls of some delicate undersea installment."
Then there was David Gates's review of Colson Whitehead's "Apex Hides the Hurt," a novel which deals with a "nomenclature consultant" hired to rename a town. Gates's prose is so pretty, so true and so much better than most reviewers' we've read recently... for example, he writes:
Its hero experiences the old familiar barrage of conflicting impulses: to believe, to doubt; to trust, to despair; to love, to say the hell with it. And words, which we've devised both to share and to withhold, to help and to exploit one another, to unite us and divide us, are only the dead presidents we pass back and forth in a living human economy, with all its mutual enrichment and cutthroat competition. There happens to be a perfectly good word to characterize Whitehead's enterprise, but to tell you would ruin his ending. And I've said too much already.
Man, what a wordsmith. This pithy little pup is in awe.
But, hey, wait, before you cancel your subscription to Reading about Reading, know that you haven't lost us to Earnestville just yet! Josef "papa of Jessica" Joffe smacks Walter Kirn silly in his letter to the editor, calling his review of "Manliness" by Harvey C. Mansfield "heavy on ad hominem and light on ad argumentum." Oh, bringing out the Latin bomb, Joffe. We really want Kirn to write back something like... Hey, Joffe. Translate THIS into Latin, jerk: "59 509." In Roman numerals, it comes out to LIX DIX. We loved that in middle school. And then there was our favorite letter in quite some time, which came from John W. Alexander Jr. of Wynnewood, PA, which we'll just print here in full:
To the Editor:
Many thanks for your explanation ("TBR: Inside the List," March 19) of why you didn't review James L. Swanson's "Manhunt." ("We get a lot of books about dogs and Lincoln.") By sparing readers an assessment of the historical authenticity of this book, the editors are thus able to devote their energies to books about topics of more interest to them, such as anal intercourse.
JOHN W. ALEXANDER JR.
We have something to tell you. Our name isn't actually Intern Alexis. It's John W. Alexander Jr.
We were half-reading Corey S. Powell's review of Seth Lloyd's "Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes On the Cosmos" while looking out the window and doing our laundry. Then all of a sudden we focused and actually read this: "More than once, I found myself recalling a scene in 'Animal House' in which one of the Delta House guys has a cosmic epiphany during a cannabis-fueled conversation with his professor (Larry: 'That means that one tiny atom in my fingernail could be...' Professor: '... could be one little, tiny universe.' Pause. Larry: 'Could I buy some
pot from you?')." A dorky "Animal House" reference by someone reviewing a book by a quantum computer scientist is just about the best surprise we could ever ask for.