Stating the Obvious About the Book Review

The review of Krugman’s latest was harsh, perhaps needlessly so. But does anyone remember Josh Chafetz’s scathing review of What’s the Matter with Kansas? Or Michael Kinsley’s review of On Paradise Drive, which rehashed obtuse accusations? And how often did people outside of the book publishing industry argue about the Times Book Review in the immediate pre-Tanenhaus period? And how many people argue about it now?

I’m a longstanding fan of Paul Krugman, I’m a friend of Josh Chafetz, Tom Frank has had an indirect and lasting influence on me thanks to The Baffler, Michael Kinsley is one of my heroes, and David Brooks is a good friend and my old boss. I subscribe to and still read The New York Review of Books and The London Review of Books first. That said, from my vantage point it seems pretty clear that Tanenhaus has come pretty close to restoring the NYTBR to the center of The Conversation.

It occurs to me that I’m deathly afraid of looking like a kiss-ass, so I’ll say: A few years back, an editor there very kindly, and very surprisingly, asked me to write a piece on a subject near and dear to my heart. So near and dear, in fact, that I still hope to write on the subject, possibly in my Prison Notebooks after Bobby Jindal sends me to the clink stealing a paperclip from my office at the US Department of Womanly Virtue. Suffice to say, it didn’t work out, mostly because that was an unusually horrible period in the life of Reihan Salam, which involved, among other things, parental health, a woman with enormous eyes (so enormous that one of my best friends, in a highly effective attempt to get me to stop yammering, dubbed her “Bug Eyes”), and an abrupt career change. I’d ask to never go through such an ordeal again, but frankly: my parents are okay, my replacement was way cooler than me, and I shudder to think about how friends of mine have dealt with seeing their own children become horribly ill. That is the ordeal I’ll ask, humbly, to never go through.