I used to subscribe to the Sunday NY Times, but after my employment status changed -- so I finally had time to read it -- I decided it was a luxury I could no longer afford. So no more NY Times Book Review for me, except that I can certainly read it online.
Online is not so easy with the LA Times Book Review. It has incredibly awful UI, aka User Interface design, aka It Looks Terrible and The Headlines Don't Seem to Connect With the Subheads And What's More There Appear to Be Only 8 Reviews Which Seems a Little Thin, Don't You Think? Nevertheless, I've dug in this week to give it a shot.
And the first review makes me run for cover. The opening of the Jonathan Kirsch review of A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 and five other earthquake books:
EARTHQUAKES are an unremarkable fact of life in California. The point is made in "L.A. Story," Steve Martin's affectionate parody of life in Los Angeles, when we see the diners in a chic restaurant go on chatting, sipping and nibbling as the glassware begins to rattle ominously.
As far as I'm concerned, the worst way to open a book review is with an anecdote of the reviewer meeting the author. The second worst way is to reference a film in a review of books that have nothing to do with movies. I know we're in LA, but could we talk about books here? Not to mention this is an incredibly shallow take on Angelenos and earthquakes compared to The Myth of Solid Ground, an interesting and thoughtful earthquake book that just happens to be written by David Ulin, editor of the LA Times Book Review.
Speaking of editing, someone wasn't keeping a close eye on Richard Schickel's review of two spy novels (The Last Supper by Charles McCarry and The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson). The first time I read "pretty much" in the review, it jumped out as wishy-washy writing but I thought maybe it worked in context. But the second and third times the phrase appeared, it stood out as an authorial tic that didn't need to be there. Something is or it isn't, or it needs to be more clearly defined. "Pretty much" three times is just sloppy. That aside, it's a fine review that gives a nice perspective on both books.
Susan Salter Reynolds deftly disposes of Caitlin Flanagan in her wrap up of Mommy Wars books: "her writing becomes so whiny, self-indulgent and frankly bizarre that it capsizes the book entirely." Salter Reynolds writes up 7 other recent mommy books andfins that class is a huge issue, and that the challenge of being a working mom is a meme that ain't anywhere near over.
Reviewer Diana Wagman loves Erica Jong's latest -- and her earliest, too -- but it still sounds like something I don't want to read. Wagman writes, "Jong begins this memoir with her speech to City University of New York graduates." Jong was booed, and now she wants approval for being booed. Sounds like exhuasting narcissism to me.
Darcy Cosper gives Alternatives to Sex by Stephen McCauley a nice review, finding it both witty and wise. That I could read. And I might read The Nimrod Flipout, the first translated short stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret, due to the interesting review by Richard Eder.
The novel The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre by Dominic Smith gets a mixed review from Brigitte Frase. Of late I'm a little worn out with less-than-perfect historical fiction, so I'll have to give Daguerre a pass. But maybe not next week.