Sunday, May 12, 2013


Consider the following series of softball questions:

* Which authors do you most admire?
* When and where do you like to read?
* What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Are there any you steer clear of?
* What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from those books? 
* What do you plan to read next?

In what circumstances might such a series of patiently deferential questions be posed?  Well, perhaps by a remedial reading specialist, to a child with learning disabilities whom we are trying to encourage.   Also posed was the following question,

*If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

which would seem to be going a bit too far in the fad for flattery of the child’s self-esteem, but such are the times in which we live.

However, this bucket of glurge did not appear in a Special Ed handbook, nor in a newsletter to parents -- but in the Book Review section of this morning’s New York Times, taking up most of a page:

The interview is surmounted by no identification whatsoever of the interviewee, aside from a soft-tone flattering sketched portrait.  Now, the only way in which her responses could possibly be of interest to literate adult readers would be the person thus polled were a noted literary critic nearing the end of a long and productive career.   But it turns out that the interviewee thus fawned over was someone called “Amanda Knox”.    I had heard the name somewhere, but had the impression it referred to a television actress, or perhaps a lingerie model or pop star.    And so I looked the wench up in Wikipedia.

Her only claim to fame, it turns out,  is to have been an exchange student and barmaid in Italy, whose roommate was then murdered.   The circumstances involved astonishingly grotesque details.  She was accused and convicted of the murder;  accused and convicted of slander for having falsely accused a certain man of the crime.  The latter conviction stood;  the former was overturned, then turned upright again, with an order for a new trial, which now (the accused being safely back in the US)  will never take place.   Ms Knox (or her ghostwriter) then penned a memoir of this sordid affair, for which she received an advance of several million dollars.

Where actual guilt lies in all this, I have no idea, though a perusal of this detaled account

will likely leave you thinking that, whether or not Ms. Knox personally wielded the knife, she is not the sort of person you would want as a baby-sitter for your child, nor even a member of your bookclub.  And certainly not someone to whose superior wisdom the President should defer, on the subject of his required reading.

And with that, the New York Times Book Review -- a frequent offender in this regard -- sinks yet another level in its fawning.

The author, greeting her admirers

Βαβυλν μεγάλη, μήτηρ τν πορνν κα τν βδελυγμάτων τς γς


[Update 19 May 2013]  The very next issue of the NYT Book Review  continues the sodden trend, with a full-page review of two new books by Elinor Lipman.

I actually knew Mrs. Lipman back in Longmeadow -- her son and mine played together (not very nicely);  I attended one of her readings, and was much taken with her charm, and with her story collection Into Love and Out Again.    It may be that the new books are also good -- but the review is a glop of goo.  (Any single quoted phrase would damn it;  but instead of wasting pixels, I shall donate them to the poor.)  No-one with a functioning Y chromosome would wish to go anywhere near books praised in such terms.   Whether Mrs. Lipman has become more gynecocentric, or whether the NYTBR has simply settled dreamily into a pool of its own warm piss, is for others to discern.

For a possibly partly parallel feminine literary trajectory (again, a beautiful and charming author, whose early work I greatly enjoyed):
     Rebecca Goldstein meets the Schroedinger Equation

[Update 26 May 2013]  The NYTBR partly redeems itself this week  by printing an actual review (as opposed to puff-piece lapdog colpoglossia) of the (ghost-written) Knox book -- and by a male, no less (Sam Tanenhaus)!
The review begins (and this is nothing to the discredit of Ms. Knox, but rather to the balloon-boy-addicted American public):

The dubiously accused  almost always disappoint, once their full stories are told.  It is the crime that magnetizes our attention.  Remove the stain of guilt … and what’s left?

As for the claim of the (at-one-remove) author to guru-status:

Her candid summaries of flings and one-night stands  exude triumphalism …For today’s young women … the ideal of sexual freedom seems to derive  more from Helen Gurley Brown  than from Susan Brownmiller.

Better yet:   The review shifts the focus away from the contingent individual caught willy-nilly in the net, to the Gomorric landscape of Italy under that preening malfaiteur Berlusconi, which formed the background to her sad flings.   (I almost spelled it "Gomorrhic" -- but no, that's gonorrhea.)

[Update 15 March 2014]  The chancre of Amanda Knox  continues to ooze its luetic effluvia.  Well observed by Ruth Marcus:

Read Belle Knox, the freshman’s nom de porn, on her decision to pay tuition bills by performing in adult films, and you see the vulnerability underlying the faux-feminist, hear-me-roar bravado about rejecting slut-shaming:

“My experience in porn has been nothing but supportive, exciting, thrilling, and empowering,” Knox — she chose the last name in a weird homage to Amanda Knox, the college student accused of murdering her roommate in Italy — wrote on the Web site “For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy.”

[Update 4 June 2013]  The latest item from the literary front
Note:   There are so many anecdotes, swirling about like dust-motes, that it were pointless to highlight this or that one.  We need to focus on Big Game.  And the biggest game in town these days, for short fiction, is The New Yorker -- this is no straw-man (ahem, pardon, strawpersonAmerican with straw …).   And their premier showcase for American fiction is their annual fiction issue, which just came out (a double one, dated June 10 & 17, 2013).   And the premier publicity slot is the outside cover, taken up this issue with a full-page color ad from Amazon.
The ad is for the “Kindle Paperwhite”, boasting “Read in Bright Sunlight”.   This, if true, is indeed a noteworthy engineering achievement;  back in the days when I was editor-in-chief of Franklin Electronic publishers, our would-be flagship proto-Kindle, the ill-fated “e-Bookman” (many years before its time, alas) was notably deficient as regards the display.
But that engineering detail -- the real reason you might want to buy this model  as opposed to earlier ones -- is buried in small print at the very bottom of the page.  What grabs the eye -- being, indeed, a stark paperwhite agains the background of color -- is a bit of fiction that begins thus:

I don’t have to look up to know Mom is making another surprise visit.  Her toenails are always pink during the summer…
Once again, Mother has found me in my bathrobe….

Now think about this.  Ostensibly, Amazon is selling a piece of newly-engineered hardware -- both gender- and genre-neutral.   Yet of all the prose they could have chosen, they picked something that might have fallen out of some ditz-head’s FaceBook page.   Not merely does it make no attempt to appeal to both men and women:  it features the sort of trivial female narcissism that would send any normal male streaking to the vomitorium.

All in all, it’s a helluva time for a straight guy to be trying to sell books.   But for what it’s worth, you can check these out:

[Neubemerkung  23 III 14]  Gar nachdenkenerregend, diese Geraetswerbung. Heutmorgens im NYTBuecherblatt gab’s ‘ne faustdicke Amazone die mannekinweise das Kindle hochhielt.

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