Sunday, December 21, 2008

Today's Inquirer reviews ...

... Sweet Jane Smiley reviews Jose Saramago: An author pondering, not fearing, death.

... Carlin Romano ponders hypocrisy: An 'inevitable' part of democratic life.

... Desmond Ryan savors The ruthless, rapacious Borgias.

... I savor a classic: From Lourdes, a still-inspiring story.

... Christine Ma looks ar Scarface Nation: Say hello to a cinematic phenomenon.

... Paula Marantz Cohen praises - as one must - Fred Astaire: A hoofer deserving a place on a pedestal.


  1. IMO, your review of the Werfer's one of the best pieces of literary journalism I've had the pleasure to enjoy from lead to kick-in-the-head closer. John's round-up's a good one because it contains a lot of fresh titles that need a little inky. Carlin's Carlin. He never fails to please with ease.

    OTOH, Frank? "Sweet" Jane Smiley? You being funny? Sarcaustic? Sentimental? Or, simply, damning with faint praise?

    How many readers do "we" know who actually seek books with "'a run-of-the-mill lament' or a 'death be not proud' exclamation of defiance?"

    Book Seeker: Halloo, I'm looking for a run-of-the-mill tome concerning death; can your recommend one?

    Book Seller: Run-of-the-Mill, you say? Alrighty. Not to be exclamatory nor defiant; but, what, exactly, do you consider "run-of-the-mill?"

    (Perhaps the book seller might go on to provide possible titles fitting that descrip (Maybe s/he'd recommend Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (sp?) because, sadly, Smiley doesn't.)

    See, that's just the first problem with Smiley's analysis. She doesn't provide examples of flops, fab failures, nor unqualified successes in the field.

    And, not unlike her ulteriorly motivated review of Jennifer Weiner's novel, she quotes about two words from the entire novel, another verboten unspoken.

    After all, when a reviewer opines "the pleasure is the sentence-by-sentence progress of Saramago's contemplation of his theme," such a statement begs for an example, IMO.

    What gives? Why does the Inky continue to give this woman work? In these harsh economic times, why give an assignment to someone who clearly doesn't need the cash; and, obvo, doesn't understand the basic requirements of writing a review (when, of course, one thing we do know? All reviews are autobiographical by their very nature).

    What constitutes a good review? No rules rules when it comes to going the distance in this medium?

    IMO, a good review places a book in its context in the field; and, based upon what one's read in same, makes an assessment comparing and contrasting its highs and low notes. A good review doesn't waste a lot of words on biography because, the person isn't under scrutiny, the work is. A good review gives the reader concrete examples from the work itself which illuminate or illustrate any point a reviewer makes. A good review provides readers with an honest appraisal of the work so that readers are well-advised when it comes to plonking down pennies. A good review outlines the plot, characters, and process at work in the book underhand. A good review doesn't draw attention to its reviewer; rather, it honestly assesses the contents and relays a sense of same to readers.

    Thus, IMO, Smiley does both herself and her subject some small harm (and, I s'pose, she fails to abandon her dependence upon the passive verb since, natch, I presume, one can't accomplish everything in 731 precious words).

  2. E-goi, noi Toi? Loi. Woi?

    p.s. Talk PKBeity, eh? Sorry about calling Werfel Werfer; and, thank you for not calling me on't. I admit it: His name reminds me of a rat poison; and, thus, since I didn't have it in form of me, I up-screwed. Sorry. I could say it was a typo; but, it wasn't; I was just careless.
    p.s. It's Kübler-Ross