Maybe it's summertime laziness kicking in, but this week's edition of the Times Book Review was kind of "eh." Reviewer Tom Bissell lovingly gives Rory Stewart a handjob; Garrison Keillor gives a book report about Harper Lee; letter-writers don't like reading about food. Dammit, it's summer — where are the bikini waxing books? The trashy romance novels? The moving melanoma stories? Please, just a little joy. That's all we ask.
After the jump, Intern Alexis plays with the cards she's dealt.
Big Mark Felt/John D. O'Connor/John Dean scandal on the letters page, ending with the editors conceding that "the Book Review should have encouraged [Dean] to be more specific about his dealings with Mark Felt during the Watergate controversy," and if you care about that kind of stuff, you should read it.
More our speed, however, was Henry Halsted of Racine, Wisconsin, who writes in:
..to my dismay I pick up the May 21 issue and it is devoted entirely to fiction. I feel robbed. Then comes the May 28 issue devoted exclusively to food. I throw it in the wastebasket... How I yearn for the Book Review of old that did not try to push particular books or categories of books on me but always stimulated me with a careful selection of reviews of outstanding and important books on a wide variety of subjects, along with eye-catching book ads. Perusing The New York Times Book Review is a habit difficult to break. Please, no more special-interest issues other than the year-end best books of the year. I do not enjoy throwing copies in the wastebasket before reading.
Might want to start re-thinking the Raw Anal Sex Issue, Tanenhaus.
Rory Stewart walks across Afghanistan; Tom Bissell pees his pants. After a gush-heavy review in which Bissell, among other things, claims Stewart to be Robert Byron's "better," he ties things up with the sweeping:
If, finally, you're determined to do something as recklessly stupid as walk across a war zone, your surest bet to quash all the inevitable criticism is to write a flat-out masterpiece. Stewart did. Stewart has. 'The Places in Between' is, in very nearly every sense, too good to be true.
Indeed. Bravo! What really caught our attention though, was how smoking Stewart looks in the accompanying photo; with his puffy North Face jacket and Bubar, the toothless, ear-less and tail-less former fighting dog, who accompanied Stewart on his journey. Hey, Rory, we totally have that same jacket and have been rocking it each winter since 9th grade! Um, can we be friends? Or at least be in the same prep school gang?
Famous people, and especially famous people who not so long ago wrote a scathing-slash-hilarious review of Bernard-Henri Levy's "American Vertigo" and have a Robert Altman movie starring Lindsay Lohan that came out this week, can be thrown a bone or two. Respect. So we'll let Garrison Keillor's review of the new Harper Lee biography, "Mockingbird," by Charles J. Shields in which he devotes a mere 54 words to what he actually thinks of the book — "Charles Shields is a former English teacher who taught Harper Lee's book, and a scrupulous journalist who respects the lady's privacy even as he opens up her life. This biography will not disappoint those who loved the novel and the feisty, independent, fiercely loyal Scout, in whom Harper Lee put so much of herself" — slide. We actually liked what we read and fear that we sound a bit like those crotchety ladies from South Dakota who always write letters to the editor saying things like, "I thought this was the New York Times Book Review not the New York Times Book Synopsis," but we actually care about Garrison Keillor's opinion and wanted more of it! So, consider this a friendly warning, GK. And know that next time you pull something like this, we'll drown Bruno the Fishing Dog.