May 14, 2009, 07:07AM

Reviewing the Review

Looking back over four years of the New York Times' Book Review.

It's now four years since I began reviewing the New York Times Book Review. A look back at my very first installment leaves me embarrassed, because I clearly did not understand the Book Review well and had little to offer beyond a negative comparison to the Velvet Underground's song "Sunday Morning" (a reference point I have, by now, completely milked dry).
Much about my attitude towards the Book Review has changed since that weekend in May 2005 when I began this pursuit. For one thing, I knew none of the editors or critics who wrote for the Book Review back then, whereas by now I have met or corresponded with many of the NYTBR regulars and staffers. I was completely unaware, back then, of the hyperactive and highly competitive internal world inhabited by professional literary critics, too many of whom (I have now learned) are more concerned with impressing their peers than enriching their readers.
Like these book critics, I seem to have passed in the last four years from an utter outsider to some kind of an insider, and I also feel compelled at this point to continue my ongoing review of the Review in order to satisfy some relational imperative that is probably more pointless (in the great scheme of things) than it appears. Today, I stare at the latest Book Review with utter disinterest.
It's not the Book Review's fault -- it's just the mood I'm in. Liesl Schillinger's cover piece on When I Forget, a first novel by Finnish author Elina Hirvonen, is fine, but I'd be lying if I pretended to have absorbed Schillinger's article deeply enough to say anything useful about it. There appears to be some type of low-flame debate "raging" about whether or not Ayelet Waldman is a terrible person because she once wrote that she loves her husband (novelist Michael Chabon) more than she loves her kids. Waldman has now written an entire book called Bad Mother about this, and Susan Dominus is willing to play along and stoke the weak flame, but I'm not.

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