Boston Globe Review roundup

Here we are again, poring over the Boston Globe Sunday Book review section. This week has both hits and misses. First let me mention that they only covered 2 fiction books this week. Out of the 4 pages, they ran an interview column, the ‘Reading Life’ column, 3 long non-fiction and 6 short non-fiction reviews. That just plain sucks. The interview, which I will get to later, is great. And I thought the lead non-fiction review well done. But why only 2 fiction (and one of them is a book I just plain won’t read)?

It starts with the ‘On Sports‘ column from Bill Littlefield. I am not a sportnut, but Littlefield does a great turn for the 3 books he covers : Sowbelly: The Obsessive Quest for the World Record Largemouth Bass by Monte Burke, On Being John McEnroe by Tim Adams, and Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig by Jonathan Eig. The lead review is a double whammy. Gregg Herken covers both American Prometheus: The Trimumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin and 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos by Jennet Conant. Herken is an interesting pick to review these books. He authored Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller, parts of which Bird and Sherwin criticize. But even with that, Herken calls American Prometheus “an Everest among the mountains of books on the bomb project and Oppenheimer, and is an achievement not likely to be surpassed or equaled.” [warning- obvious plugging of my place of employment: The authors of American Prometheus, Kai Bird and Martion Sherwin will be appearing at my store this Wednesday, May 4th at 6:30. Okay, all done.]

Page 2 starts with Gail Caldwell, chief critic book critic of the Globe, reviewing Roxana Robinson collection A Perfect Stranger and Other Stories. She finds much to like and little to criticize. Below is the review that surprised me (and not in a good way). Why they included a review of Sue Monk Kidd’s new book The Mermaid Chair is beyond me. Call me prejudiced (I know I am) but first of all, it’s gotten enough press. Second of all, maybe they are trying to appeal to the Christian audience. Couldn’t they have picked a better book? The Secret Life of Bees was a surprise bestseller. I haven’t read it, not my cup of tea. But that at least sounded pretty good. This sounds like a load of crap. There. I’ve said it. On we go to ‘Short Takes’, this week by Barbara Fisher. She covers only non-fiction: Uncensored: Views and (Re)views by the prolific Joyce Carol Oates, Finding Betty: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food by Susan Marks, and The Sex Doctors in the Basement: True Stories From a Semi-Celebrity Childhood by Molly Jong-Fast. The last book gets another thumbs down. Are there any good reviews of this book?

I found Robin Dougherty’s interview with Judy Norsigian, one of the women behind Our Bodies, Ourselves, one of the highlights this week. The 8th edition of the book is arriving in time for its 35 anniversary. I had forgotten how revolutionary the book was upon its publication. On the rest of page 3, Joseph Rosenbloom checks out Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson. This seems to be one of those books that the critics think has good points, but aren’t willing to get truly behind.

In this week’s ‘Reading Life‘, Katherine Powers discusses novels that include characters the author intends to skewer, such as the Reverend Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. It’s sort of an interesting column, but didn’t set me on fire. The last column is the monthly ‘On Audio‘ from Rochelle O’Gorman. She does a nice job critiquing the various auidobooks.

And that’s it. With the exception of the Oppenheimer review and the interview, everything else is so-so. Its a bland week for the Globe.

4 thoughts on “Boston Globe Review roundup

  1. el viejo Rojo

    As far as I can tell the Globe Book section (which barely qualifies to be called a book section ) is not worth much except for Gail Caldwell’s reviews (among other things I like her choices) and Katherine Powers’s literary perigrinations.

    Well, okay that’s not so bad.

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  2. bookdwarf

    Heh. I have to admit, it’s getting harder and harder to do the Globe reviews each week. It’s really a lesson in mediocrity. At least there is usually one standout in the section each week. Gail Caldwell, Katherine Powers, and Caroline Leavitt are the best parts of that the “book section”.

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  3. robin d. gill

    Hate to dispute you first time at the blog, but to hear the Globe Book section has mostly non-fiction reviews delights me for everywhere i look good nonfiction (unless it is american history) is seldom reviewed while a zillion mediocre novels are. If Chesterton or Thoreau wrote today who would review them? But, if the nonfiction the BG reviewed was the usual self-help crap or books of little style and less substance . . . I stopped reading book reviews a few years ago (and i was an aquisitions editor for 20 yrs and did nothing but serve books) both because of the poor selection of books reviewed,and because the reviewers failed to mention earlier books on the same subject because, i assume, the review editor selected the wrong reviewer for the book.

    i assume you find too many nonfiction reviews out there because you like fiction and i find the opposite because . . .

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  4. bookdwarf

    I like non-fiction. What I lament is the lack of even coverage. The Globe has some fine non-fiction reviews, but most papers today seem to focus on non-fiction. The fiction they all end up reviewing seem to be the same books. How many reviews of a new Roth or Foer or whatever the big book is at the time do we need? I’d rather the Globe round out their section a bit more. And expand their section. And quit wasting space with silly graphics. Well, I could go on and on.

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