Reluctant Habits

An Urgent Plea to Sam Tanenhaus

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Mr. Tanenhaus, while we profoundly disagree on a number of points, I must echo the sentiments of my colleague. Your concerns, interests, and curiosity are clearly within politics, and the time has come for you to resign from the New York Times and take a chance. It is abundantly clear from the thoughtful and striking qualities of your New Republic piece that politics, not literature, is your beat. Your heart is in finishing the Buckley bio, not in books. Your literary hero, John Updike, is dead. And you clearly aren’t…read more

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In Which I Talk with Tanenhaus

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

On Wednesday night, Sam Tanenhaus and I talked. I was in the middle of arguing with my colleague Levi Asher about the future of literary coverage, saying something to him about a priori arguments in relation to rumors about The Washington Post Book World. A soft voice behind us asked, “Book World?” It was Tanenhaus. I must give Tanenhaus credit. It was a particularly freezing evening and Tanenhaus clearly wanted to go home. But he did take the time out to chit-chat. Our discussion was fiery but civil. I had…read more

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A Decent Issue of the NYTBR for Once?

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

I am especially surprised to see that this week’s edition of the New York Times Book Review has a lot of good material. I don’t know if some crafty editor over there who still cares about books had the bright idea of tying up Sam Tanenhaus and throwing him into a closet for a week in review. I cannot possibly envision Tanenhaus coming up with the brilliant idea of having Tom McCarthy review Jean-Philippe Toussaint (a literary translation, Orthofer, can you believe it?), getting Douglas Wolk weigh in on Spiegelman,…read more

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The Knopf Times Book Review

Posted by in New York Times, Tanenhaus, Sam

[UPDATE: On the evening of January 21, 2009, I asked Tanenhaus in person about the concerns satirized below, and I was able to get a few answers. I point readers of this post to the direction of my later post, "In Which I Talk with Tanenhaus," where some questions are answered and Tanenhaus's perspective is reported.] It started with Sam Tanenhaus’s ridiculously uncritical review (and fawning video interview) with John Updike. It continued with Tanenhaus’s lips nearly licking Toni Morrison to a needlessly sensual premature death. But this afternoon, Sam…read more

Virginia Heffernan: The Sarah Palin of Journalism

Posted by in Book Reviewing, heffernan-virginia, New York Times, Tanenhaus, Sam, Vowell, Sarah

The review came over the long Thanksgiving weekend, but the 757 words that Virginia Heffernan devoted to savaging Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates on Sunday have little to do with Vowell’s book. Heffernan is the kind of reviewer that Coleridge accurately identified as failed talent. The embittered dunce who gave up her punch and passion eons ago, and who now approaches the craft of reviewing like a helper monkey trained to take a coat at a snap, only to deposit this winter wear into a pile of her own excrement….read more

Dave Itzkoff: The Sarah Palin of Science Fiction

Posted by in itzkoff-dave, Stephenson, Neal, Tanenhaus, Sam

Neal Stephenson? You betcha!

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NYTBR: Polishing the Rails

Posted by in garner-dwight, New York Times, Tanenhaus, Sam

News emerged over the weekend that Dwight Garner was fleeing the New York Times Book Review for a gig as a daily books critic. With Rachel Donadio leaving the Book Review in the summer and Sam Tanenhaus performing double duty as editor of NYTBR and Week in Review, one wonders just who actually is running the NYTBR these days. Sure, Gregory Cowles was just bumped up to preview editor in September. But with the deputy editor slot open, does this mean Cowles will get two promotions in two months? Or…read more

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Responding to Tanenhaus: August 13

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam, Updike, John, wood-james

Sam: Very tepid on your blog. Not hot at all. Am told the men caught another snake nuzzling into Keller’s neck and that the snake responded to your name. Who knew that serpents could colloquize? In any event, a missed opportunity with your latest post. To suggest that only one party can be right in this case is to miss the very particular points that Messrs. Wood and Baker were making. Wood responded to Updike’s passage with an aesthetic eye. Baker rejoined with a clear passion for language. Cannot both…read more

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David Kamp, Blog Snob

Posted by in Book Reviewing, Music, New York Times, Tanenhaus, Sam

Ten years from now, we’ll all be inured to David Kamp. A whole generation will have grown up as his book, The United States of Arugula, has been long forgotten — the remaining copies pulped or perhaps used as oversized skeet shooting pellets, because they couldn’t even sell as remainders. For what imagination can one expect from a hack writer whose grand contributions to letters include The Food Snob’s Dictionary, The Film Snob’s Dictionary, The Rock Snob’s Dictionary, and The Wine Snob’s Dictionary? (One senses a trend. A writer so…read more

Dave Itzkoff: The Laziest Columnist Ever Hired by the NYTBR?

