The fiction/non-fiction ratio was way off last Sunday—only 2 fiction reviews and books that have been reviewed in many other publications. I know that some people like to read multiple reviews of the same book to see the varying opinions, but at the same time, how many reviews do we really need of Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk’s new book? I don’t know. But I do know that whereas the Globe does pretty well with their non-fiction coverage, occasionally even reviewing books that are overlooked in other papers, their fiction coverage just plain sucks. There’s no daring. There are exceptions of course. They did after all do a nice piece on Richard McCann’s Mother of Sorrows. But week after week, I turn to these pages and find the same reviews I find in other papers on the 4 pages. If you had 4 pages, what would you spend it on? Let’s take a look at the Globe‘s choices, shall we?
We begin with a column titles ‘Self Help‘ by Naomi Rand. She covers All in My Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache by Paula Kamen, Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha Beck, and Only a Mother Could Love Him: My Life with and Triumph Over ADD by Ben Polis. Frankly, this column didn’t move me much. The rest of the page is devoted to David Hackett Fischer’s review of 1776 by David McCullough. I complained above about multiple reviews of big titles, but here I am making an exception. Often the Globe’s reviews aren’t saying anything new. But Fischer’s analysis is one of the best and reasonable reviews of 1776 I’ve come across yet. But Fischer is also a wonderful writer. He even touches upon the complaints with McCullough’s work that cropped up over at Slate last week, mainly that the strong storytelling takes the forefront, leaving out the analysis and argument.
Page 2 begins with a book that coincidentally was also on the cover of the NYTBR this past week—Sunday Money: Speed! Lust! Madness! Death! A Hot Lap Around America with NASCAR by Jeff MacGregor. The review is okay. Bill Littlefied makes the same Gonzo and Tom Wolfe connections everyone else is making. Below is Richard Eder’s look at Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel, which he almost seems to like against his will. I’ve liked previous books of Mantel’s and am looking forward to reading this one. Last is Amanda Heller’s ‘Short Takes‘. This week she looks at Break, Blow, Burn by Camille Paglia, Starstruck: When a Fan Gets Close to Fame by Michael Joseph Gross, and The Genius in the Design by Jake Morrissey. Some interesting choices.
On page 3, we find James Sallis’ ‘A Reading Life‘, a highlight of this week’s section. He muses on books he considers ‘old friends’, such as Boris Vian, a writer I’ve never heard of. This is the perfect kind of thing for the LBC, a new translation from Tam Tam Books of Autumn in Peking, which is the story of an expedition to build a railway on the desert of Exopotamie. It sounds strange and fantastic, like a Calvino novel. He also spends time on Ray Bradbury and Donald Harington. After this stunning column, I was disappointed to read another review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted. I don’t doubt that he is a great writer, but this collection does not sound particularly good. Adam Mansbach says “Palahniuk will do better work than this—-and given his novel a year pace, chances are he will do it soon.”
George Scialabba takes a look at Jeffrey Sachs’ groundbreaking The End of Poverty. In my opinion, his review is merely a Cliff Notes version of Sachs’ book (though I suppose I am doing the Cliff Notes version of the review section). While informative, it gave me no sense of Sachs’ writing style or analysis of the content. Peter Bebergal’s ‘Other Worlds‘ column, however, nicely breaks down what he likes and dislikes about The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston and Natural History by Justine Robson. I am not that immersed in the scifi world, so I can’t speak to his choices, but he does make them sound pretty good.
This is what the Globe thinks is worth reviewing. I know I am beating a dead horse, but I wish they took more chances, especially in regards to fiction. With such a small review space (which already says to me that they don’t think books are worth the space), couldn’t they pick something more? And stop wasting space with big graphics? I do believe they get some things right. There are enough wonderful and talented writers in the Boston area, they should be able to get some interesting pieces. We’ll see what next week brings.