A few days ago, I feared that Tanenhaus was turning the Times into a book form of TV Guide Insider. Today, the ongoing trend of cerebral profiles of pop authors with the aw-shucks human interest angle continued. Today’s profiles are an interview with Intimacies author Eric Brown and another with Tom McNulty, concerning his book Clean Like a Man: Housekeeping for Men (and the Women Who Love Them. Intimacies is a novel composed of emails, IMs and websites, which, as Sarah suggested this morning, is akin to partying like it’s 1999. And it’s safe to say that years from now, Clean Like a Man won’t be remembered with the same enthusiasm as, oh say, Gulag or even Final Exit. So why give it credence?
When you apply NYT highbrow syntax to everyday situations, it comes off as damn absurd:
“The challenge is summed up neatly in a piece of advice on changing sheets.”
“Mr. McNulty is careful not to disturb the dust on men’s attitudes and habits involving housekeeping, and he has an innate respect for their haplessness toward cleaning chores and their particular pride of place.”
“The stain removal chapter is a litmus for the presence of men at home.”
“He works with what he calls his M.C.U., or mobile cleaning unit, which is a double bucket with cleaning agents like Pledge and Windex that operates as his basic handyman’s kit in each room.”
“Mr. McNulty is not perfect yet, as a white glove test revealed.”
“Although they have attracted a lot of attention, digital epistolary and message fiction like ‘Intimacies’ are not the only electronic forms of literature vying for attention on the Web.”
“Still, Mr. Brown’s digital novel has drawn praise from some scholars interested in new media, especially those who hope to take e-literature mainstream.”
It would be one thing if the content had something to do with the latest from Stephen Elliott or David Mitchell. Under the aegis of an actual idea, we might buy sentences like this. But as I read these offerings, I felt as if I was being bathed in a lukewarm light blinking in a dark, fetid room. Each sentence represents an effort to suffuse flash on a surface of nothingness.
If this is the way it’s going to be, I fear that Tanenhaus’s early efforts are tarnishing the Times. Where’s Eurotrash on this?
[UPDATE: It suddenly occurs to me that the two profiles came, respectively, from the Circuits and Garden sections, and that Tanenhaus isn’t necessarily responsible. Even so, the articles were placed in prominent slots on the online Books section as of this afternoon. Why would anybody serious about books be interested in this thing? I suspect Bill Keller’s hand has been caught in the cookie jar.]