I’m going to try and be a bit more brief this week, if only because I have a lot of work to do today. But I think it’s important to keep examining the Books section to showcase what’s good and what’s not so good. Unfortunately this week, there is a lot of not so good. I hate to say it, but I find the Globe book review fairly boring. They only covered 4 fiction books this week and 2 of them were only short reviews. They try to vary things by having different columnists each week, but this week they were unable to generate much interest in any of the books they reviewed.
The first page always contains a column on the left and a large review on the right with a giant picture taking up valuable review space (there’s enough room for another review there). This week the first page featured Bill Littlefield’s ‘On Sports’ column and Kathleen Dalton review of Patricia O’Toole’s When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House. Not being a sports nut, I can’t say much about Littlefield’s column, only to say that there were no transitions between paragraphs in his reviews of the 4 books. It was all abrupt new paragraphs. Maybe I am being picky, but if your going to cover several books in a column you should try to connect them if possible. Dalton’s review on the other hand is one of the high points of this week’s review section. The author of another biography of Teddy Roosevelt, she does not agree with all of the conclusions from O’Toole’s book. But she also still makes sure to tell the reader to check out this book anyway: “Though I stand by my own biography’s more flattering portrayal of the truly progressive development of Theodore Roosevelt, I see O’Toole’s marvelous study as a must read for anyone who loves or hates TR.” It’s a well-written review and I repect the fact that she tries to remain objective throughout even if she refers to Theodore Roosevelt enthusiasts as “Tedheads”.
The New & Recommended bit at the top of page 2 remains almost entirely unchanged. New this week is Francine Prose’s A Changed Man, which was reviewed favorably last week. I still find it irritating that they rarely change these books. I know they are books that are selected from books recently reviewed by the Globe, but doesn’t that say something about the review section as a whole?
Page two contains 2 big reviews: David Maloof covers Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage by Laura Waterman and Anna Mundow looks at Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way. The Barry is the only regular size review of a fiction book this week. Just shameful. Maloof did not make me want to pick up Waterman’s book. In fact, he made me wonder why they were reviewing it in the first place. Mundow did a nice job with Barry’s new work. In the ‘Short Takes’ column, Barbara Fisher covered Committed: Men Tell Stories of Love, Commitment, and Marriage ed. by Chris Knuten, Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz, and The Swimmer by Zsuzsa Bank. I had the same problem Scott had with this short review of Committed. She spent too much time summarizing some of the essays and not enough time on why this book was put together in the first place. The other two were better though, plus I was glad to see some more fiction. On a side note, Judy Budnitz is appearing tonight with Elizabeth Gaffney at my store.
Page 3 begins with Robin Dougherty’s interview with Alan Lightman. This is a nice column, one I almost wish they gave more space. Next to that is Kenneth Lodmerer’s take on A Change of Heart: How the People of Framingham, Massachusetts, Helped Unravel the Mysteries of Cardiovascular Disease by Daniel Levy and Susan Brink. The review is a good one—explains the thesis of the book and discusses the pros and cons, but I wonder if the only reason it is here is due to the local interest. And again, the bottom third of the page is taken up with the ‘Local bestsellers’ and ‘Bookings’ columns. See last week for my complaints about those.
Page 4 begins with ‘A Reading Life’ by Katherine Powers which is a column that appears in alternate Sundays. This week she tackles the Irish soul. Books mentioned are William Trevor’s A Bit on the Side and There You Are: Writings on Irish and American Literature and History from the New York Review of Books. It’s a nicely written column with varying subjects each week. Tucked away beneath Powers’ column is Ann Blackman’s review of Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer by Victor Cherkashin. This is the only review this week that made me actually want to check out the book. Blackman doesn’t allude to whether the book is well-written or not, but the stories alone make me want to read it. The right side of the page contains ‘On Audio’, a recurring column about, you guess right, Audio books. I don’t listen to books on tape so I usually ignore this part unfortunately.
That’s it. The entire Globe book review in a nutshell. Okay, so it’s a coconut, but still. The only article worth mentioning is the interview with Lydia Millet, author of Everyone’s Pretty in Joshua Glenn’s ‘The Examined Life’ section in Ideas. It’s nice to see someone from a good small press get attention.