In this week's installment of the Times Book Review, hell hath frozen over and left us with Alexandra Jacobs, who doesn't hate on Bonnie Fuller with the sass and ire we were kind of expecting. This left Intern Alexis in an extended state of emotional confusion, her copy of the review stained with tears. But redemption awaits in nasty reviews by Greil Marcus, Ken Kalfus, and Guy Martin — three men who takes the concept of "catty bitch" to admirable new levels. After the jump, Alexis gives you the weekly rundown of intellectual book-burning.
Ready for a full-on Bonnie Fuller takedown, replete with multiple exclamation points and hot-pink sans-serif block letters, we were surprised to see that Alexandra Jacobs, in her review of Fuller's new memoir-cum-self-help book, "The Joys of Much Too Much," comes out liking the broad. As she writes, "... the new book by this widely reviled Manhattan media figure... makes a surprisingly potent statement about sisterhood." In her book, Fuller poo-poos the new breed of "simple"-obsessed glossies, which promote unrealistic and expensive lifestyles. Instead, Fuller's all for sisters doing it for themselves; cluttered and un-streamlined-style. But Fuller doesn't get off scott-free. As Jacobs writes:
...young Bonnie developed a tireless work ethic."I'm truly geeky," our heroine declares, a "Canadian Jewish girl from a dysfunctional family" who grew up with "the ultimate horror hair" and is still forever breaking a heel or fixing a droopy hem with a safety pin. ("What's wrong with that?" she asks.) In other words, Fuller's a ... mouseburger!
Bonnie Fuller's a mouseburger!!! Just as we suspected, celebrities — and celebrity magazine editors — are just like us!
It warms our hearts to see a writer get trashed in the pages of the New York Times Book Review. Especially when he or she is bitch-slapped in style. Greil Marcus reviews "The Poem That Changed America: 'Howl'
Fifty Years Later," edited by Jason Schindler. This collection, or "tribute album," features 24 authors musing on why they love "Howl" and Ginsburg and oftentimes, heroin. According to Marcus, though:
This gets tiresome. Sven Birkerts, bidding fair to replace Rick Moody as Dale Peck's "worst writer of his generation," offers an unbearable template: "Can I possibly convey how those words" — the first lines of "Howl" — "moved in me, how that cadence undid in a minute's time whatever prior cadences had been voice-tracking my life?" No, he can't. He wanders on, into "the moment of Shakespearean ripeness." "Ripeness" would do the job, but you get the feeling it's important to Birkerts to remind us he knows Shakespeare — or maybe to equate his reading "Howl" with Edgar's revelation in "King Lear."
In Lara Vapnyar's first novel, "Memoirs of a Muse," Tanya, a young, nubile Russian immigrant arrives in New York and latches on to a dull Jewish writer named Mark Schneider, with hopes of becoming his muse (just as Apollinaria Suslova set out to become Dostoyevsky's muse). Great sex (sans muse-itude) ensues. Reviewer Ken Kalfus isn't sold on the book, though, claiming that "Vapnyar inserts long passages about Suslova that foreshadow the decline of Tanya and Mark's affair, padding out the novel and making its plot feel overly programmed."
Better luck next time, is how Kalfus essentially ends the review:
By whatever mysterious means it comes - through love or sex, through spiritual possession or a sky-shredding bolt of divine lightning, through serendipity or painful, plodding work - she awaits her own strong draft of writerly inspiration.
HOLD up. Is it just us, or did Kalfus basically just suggest that Vapnyar needs to get laid in order to write a better book? Whether or not we're stretching it, Kalfus clearly had to imagine, at least for 20 seconds, Vapnyar having sex. And that, friends, is a little creepy.
We like when reviewers are nitpicky. It keeps things interesting and catty, as we like them. But sometimes, a pick can be a little too nitty. Case in point: Guy Martin's nitpick in his review of Michael Grunwald's "The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise." In discussing Gov. Jeb Bush's signing of the Everglades revival bill in 2000, Martin writes:
A quibble, real quick: Grunwald describes Governor Bush, at the signing ceremony, "staring out at the Rose Garden with the air of a quarterback who had stumbled into the opposing locker room near the end of the Super Bowl." O.K., but in the final quarter of a Super Bowl, both locker rooms are dead empty, because everybody's on the field. Can we settle for halftime, when the players are there?
Hmmm, guess they're paying by the word these days at the Book Review.