Archive for the ‘bad books’ category

Reviews I Love to Read … As Long As It Ain’t About My Book: Wieseltier v. Podhoretz cage match edition.

September 13, 2009

I’m not an unequivocal fan of Leon Wieseltier, but even those whose disapprobation runs far richer than mine would acknowledge that he can sling both words and snarks with the pros.

Case in point, this devastating review of a book that I will not read and an argument that deserves ground-zero treatment:  Norman Podhoretz’s lament and “when-will-they-come-to-their-senses” screed about the odd truth that his co-religionists fail to see religious necessity, obvious to him, in unquestioning support for the worst elements in US and Israeli politics.*, **

But, despite the urge to footnote indulged in below, let me cease by paraphrasing Einstein in his memorable rebuke of (Christian) German militarism:  why so many words, when you can read Wieseltier empty his magazine into the twitching corpse of Podhoretz’s long, long effort to nullify the imperatives within Isiah and Micah.  For a sample, enjoy this:

…this is a dreary book. Its author has a completely axiomatic mind that is quite content to maintain itself in a permanent condition of apocalyptic excitation. His perspective is so settled, so confirmed, that it is a wonder he is not too bored to write.

Yeeow….and that’s only the beginning.  Wieseltier goes on, through two web-jumps, delightfully, playfully, magisterially ripping Podhoretz new orifices into which scorn may flow yet more freely.  Have fun.

(And yes….writers do like reading thorough, relentless, even vicious Cato-like reviews…as long as the Carthaginian text thus ploughed with salt does not issue from their own computer, or that of their friends.***

*OK.  That’s the short version.  But it captures the gist.

**As a Jew with deep Zionist family history (my ancestor, Sir Moses Montefiore, was one of the first sponsors of Jewish settlement outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem), I got no problem with support for Israel — but I’ve never for the life of me understood the sheer folly of assuming “support” = “sheep like endorsement of whatever the government of Israel (or any other nation) says or does.  This is an old and stale argument, but Podhoretz is an old and stale arguer, so I suppose it all makes for a tedious kind of eternal return of the same BS ….

***Making the assumption that such solitary misanthropes as writers have friends, and not just “friends”…in the sense of those to whom one may complain freely of editors, agents, booksellers, and an insufficiently entranced public.  As it happens, as I age, my pleasure in and the number of writers who are genuine friends grows.  One of the compensations for the most annoying property of the arrow of time.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, “Jeremiah lamenting over the destruction of Jerusalem” 1630


February 25, 2009

See this.

Thanks for all the fish.

(PS:  Roy Blount Jr. is onto us.)

Image:  Page 13 of the Codex Borbonicus. Fifteenth or sixteenth century.

RIP John Leonard

November 7, 2008

The world is just a little bit too quiet suddenly.

Leonard had a voice.  He didn’t write book reports and it never was all about him, two of the common sins of cultural criticism.  Books are a very strange way to make a living — I should know, as I’m about to embark on my fifth willing suspension of disbelief.  People like Leonard are essential to writers of books because he/they provide hints in contradiction to the evidence that the effort matters.  That’s true, except, of course that there aren’t people like him; the whole point of Leonard’s work is that his was an individual sensibility — what he thought and felt, he himself, and not some congealing of herd reaction.

It’s getting too quiet around here, and I haven’t even got to my thoughts on the loss of Studs Terkel yet.

A Leonard credo can be found here.

More links to his work and other commentaries on his life and writing can be found at the bottom of this moving remembrance by Edward Champion. 

(h/t bkcdgrd)

Image: Gustave Courbet, “Portrait of Baudelaire,” 1848.

Not very helpful but kind of fun anyway.

January 26, 2008

Thanks to my first trip to Gawker in a few years, I stumbled upon this, a somewhat difficult to read graphic depiction of a correlation between particular books, colleges that list favorite books and SAT scores — or, as its creator called the work, “Books that make you dumb.”

The books that seem to make you smartest (i.e., correlate with the taste at colleges with the highest SAT scores) are Lolita and 100 Years of Solitude. At the other end, lie the works of Zane.

There’s grist for all here. I won’t make some of the obvious comments/snarks, but I must say I’m surprised that Coehlo’s The Alchemist ranked as high as it did. Plenty more fun to be had here, though.

Meanwhile, boys and girls: do remember that this a truly naive study. It’s a fun picture, but not much more, IMHO.

Image:  Abraham van Strij, “Merchant.” Source:  Wikipedia Commons.