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Andrew Wheeler: “Blowing off half a year and then not doing the reading is what a layabout does at a minor state college, not the expected behavior of a columnist for The New York Times Book Review. Itzkoff has always been embarrassing, but this is his worst behavior so far.”

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Oh, That Sam Tanenhaus!

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

It appears that Sam Tanenhaus will be expanding his editing duties to the Week in Review section, which he will also be editing. Apparently, one section isn’t enough for good old Sammy Boy. Bill Keller hopes to work Tanenhaus to death until he leaves the paper. Keller writes, “I can’t wait to see what creative energy he will bring to the continual reinventing of the Week in Review.” Now that’s quite cruel — the kind of thing I expect from someone dousing salt on the participants in a snail race…read more

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Did Someone Hook Tanenhaus Up With Some Acapulco Gold or Something?

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

I am absolutely stunned to see this week’s edition of The New York Times Book Review contain not one, but TWO, pieces devoted to comics: Stephanie Zacharek’s review of The Completely Mad Don Martin and Douglas Wolk’s column. Plus, there’s this cheeky review of the David Levy book and Liesl Schillinger reviews Zeroville and makes this very astute observation: “Both Biskind’s and Erickson’s books begin with the Manson murders and an earthquake.” Regrettably, Joe Queenan is also in there with another bland attempt at wit. One can’t have everything. But…read more

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NYTBR: Safer Than Pat Boone

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

If there are four words that best describe the NYTBR‘s Top Ten Books of 2007, they are: We Take No Chances.

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Sam Tanenhaus: You’ll Like Our Translation Pick Or Else!

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Languagehat unearths a hilarious online expose involving Sam Tanenhaus’s failure to dictate to the masses. It seems that Tanenhaus attempted to strong-arm his readership into loving the Richard Peevar and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace and his readers, begging to differ, express their preference for other translations. Peevar then shows up, defends his translation, is then humiliated, and then comes back again with a whiny defensive rejoinder. And Sammy Boy just can’t stand it! How dare the readers think for themselves? How dare they fail to recognize the…read more

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More on Lee Siegel’s Screwup

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Josh Glenn has a comparative roundup and Siegel’s offending review can be found here. No brownies for you, Tanenhaus! And, man, it seems like you really need them these days.

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Questions for Sam Tanenhaus

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Since Faust was a tragic play, an opera, and a film, how can Schlesinger “paint” his defection as Faustian? Sure, Goethe was an occasional painter, but even he had his doubts. Also, as neologisms go, “irono-babe” is about as inviting as Infobahn. (And why the hyphen? The first step in coining any noun is to present it without a grammatical eyesore.) How can Schlesinger be an omnivore “and a carnivore?” An omnivore eats both plants and animals. Since this little contradictory morsel was inserted via a hyphenated clause, could it…read more

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A Kinder, Gentler NYTBR Podcast

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

It appears that the NYTBR podcast has shifted to a kinder, gentler opening tune — which is to say opening music that as safe as elevator music (but certainly not houses). And Tanenhaus is now trying harder to sound warmer than he has in the past. One can only imagine the memos that were disseminated. I commend Tanenhaus for attempting to access that lovely portion of the human spectrum that exists beyond the walls of the New York Times building. But Tanenhaus has all the believability of Tor Johnson in…read more

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Sam Tanenhaus: Let the Cheap Sensationalism Continue

Posted by in Sexism, Tanenhaus, Sam

Have you heard the latest from Sam Tanenhaus’s dismal literary tabloid? Writers should be pilloried for writing the sentence “Men are rats.” It’s an absolute scandal. Toni Bentley, presumably recruited because this offered the boys another opportunity to pump her for more thoughts on posterior probings, proceeds to characterize Katha Pollitt’s latest book as another volume in “[g]roaning and moaning from clever, sassy women.” After spending three paragraphs attacking the right of intelligent women to write about being burned by men (in a remarkably sexist term of art, Bentley characterizes…read more

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NYTBR for Dummies: No Revision Required

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

To read Jim Lewis’s review of Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke is to enter an overvalued campanile of stupidity, amateurish insight, half-baked conclusions, and insufferable smugness that one expects from a Forbes 500 member who has the apparent misfortune of running into a groundling. The groundling, of course, is you, me, any curious insect climbing up an unsightly sandhill to scout out the dreaded conformists who would replace a beautiful literary vale with their high colonic obstructions. “Good morning and please listen to me,” begins Lewis, adopting the tone of…read more

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Sam Tanenhaus: The Architect of Decay

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

This week’s New York Times Book Review includes a potentially promising meditation on ideology by Stephen Metcalf, who writes about a recent essay anthology, Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journey. Ensconced within this essay is Metcalf attempting to come to terms with his personal ideology, with a surprisingly uncharacteristic use of the first-person — surprisingly uncharacteristic, at least, for the Tanenhaus crew, who have continually operated as if writing in first-person was akin to shaking hands with a leper or eating an entree with…read more

