The Review: Quick Link Round-Up

I hope to have a review posted for Sergio Chejfec’s The Planets within the next day or so.  In the meantime, here’s a round-up of the items that caught my eye last week.

Ode to the NYRB

In 2002 I received a subscription to the New York Review of Books (NYRB) as a Christmas gift.  I’d never read it before. In fact, when my first issue arrived I was expecting the New York Times Book Review.  I was surprised with what actually showed up in my mailbox.  But it was a pleasant surprise.  In the years since I’ve religiously renewed.  Not that I’ve always agreed with what I’ve read.

For example:  J.M. Coetzee’s review of Philip Roth’s Nemesis in the most recent issue;  Coetzee’s interpretation that the main character *spoiler alert* is actually a healthy polio carrier in my opinion gives waaay too much credence to the character’s interpretation of events. (I’ve been DYING to get that out!)

Anyway… my obsessive and argumentative nature aside… the NYRB always leaves me with something to think about.  Years ago it was a great article on patents and pharmaceutical companies that I forwarded to all my friends.  Or there was John Banville’s lacerating (and awesome) review of  Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday.  Recently I read a surprisingly unbiased look at the Tea Party Movement by Jonathan Raban (3/25/2010 issue) which, while not changing my vote, definitely opened my eyes.  The NYRB political coverage isn’t always even-handed (they definitely lean towards the Left), but its writers are thorough.

At this year’s Book Bloggers Convention one of the speakers joked that the war between book Reviewers and the book Bloggers was over.  The Bloggers had won.  I’m not sure how much of a victory that is.  Too many newspapers are dropping their book review sections.  The one’s that remain are even more important than they were before.   Not only for readers, but as a resource for Bloggers.

Individual issues of The NYRB can be pricey, so I recommend visiting the website.  (OH! and of course they have a BLOG).

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Weekly Geeks: Did Somebody Say “Podcast”?

I haven’t participated in a Weekly Geeks for a while – but I couldn’t resist this week’s entitled “Podcasts Anyone?”

My original list of favorite podcasts went up back in April – but since then I’ve discovered a few more to share.  Because, I’ll say it again, the next best thing to reading books is reading about books.  And when that isn’t an option…

The Guardian Books Podcast (with Claire Armitstead) –  This weekly podcast provides an overview of what’s going on in the world of books, authors, literary prizes and festivals on the other side of the pond.  It’s a showcase of all things literary out of the UK and I became completely hooked thanks to their series on the 2009 Hay Festival (a yearly literary festival held at Hay-on-Wye in England).  Festivals aren’t your thing?  The author interviews and book discussions are also well done, informative and entertaining.  The podcasts provides a nice heads up on books yet to be published Stateside.  But there is a dark side…  How so? you ask.  Well, lets just say I’ve discovered first hand the strength of the dollar on amazon.uk.

Start the Week with Andrew Marr –While not ostensibly about books, Marr hosts men and women with different areas expertise – often authors, musicians, filmmakers and other artsy types – in a roundtable discussion.  It’s a lot like finding yourself at a fabulous cocktail party full of interesting people.  There’s no theme and appears to be no logic as to who is chosen for a particular show.  (Case in point, the programme information from this week reads: “Tom Sutcliffe discusses tradition and modernity with musician Nitin Sawhney, drama and wartime plots with writer and director Stephen Poliakoff, progress and conservation with the science historian Harriet Ritvo, and the uses and abuses of scientific ideas with Dennis Sewell”).    Your best course of action, at the party and with the podcast, is to nod knowingly and attempt to laugh at appropriate times.   Added bonus of the podcast:  no need to try to keep up with the witty repertoire.

Book Reviews with Simon Mayo – The Brits  take their reading seriously.  My current fave,  Book Reviews with Simon Mayo features two authors, their books, 3 critics and Simon (or is it 2 critics and Simon?… dam accent).  Everyone, including the authors, have taken the time to read both books and are expected to weigh in with their opinions.  The discussion is in-depth (down to the cover art).  Even better: no one pulls their punches.  That means not all books get a positive review.   But the tone is civil and the critique usually spot on.  These are people who love books and are having a good time discussing what they’ve read.  Rather than attempting to impress each other with their literary prowess.

The Moth PodcastThe Moth is an open mike where people tell true stories, without notes, in front of a live audience.  That’s the intro to the podcast. (Yes, I memorized it. No, I don’t have a life).  If you only have time to download one podcast after reading this post – this is the one.  The stories  range from incredibly funny (the American editor of French Vogue’s haunted apartment in Paris), to harrowing (a girl in her 20’s capture and escape from Congolese rebels), to a combination of the two.  The Moth is proof positive, week after week, that you can’t make this stuff up.

The New York Review of Books (NYRB) –This seems to have become a BBC scewed list.  Thank goodness for my NYRB!  Not to be confused with The New York Times Book Review, the NYRB is a monthly-ish journal that features reviews of fiction & non-fiction titles, as well as articles on current events that may not have made it to prime time.   The podcast ties into the current issue  and provides an in-depth discussion of a single article featured in the print copy.  This is not a re-hashing of the actual article, but a companion piece that often takes the form of an interview with the author.  Listen to the NYRB and if you ever do get invited to that cocktail party at Andrew Marr’s you might have something to add to the conversation.