"Briefly Noted"

I like The New Yorker, and subscribe, and find about half of it excellent every week. The other half is simply of no interest, or it's pretentious rot that I flip past and snicker at. My favorite page for snickering is "Briefly Noted," where the magazine offers book reviews, one paragraph per book.

Reading is fundamental, and I read books, so this should interest me, but The New Yorker's reviews make almost every book seem unbearably unreadable. My wife and I used to laugh about the "Briefly Noted" reviews, and compete about how to see few words it took before a book became a definite no. "The third review this week," she might say, "I'm a NO in only eleven words. Can you top that?" Our record, I believe, was NO in six words.

To bore you and honor her, I'll share the first few words from some recent reviews. All genuine, and each a certified NO for me, in the first sentence:

• "This unusual, often dazzling blend of theology, history, and neuroscience argues that our hyper-rational, left-brain-dominated society has become incapable of engaging with the 'mythos' of scripture…" Yeah, color me incapable.

• "Contemplating movie stars, serial killers, and masculinity, the title poem of this incisive irreverent collection refers not to the Bible but to a scrapbook dedicated to the actor Daniel Craig…" Wha—?

• "In a small English village at the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, a woman named Mary Toft gives birth to a dismembered rabbit every few days..."

• "With an immense cast and wide-ranging erudition, this novel, the culmination of a Hungarian master's career, offers a sweeping view of a contemporary moment that seems deprived of meaning…"

• "In this novel of midlife collapse, the author reprises his attack on the ideological pretensions of contemporary Western society..."

• "The girls and women in this debut collection of stories are monstrous: they molt, peel, fracture, decompose, murder, consume, engulf…"

• "Examining revolutionary movements across five continents, this history emphasizes the global reach of Maoist ideology…"

(Mildly repurposed from a much longer post on my wife's memorial blog.)



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