As we all know, getting your book reviewed in the New York Times can make or break you as a writer. And the odds of simply getting a review, to say nothing of a good review, are vanishingly small – less than one percent, even if you are with a major publisher. On the other hand, if you happen to write for the Times itself, your odds improve drastically. It is hard to say by how much, but based on our Rotting Post analysis, it appears that your odds improve somewhere between fifty and one hundred-fold.
And we’re not just talking about the multiple flattering reviews of star columnists like David Brooks and Thomas Friedman. Here is a very, very abridged list of Times writers who received reviews in the Times in recent years. (It was compiled by simply googling NY Times journalists, seeing what they’d published, and then cross-checking if the book had gotten a review in the Times. We stopped about 15% of the way through the list, so this just scratches the surface.)
• The Times found “The faithful Spy” by Times writer Alex Berenson to be exciting.
• Times writer David Itzkoff’s “Mad as Hell” turned out, according to the Times, to be quite engrossing.
• Former Times writer Matt Bai’s “All the Truth is Out’ was mini-classic, so says The Times.
• The Times found Times writer’s Peter Baker’s, “Days of Fire” to be poignant.
• Times writer George Johnson’s, “The Cancer Chronicles” was graceful and fascinating.
• The Times reviewer thought David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter” was a fascinating epic (translation: it was long).
• Times writer David Sanger’s “Confront and Conceal” was penetrating.
• “A Beautiful Mind”, by Times writer Sylvia Nasar received a beautiful review by its Times reviewer.
• “The Lovely Bones,” by Times writer Alice Sebold also got a lovely review.
• The Times reviewer lapped up, “Still Life With Breadcrumbs” by former Times writer Anna Quindlen.
Etcetera. This is just a small sample.
It is truly heartening to see how supportive the Times is of its writers. They just keep reviewing them, liking them, even loving them.
Yet the circle-jerk of mutual admiration appeared to reach new heights in the February 19th issue, wherein celebrated critic Daniel Mendelsohn critiqued NY Times critic AO Scott’s book, “Better Living Through Criticism” (itself a defense of the role of the critic). Not surprisingly, much of the review was full of rather uncritical praise. Words like, “Vivid,” “Penerating”, “Breezy” and “Striking” abound.
The review begins with the vivid, and yet penetrating question, “Was God The First Critic?” Critic Mendelsohn observes that God passed judgment on sinners, and furthermore, he looked upon his creation and “saw that it was good” (much as Mendelsohn and Scott look upon their work, and see that it is good.)
You are probably now thinking, “Come on, Rotting Post Guy, the review seriously starts with the reviewer comparing himself to God?” Well, it does. This comparison occupies the first two paragraphs. We next learn that AO Scott’s main thesis, or one of them, is that the critic is just as important as any mere artist, in short, “that criticism, rather than being a lesser sibling of Art, is its equal — codependent and symbiotically related to the creative arts, each unthinkable without the other.” Holy crap. Seriously? So if I write an essay about Beethoven’s ninth symphony, I’m now Beethoven’s equal?
Only..if the review is just as important as the art itself, then surely the review must be reviewed. Well, with that in mind, here is our official:
The Rotting Post Review of Daniel Mendelsohn’s Review of AO Scott’s, “Better Living Through Criticism”
Was God the first blogger? Was the Ten Commandments really the first “Top Ten” list? These are the penetrating questions raised by the previous two sentences.
This reviewer found Mendelsohn’s review of AO Scott’s, “Better Living Through Criticism” to be a review of rare genius, a massive achievement, and an important addition to Mendelsohn’s oeuvre. Constructed entirely of “sentences” and full of a great many “words”, Mendelsohn’s review kept this reviewer nearly fully awake from the opening prattle to the grand finale of blather.
I strongly recommend this review for fans of Mendelsohn’s other reviews, for other reviewers, and most especially, for AO Scott himself, for whom this review is a must-read.
(reviewed by The Rotting Post Guy, author of numerous works, including this review, and the forthcoming review of this review).