This week's edition of the Times book review is a little cranky — Intern Alexis finds snark everywhere, from Walter Kirn to Norah Vincent to Ana Marie Cox (no surprise there). Apparently, that's how one should celebrate our nation's indepedence: sipping haterade. Or, if you're Dorin Oltarsh Schumacher, you celebrate by writing the Review a long-ass letter about how you had to put a child up for adoption 50 years ago. Then you stick a sparkler up your ass.

After the jump, Intern Alexis guides you towards literacy in her review of the Review.


The New York Times Book Review makes us want to do a lot of things: Reach for an Excedrin, think about what we are going to have for dinner, count the number of things in our room beginning with the letter "F"...

It does not however, make us want to reach into the depths of our soul and share our most traumatic experiences with the entire Book Review-reading public.

Not that we have any problem with Dorin Oltarsh Schumacher's letter to the editor in which she explains that Kathryn Harrison's review of Ann Fessler's book, "The Girls Who Went Away," inspired her to come forward and tell NYTBR readers that she gave a child up for adoption in the 1950s. In fact, we think her letter is quite moving and it was a very brave and honorable way to share her story. She writes: "I went on to get married, have two more healthy children, earn a Ph.D. and have a successful career in academe and nonprofit organization management. I have told few people about my first child... until now."

We just wonder whether Dorin was really thinking about her audience here. Does she truly want her story of losing her virginity at 19 to a boy she did not love and her time spent at the Staten Island home for unwed mothers to fall on the ears of some 60-something, elbow-patch-wearing, first-edition-John Cheever-owning, gin-breath in a suburb outside of Boston? Maybe O Magazine next time?

Road Trippin:

The front page of this week's Review is dedicated to Robert Sullivan's ode to the Great American Road Trip as reviewed by Bruce Barcott. We don't have a driver's license and our learner's permit expired about eight months ago, but we're feeling the road trip vibe and could use some root beer or fried chicken or a piece of Elvis paraphernalia or something right now.

Kind of weird and unfortunate though that no one told poor Stephen Prothero to cool it with the road trip metaphors in his review of J.C. Hallman's "The Devil Is a Gentleman"... He begins his review of Hallman's book on the "religious fringe" by writing:

At least since Gilgamesh went on a quest for immortality in the ancient Babylonian epic that bears his name, road novels have often doubled as flights of spiritual fancy. In "Dharma Bums," for example, Jack Kerouac read the pilgrimages of his Beat Generation friends through the lens of "A Buddhist Bible," an anthology of Zen and other Buddhist scriptures edited by the Christian-minister-turned-Buddhist-advocate Dwight Goddard. "The Devil Is a Gentleman," by J. C. Hallman, is nonfiction, but it too is a tale of the sort of spirituality that can be found on the American road.

Been there done that on the cover, bro!


While reading this seemingly sunny and ice-tea drenched issue of the NYTBR, we realized that it was actually not so sunny, and in fact, the July 4th edition was generally filled with some pretty mean reviews. We guess people were anxious to leave for the Hamptons and just dashed off some piss and vinegar before they could get to their mimosas and ice cold Coronas.

Here is a round-up of some mean things people said this week (and there was more! We just didn't have it in us to include everything):

Erica Wagner on Andrea Lee's "Lost Hearts in Italy":

... I kept wondering why I was bothering with these people, and why the author kept feeling the need to drive her points, such as they are, home so firmly... it's possible for a novel - and unfortunately, this is just such a novel - to be both too particular and not particular enough. It's a shame, but there are no surprises here, however much even the author herself might have wished for them.

Terrence Rafferty on Philippe Claudel's "By A Slow River":

It's a shame Claudel doesn't trust his storytelling skill. He appears to believe (fatal error) that a novel, a literary novel, requires a fully formulated philosophy of life. So he formulates and formulates, relentlessly, almost desperately, like an interrogator trying to sweat the truth from a stubborn suspect. But it's no use...

Walter Kirn on Cynthia Ozick's "The Din in the Head":

If the novel did die a few years back, well, we survived, apparently. And if it didn't, it probably never will. Either way, the din of our destruction is mostly in Ozick's head.

Ana Marie Cox on Katha Pollitt's "Virginity or Death!":

When women dress up damaging choices as empowerment, it weakens feminist argument. But when feminists start lecturing about wrong choices, it lessens their numbers. I wish I had an easy answer about how to navigate between stridency and submission. Then again, I wish Katha Pollitt did too.

David Quammen on Carl Safina's "Voyage of the Turtle":

I would like to be able to tell you that this is a riveting nature book for hardheaded, skeptical people of broad interests who, ordinarily, would never read a nature book. Instead I can merely assure you that it contains some potent facts and some very nice turtles.

Sarah Ferrell on Helen Reddy's "The Woman I Am":

"The Woman I Am" belongs right up there with the collected works of Shirley MacLaine.

Norah Vincent on John Cornwell's "Seminary Boy":

He renounces his pious life as quickly and inexplicably as he began it, essentially saying that he suddenly found himself unwilling to submit to its "outrageous and dogmatic demands." Sadly, this is a conclusion as deeply unsatisfying and disappointing as the rest of Cornwell's account - an account that serves only to confirm the worst stereotypes of Catholic life without elucidating any of what even a recovering Catholic can acknowledge are that life's profound mystical attractions.