Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Speaking of the Review. . .

Photograph by Fred R. Conrad, New York Times

You know, for all that I don't like about the revamped NYT Book Review, every once in a while, they get something right. (Say, didn't I write about this last week?) Case in point (#2, if you're counting), this past Sunday's issue. I'm not too excited about more extended reviews of major genre fiction authors, and more emphasis on nonfiction over fiction, but a poetry issue? With reviews of new Rita Dove, Gary Snyder, and Czeslaw Milosz? A Featured "Poetry Symposium" with contributions from Yusef Komunyakaa, Jim Harrison, Deborah Garrison, Paul Muldoon, John Ashbery and Jorie Graham? Sign me up! Get me knocking on doors! Are you a registered voter? Let me tell you about my candidate, the poetry issue!

I spend a lot of time complaining about contemporary poetry, mostly in essence, that there's too much of it, and that it's impossible to find the good stuff in the sea of crap, but thank you, Review, for reminding me where the good stuff is. I'll even forgive you for letting Harold Bloom sit in on your symposium.

Rock on, Review! Thank you for being my boat in the sea of crap!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Signs of life in the Review at last

I'm actually not the biggest fan of most of the changes made of late over at the New York Times Book Review by its new editor, Sam Tanenhaus. To be fair, I must admit that many of the changes are superficial, or the logical extension of a trend already in evidence. For example, I dislike the new "chronicle" feature, where four to six title, and sometimes more, are treated in less than 1200 words, but it's really just a repackaging of the "In Brief" feature of the old Review.

Every once in a while, though, even the new Review gets something right. Case in point: Jonathan Franzen's lengthy (and wonderful) review of Alice Monroe's new collection, Runaway. The printed version runs four pages, including the cover, and is both enlightening, and a pleasure to read. (I am a big fan of Franzen's essays and commentary, and would highly recommend his collection How To Be Alone to anyone who doesn't own it. As a critic, Franzen has steered me to Paula Fox's Desperate Characters and Adam Haslett's You Are Not a Stranger Here, both challenging, engrossing masterworks.)

Long live the lengthy, in-depth, well-considered, joy-to-read fiction review!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Tickled green

My alma mater, Michigan State University, defeated the #3 Wisconsin Badgers, 49-14 at Spartan Stadium this evening. I can't think of a win this big since we defeated #1 Ohio State in 1998 to ruin their national title hopes.

Of course, it would have been an even bigger win if we had defeated the University of Michigan two weeks ago, or even The Ohio State University last week. It's frustrating to cheer for a team that always seems to have greatness within its reach, but seems unwilling or unable to grab and hold on to it.

But I'm an unemployed liberal Democrat, so I'll take any excuse to celebrate that I can get.

Go green!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Post-election despair

It's not so much that the exit polls were wrong (I didn't watch any of the election night TV coverage, so I didn't even hear about that until this morning), or the false hope of an eventual Kerry win in Ohio tipping the balance (it's not going to happen, people), or even the prospect of at 269-269 electoral vote tie (see: Ohio tipping the balance). . .

It's much more that

1.) Bush won the popular vote, and

2.) Not only did the Republicans extend their House and Senate leads, but Tom Daschle, the Senate Minority leader, lost his bid for re-election in South Dakota.

(On top of that, constitutional gay-marriage bans passed in every state that they were being considered, including here in Michigan.)

This forces us (or me, anyway) toward an unpleasant electoral truth. I don't think that we are a nation divided 50-50. With a Republican House, Senate, Presidency, and with the prospect of at least one and maybe as many as three new Supreme Court justices in the next four years, a deeply conservative Supremem Court, I believe that the nation has firmly expressed its preferences, and demonstrated which side holds the majority.

For those of us concerned with the direction of our country, there is little to console us in the next four years, and, if I must be honest with myself, indeed, the forseeable future.