So this is Sam Tanenhaus’s idea of covering fiction?
“scummy little book” — While attempting to read the book as he was cleaning his bathroom, Leon Wieseltier dropped the book in the sink, causing particles of soapscum to accumulate on the pages.
“our cherished and anxious country” — Jingoism and paranoia in the first sentence. That’s the spirit!
“Baker’s novels have always been desperate to be noticed.” — Oh, I get it. Having fun with details and being ambitious should be discouraged.
“creepy hermeneutical toys” — You hoped you’d be quoted in Safire’s “On Language” column, right, Leon? What’s so creepy about being interpretive? Was Ulysses that bad?
“And the fascination is genuine.” — If we permit a novelist to contemplate the assassination of George Bush in fictional form, well then Baker is a psychopath and the terrorists have won!
“We infer from what is said that Jay is a deeply unhappy man.” — Wow, Leon, you pinned the tail on the donkey there! That’s like saying that Frank Bascombe was a little distanced from the human race or Ahab was a tad obsessed. Score one for the Obvious Conclusion Squad!
“About the deranging influence of blogs Baker makes a sterling point.” — Yeah, because we crazies can call you on your flagrant BS. Boo yah!
“The stinking thing about Jay’s analysis of the war…is that it is not Jay’s alone.” — That’s right, padre. It’s downright un-American. So to hell with Baker’s book! Let’s launch into a nationalistic dirge!
“For the virulence that calls itself critical thinking.” — Pot. Kettle. Black.
“Janet Malcom recently explained in a letter to this newspaper.” — This is the lofty word count being expended?
“Chomsky, who has not appeared in [the NYRoB’s] pages in decades.” Wrong, Leon. Nine of Chomsky’s books have been reviewed by the NYRoB since 1973. And an author search reveals some 74 articles penned in whole or in part by Chomsky since 1967. Where’s your fact checking department, Tanenhaus?
“Rush Limbaugh did not elect a president and neither will Michael Moore.” — Dan Frisa: “Without the Rush Limbaugh radio program broadcasting as a beacon of truth, my colleagues and I would never have been able to wrest control of the Congress from the Democrats, after 40 long years, in the revolution of 1994. What a thrill it was to meet him at a special dinner held at the Camden Yards stadium during our orientation prior to taking office; we made Rush an honorary member of the Republican freshman class of the 104th Congress, welcoming him as a ‘Majority Maker.'”
We’ve kept silent about Tanenhaus’s NYTBR for a while, but if this is the way Tanenhaus wants to party, the cuffs are now off. Leon Wieseltier’s review is a disgrace. It is a scourge against literary criticism and yet another example of how politics is, for the most part, incompatible with proper book coverage. Say what you want about Chip McGrath. He never permitted an out-of-control and inaccurate political rant from either side to permeate his pages. If this is the morass that Times fiction coverage is swimming in, then the NYTBR is truly a lost cause.