Tanenhaus Watch

We’ll give Tanenhaus half a brownie point this week because it’s close to Xmas. This week’s NYTBR is a big mixed bag. We advise against the continued employment of Joe “I Never Met A Subject I Didn’t Hate” Queenan (along with the end of silly photo captions such as “Johnny Unitas of the Colts” asuming that educated folks aren’t familiar with football legend-team associations). But we dug the Truman Capote profile, which combined biography, light critical consensus and some naughty bits into a hot essay by the always excellent Daniel Mendelsohn.

However, Laura Miller needs to get out of the house more. We take pride in our dirty minds, pointing out that sexual suggestion and naughty jokes come with most of our book recommendations (some over the course of our lives, in flagrante delicto), while recommending that intercourse itself is best performed rather than endlessly talked about.

Tanenhaus Watch

This week’s New York Times Book Review features a review from Margaret Atwood on Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk (along with an interview), a measured essay on John Kerry from Hitch, a poetry roundup, a Breslin profile, and a healthier ratio of fiction-to-nonfiction coverage. With the exception of this digressive review of Robert Olen Butler’s Had a Good Time, this is a very nice rebound from last week’s Wieseltier catastrophe, finding a suitable balance between Tanenhaus’s nonfiction interests and the fiction coverage long promised. However, sustained fiction coverage is the operative name of the game. We’ll be pleased if Tanenhaus delivers, with particular foci upon debut authors and off-the-beaten-track titles. But to ensure that he does, we’ll be initiating a Tanenhaus scorecard every week.

Total Full-Length Reviews: 7
Full-Length Fiction Reviews: 4 (special brownie point awarded)
Full-Length Nonfiction Reviews: 3
Number of Non-U.S. Authors Covered: 1
Articles Written by Women: 2 (You can do better, Sam)
Boring Review? Yes, by Al Gore (minus one brownie point)
Fiction Authors Interviewed: 1 (special brownie point awarded)
Number of Articles Covering Poetry: 1 (special brownie point awarded)
Laura Miller’s Presence? None (special brownie point awarded)

Does Sam Tanenhaus Get a Brownie This Week? Yes (minimum 3 brownie points needed to score brownie)


  1. Ah ! I was lulled into a false sense of hope that perhaps the times are changing at the NYTBR, but when I got my print edition today found the picture not quite as rosy as you suggest. I count 4 each full-length reviews, with one of the non-fiction ones (by Hitchens) a multiple-book one — so while the fiction covergae is a bit more in depth, it’s still more non-fiction books that get the fuller coverage (6 vs. 4). Throw in the fact that this week’s “Books in Brief”-section is devoted to six non-fiction titles, and the balance doesn’t look quite as impressive any more.

    Other observation: the two reviews by women are, of course, of the fiction titles — the weaker sex obviously can’t be trusted with the serious stuff (i.e. non-fiction), of course. (Amazingly, last week’s issue didn’t have a single full-length review written by a woman, even of a mere fiction title).

    One brownie-crumb I would give Tanenhaus: the review of Mark Axelrod’s “Borges’ Travel, Hemingway Garage” is in the Non-fiction-“Books in Brief” coverage. This volume is vaguely grounded in reality (authentic photographs, real people), but was published by FC2 (that’s Fiction Collective Two), with “Literature/Fiction” as the genre description on the back-cover, and a note that “Some of these fictions have appeared” elsewhere previously at the beginning of the book. But apparently Tanenhaus even has trouble accepting actual works of fiction for what they are — or is embarrassed to review them as such.

    Looking forward to next week’s T-Watch.

  2. This is a great service!

    In addition to counting how many reviews are written by women, what about considering number of books by women? I am especially disturbed by the almost complete lack of non-fiction books by women in the last couple months…

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Tanenhaus Watch

Under Tanenhaus’s firms hands, it appears that the NYTBR has begun issuing corrections. The corrections, as usual, are laced with the kind of minutiae that will prevent merely a handful of fulminating fanboys from slashing their wrists. However, given the pedantic obsessions, we here at Return of the Reluctant encourage Tanenhaus & Friends to continue. Here are a few that we suggest:

“A review by Michael Kinsley suggested that David Brooks be bitch-slapped three times. Mr. Kinsley actually intended for Brooks to be bitch-slapped four times, not three. In addition, Kinsley would like to kick Brooks’ ass while he is being simultaneously humiliated by a Girl Scouts troop.”

“When pressed by editor Sam Tanenhaus for an ‘innovative’ idea for her column, Laura Miller referred to ‘lingering headaches’ and turned out a silly column about spy stories. She followed this up with an epileptic fit and demanded a Ritalin prescription. The Times regrets any misinterpretations caused by Miller’s histrionics.”

“Lizzie Skurnick intended to use ‘fuck’ in her review, but it was gently suggested to Ms. Skurnick that the Times was a family newspaper. The Gray Lady hopes to let down her guard, however, in the event that Mr. Bush is re-elected in November.”