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Dave Itzkoff on How to Write for the NYTBR

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

The first dirty little secret of writing a review for Sam Tanenhaus is to come across like an ill-informed wanker who knows nothing of the genre he is writing about. The second is that everyone who reads the NYTBR are — dare I say it? — intended to be treated as idiots. It’s important to state a very obvious observation about a genre and then back it up with even more obvious examples — the kind of thing that just about any remote geek would have long since talked about,…read more

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Sam Tanenhaus’s Soul-Sucking Tentacles

Posted by in donadio-rachel, Tanenhaus, Sam

Litkicks: “Rachel Donadio’s articles have no point of view. I’ve read at least ten of her essays or interviews in this publication in the last two years, and I have never once felt I had the slightest indication what she thought about her subject. She is the only regular NYTBR writer who does not ever deign to share a point of view with the reader. In theory, this type of dispassion could have some value — perhaps some sort of Joan Didion-esque blank journalistic resonance — but it would have…read more

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“Visions and Violence” — Vollmann and Drew at the Whitney

Posted by in Photography, Tanenhaus, Sam, Vollmann, William

There are indeed people in New York who are interested in William T. Vollmann. On Thursday night, accompanied by Marydell, Levi, and Jason, I attended the Whitney Museum “Summer of Love” lecture featuring photographer Richard Drew — the man behind the Falling Man photos — and, of course, Vollmann. There, I also met a smart Pynchon enthusiast by the name of Christopher Byrd, a guy named Doug (a Barth fan who I met in the lobby), and another gentleman named Ralph, who apparently discovered The Vollmann Club while trying to…read more

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Gunter’s Such a Great Guy!

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

I’m with Orthofer. How precisely does John Irving’s “Give my buddy Gunter a chance” piece tell us anything about Peeling the Onion? By this sleazy standard, one would expect Tanenhaus to sully the NYTBR further by publishing a 4,000 word essay authored by one of George Bush’s remaining friends, telling us to look the other way on the unethical commutation of Scooter Libby because Bush is such a great guy to have a beer with. This is the kind of self-serving approach that belongs in a stag club’s meeting notes,…read more

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The White Collar Critic

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Why aren’t there more white collar critics? Or, more specifically, why aren’t there more snobs who believe they’re championing blue collar critics when they have about as much interest in the working class as a permanent resident of a gated community? It is a very good thing indeed that the white collar critics could care less about devoting their precious real estate to those scruffy baristas or those dirty steelworkers (despite NAFTA, believe it or not, there remain some mills open on American soil! Who knew?). How dare they quote…read more

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Erica Wagner Gets an F (And Tanenhaus Too!)

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Erica Wagner, whose first name is Erica and whose last name is Wagner, displays needless padding in the third paragraph, which comes before the fourth and after the second, in her review of Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero in today’s issue of the New York Times Book Review. It would be disingenuous for me to say that these sentences are loosely braided together like slack rope, for they are about as extraneous as a congealed fatty bubble that a cook not only neglected to trim from a porterhouse steak, but cooked and…read more

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Dwight Garner Ripping Off Blogosphere

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Dwight Garner, newly minted blogger of The New York Times Book Review, apparently has few new ideas on how to blog and is now content to rip off ideas from the blogosphere. Case in point: “Living With Music”, an egregious ripoff of Largehearted Boy’s Book Notes. This is particularly shameful, because I can tell you that David Gutowski is one of the most generous bloggers around, more than living up to his moniker. At this rate, I fully expect Garner to unleash The Cat Primero Show, a bold new podcast…read more

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Litblogs May Be “Sub-Literary,” But At Least We Get Bylines Right

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Who knew that actor James Woods was now contributing pieces to the New York Times Book Review?

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Katie Roiphe’s Critical Inadequacies: A Case Study

Posted by in Book Reviewing, Tanenhaus, Sam

While it’s good to see the ever reliable Liesl Schillinger offer a quirky and personal take on the new Clive James book, Schillinger’s pleasant review (as well as an appearance by the witty and dependable Lizzie Skurnick, regrettably reduced to capsules) is offset by the disastrous employment of Katie Roiphe, who, in her review of A.M. Homes’s The Mistress’s Daughter, demonstrates the troglodytic level of insight regularly witnessed in her Slate Audio Book Club appearances. Roiphe gets so many things wrong about A.M. Homes that it’s hard to know where…read more

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Tanenhaus Spending Too Much Time at Stag Parties with Wieseltier?

Posted by in Tanenhaus, Sam

Sam Tanenhaus: “[I]f you can put a paperback original first novel on the cover, that is like orgasm time for us.”

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