Several years ago, the Globe moved their book reviews into a new section they call Ideas, which starts with articles on non-news topics. Examples from this week are articles on ‘The Hypomanic American’, in which a psychologist argues that America is rich because some Americans are nuts. Many of the articles seem to emulate the style of the Boston Review. The best part is the small section on the bottom of the page 2 and 3 called ‘The Examined Life’ by Joshua Glenn. It usually contains 3 small pieces and often includes interviews with authors. Now, I am not going to review the Ideas part of the section, mainly because I have no expertise when it comes to most of the subjects. Plus the newspaper seems to keep them separate anyway. Even online, the Ideas and the Reviews sections have their own pages (don’t get me started on the Globe’s online web pages).
Regardless, I am here to look at the small review section. The reviews only get 4 pages total. That seems too small right off the bat. But let’s look further. A quick glance shows 6 full reviews, 2 columns covering several books, a ‘Short Takes’ section, A small ‘New & Recommended’ section at the top of page 2, and the weekly ‘Reading Life’ column. That’s it. They include a local bestsellers category next to a small Bookings listing. But you can get more complete coverage of readings from the Boston Phoenix. Frankly, I find the Globe’s review section a bit pathetic. I imagine in its heyday, it might have had better coverage. Alas, we are left with this. Let’s see what books they choose to cover.
The column on the first page varies. This week Hallie Ephron covers Crime fiction, reviewing 3 new hardcover mysteries: The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais, Son of a Gun: A Sydney Sloane Mystery by Randye Lordon, and Busted Flush by Brad Smith. Next to that is a really nice review by author Mameve Medwed of A Changed Man by Francine Prose. The review is solid in my opinion—some plot discussion as well as the books strengths and weaknesses.
On the next page, the ‘New & Recommended’ has some interesting choices. They don’t tend to change the titles too often. Collapse is still on there as well as Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland and American Ghosts by David Plante. Those last two came out in 2004! At least they have Calamity and Other Stories by local author Daphne Kalotay on there. The big review on this page Barbara Fisher’s article on Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas, who used to live around Boston. She goes over Zailckas’ life, but I never get a sense of if she thinks the writing is any good or if the book is worth reading. The smaller review at the bottom of the page is Edward Larson’s take on A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit by Alan Lightman. Are you sensing the pattern yet? Lightman is a professor over at MIT. The Globe likes to cover the local authors. The ‘Short Takes’ section by Amanda Heller covers Tom Bissell’s God Lives in St. Petersburg, The Perfect Hour by James West and Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welch. All are short, but nice snapshots of the books. Good job there.
On page 3, the left side of the page is taken up with a paean to Madison Smart Bell’s epic series on Haiti. It’s nice to see something a bit different reviewed, but I wish the book The Stone That the Builder Refused was something new, not from last Fall. The rest of the page is taken up with a review covering Harvard Rules: The Struggle for the Soul of the World’s Most Powerful University by Richard Bradley (formerly Richard Blow) and Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class by Ross Douthat. The bottom of the page is taken up with the Local Bestsellers and the local bookings sections, which are more or less a waste of space here. I am not sure who is interested in the local bestsellers here and the booking sections is just terrible. If you are going to have that section, you should be mroe thorough.
On the top left of the final page, Liz Rosenberg covers 4 children’s books. Below that is a nice review of Letter From America, 1946-2004 by Alistair Cooke. And in the right column, James Sallis writes about rereading Camus’ The Stranger. This I like—a nice mediation on reading older books again and how your perspective changes over time.
So this survey got out of my control. Sorry about that. Maybe I should rethink my own format. The Globe, like many papers, has some good and some bad. They tend to focus on local authors and events, which is nice. But they also tend to review older books. I give them a bonus for the Sallis column. I just wish they devoted more pages to books. But what else is new.