Ah, another Sunday, another Globe Books section to devour. Ideas section> WTF?! Slim pickings this week. There are only 3 full reviews and only 4 fiction book reviewed in the entire section (1 ‘full’ review [full actually means a quarter of the page since they feel the lead review needs a giant illustration always], 2 in a short column and one in the ‘Short Takes’ section). Are they following the NYT’s lead with multiple Chronicle type columns?
Page 1 opens with ‘Pop Lit’ by Diane White. She covers What Comes After Crazy by Sandi Kahn Shelton and The Next Big Thing by Johanna Edwards. Most of the column is plot synopsis with about a paragraph given to actual criticism, which she does do. The lead review this week is Jennifer Haigh’s take on Paradise, the new novel from Scot writer A.L. Kennedy. This really is the highpoint of the section. Haigh writes a very insightful critique of the book. Kudos! She deftly covers not just the plot, but also has time to discuss Kennedy’s “remarkable sentences”. She also calls it “Kennedy’s greatest achievement to date”.
By now, you would think I’d become resigned to the fact that the ‘New & Recommended’ rarely changes. I haven’t. Seems like every week, they add 1 new book and just take off one of the older ones. Frankly, I think it sucks. The second full review is of This I Believe: An A to Z of a Life by Carlos Fuentes written by Ilan Stavans. While a nice review, you get the sense that Stavans was not going to like the book before he picked it up. He says he “was a Fuentes devotee years ago” and what drove him away “was his incapacity to mature as an artist”. In ‘Short Takes’, Amanda Heller skims over In Fond Remembrance of Me by Howard Norman, This Life She’s Chosen by Kirsten Lunstrom and A Restless Past: History and the American Public by Joyce Appleby. What I hate about short story collection reviews is when they spend the whole time with plot synopses for each story rather than deal with the collection as a whole. She could have spent more than the 1 sentence than she did with actual reviewing of Lunstrom’s story collection. The bottom of page 2 is ‘For Children’ by Liz Rosenberg, where she covers 3 different kids’ books.
Page 3 begins with ‘A Reading Life’, this week written by Caroline Leavitt. She muses on 2 books on psychics this week: Small Mediums at Large: The True Tale of a Family of Psychics by Terry Iacuzzo and The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox. Of the 2 books, I’d be more likely to read the one on Maggie Fox. I am the first to admit that I am a snob and also that I don’t believe in psychics. The column is well-written, but it’s a week where the topic is just uninteresting to me. I did however like Sharon Ullman’s review of The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-first Century by Anne Kingston. She discusses eloquently what she likes and where she finds faults in Kingston’s work.
The last page I found sort of baffling. Carlo Wolff presents a column on Graphic Novels. Well, sort of a column. The printed color examples of the books he discussed and short synopses of each one in a hodgepodge kind of way. He chose some excellent graphic novels to talk about, including Epileptic by David B. and American Elf by James Kochalka. And Wolff manages to talk about graphic novels without the condescension one usually finds. See the article to find out what books he discusses. Nudged in right next to the graphic novel review is Nina Easton’s look at Christine Todd Whitman’s It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America and Newt Gingrich’s Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America. While I have no desire to read Gingrich’s book, and nothing could convince me to change my mind, Whitman’s book has more appeal now. But I still find it odd that they placed it next to the lurid Graphic novel bit.
I found it only took me to about 30 minutes to read the whole review section this week. It just seemed short on substance—-too many rundowns of multiple books in a column. It’s too bad, because all of the long reviews—all 3 of them—were pretty good this week. If only they would devote more space to the section! Sorry, broken record here.