aoscott2 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.

feet in bed


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).



Notes:  Snark aside, it should be pointed out, in fairness, that the Book Review chooses outside writers to review books by NY Times authors.  And also, that not all of the reviews are positive.   Most are.  A few a more mixed (and even Mendelsohn’s review contains criticisms), and one review I read, of a book by Maureen Dowd, was rather negative.   But the main point still holds.   The books keep getting reviewed, at rates up to one-hundred-fold greater than other works from major publishers.   And surely the reviewer must feel a certain unspoken pressure to write something positive.  After all, what writer wants to alienate the ever-powerful New York Times Book Review?  And so the great majority of the reviews are indeed positive.


  1. Glad you enjoyed. True, there goes my NY Times review. Oh well. Although my odds were low to begin with. Also, who knows, maybe they’ll review me just get in a few digs.

  2. This is a work of true genius. I believe I can safely say that this is unquestionably the greatest review of a NY Times Book Review of a Book by a NY Times Reviewer that has ever been written on a comedic blog, ever, in the entire history of Western civilization. Actually, since the Big Bang. Maybe even BEFORE the big bang.

    • I love Latin (my parents made me take four years of it in high school, and I’m glad they did), but Maybe I missed a lesson somewhere. What I get from “asinus asinum fricat” is “an ass rubs an ass.” Quod hoc significat nescio, amice.

  3. Spy magazine used to run a regular feature about people reviewing each other’s works, called “Logrolling in Our Time.” It’s nice to see someone in this day and a. maintaining that proud tradition.

    • God I miss Spy. And that feature in particular.

      This also makes me think of The New York Review of Books, which, ever since a friend said it to me, I have never been able to think of as anything except The New York Review of Each Other’s Books.

      BTW, Ellis, may I say, I still take “Decade of the Year” off the shelf at least once a year, especially to re-read “A Special Offer for Readers of This Magazine,” which is not short of pure genius, and as funny as the day you wrote it.

  4. Thank you much for taking the time to comment (twice!). I’m glad you’re enjoying. will try to keep it up! as to not getting reviewed in the NY Times…oh well. I can review myself here 🙂

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