I thoroughly enjoyed my ritual Sunday morning perusal of The New York Times Book Review today. A few of the reviews even made me laugh out loud. I’ve said before that given a choice between “a fair review of a worthy book” and “a good piece,” I’d opt for the former every time. But each of these reviews demonstrates to me that it’s possible to be both funny and fair, to be entertaining and critically astute at the same time. Here are some excerpts.
David Orr on Good Poems for Hard Times (Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor, Viking, 2005): "The most obvious problem with Good Poems for Hard Times is that it proposes that 'the meaning of poetry is to give courage.' That is not the meaning of poetry; that is the meaning of Scotch. The meaning of poetry is poetry." For the full review click here.
Ada Calhoun on Diana Souhami’s Wild Girls: Paris, Sappho and Art: The Lives and Loves of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks (St. Martin’s Press, 2005): "Reading about [Natalie Barney’s] insatiable appetite for culture and sex is enough to make even a prolific and promiscuous woman reader wonder if she should get out more." For the full review click here.
Gary Kamiya on Kevin Chong’s Neil Young Nation: A Quest, an Obsession (and a True Story) (Greystone Books, 2005): "Chong, who fell under Young’s spell at age 13 or 14, proclaims, with atypical grandiosity, that 'Neil Young saved my life.' Yet it seems more like Young saved him from being a dork which is not exactly the same thing." For the full review click here.
There wasn’t much danger that I’d pick up Good Poems for Hard Times regardless of what Orr had to say about it. I gather that it does indeed include some good poems. But the organizing concept has a chicken-soup-for-the-soul quality about it that makes me cringe. I have already ordered a copy of Wild Girls. Given my longstanding interest in literary Paris in the twenties, I would likely have done so without Calhoun’s endorsement. However, though the book has apparently been available in Canada for some time, I hadn’t heard about it until I read Calhoun’s review. On the potential of Neil Young Nation I remain ambivalent. I'm a fan of unusual travelogues and also of Neil Young but I’m not convinced that Chong’s book is one I would enjoy.
All in all, my lazy morning with the newspaper feels like time well spent.
[For those who are not regular readers of Sarah Weinman's excellent blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, she does a "Weekend Update" every Sunday in which she provides a round up of the contents of the weekend book pages from various newspapers around the world. Her primary focus is on crime fiction, but even if your literary interests lie elsewhere, she casts a wide net. It's well worth checking out. Here's the link to this week's "Weekend Update."]