Sunday, May 11, 2008

More book notes: (1) Do you write Amazon reviews for the books you've enjoyed? (2) Say it ain't so: No more reviews from the great Russell Baker?


While I'm on this crusade to support the books written by "our" writers, my attention has been called to an unanticipated (by me, anyway) reality of modern-day book publishing: Publishers like to see Amazon reviews. It's possible that quantities of them actually do help sell books, presumably on the theory that prospective book-buyers gain confidence through seeing lots of encouraging reviews. (Isn't this pretty much the way Dickens sold his books? Or maybe not.)

Or it could be that seeing lots of reviews merely boosts the morale of publishers. Apparently they do, and this seems to hold true from the hardiest independents all the way up to the mightiest publishing juggernauts. I don't know about you, but I've never written an Amazon review in my life. I guess I'm going to have to change that.


When I proposed Russell Baker as an obvious first choice to review Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, I was still entertaining the hope that he would be doing so in the New York Review of Books, where he has been doing far-too-occasional reviewing for some years now. He has obviously been exceedingly picky about the material he's let himself be persuaded to review (which no doubt has a good deal to do with why each of his reviews is such an occasion), and the subject matter is obviously right up his alley.

I'm afraid my Baker-NYRB fantasy has gone down the drain, though. Rick himself informs me that RB has retired from the book-reviewing gig. Man, if anyone has earned his freedom (and I hope it's a matter of choice on his part), he's it. (Over the years I acquired a small collection of exceedingly gracious replies to gushy fan letters I wrote him. Well, at least two, anyways.) But man, am I depressed!

Give me a moment here, would you?

Okay, I'll do some more moping later, on my time. Meanwhile, I had actually planned to throw out two names from my the top of my list of 100 candidates the NYT Book Review could have considered to review Nixonland before any of the editors should have reached the level of desperation where one of them suggested, however pathetically, "Um, about [mumbling], you know, Will?" (To which the answer in any case should have been, "Don't be stupid, Penrose!")

You know, it occurs to me that it could all have been a sad misunderstanding. Maybe what Penrose mumbled wasn't "Will," but "Wills"! And he was shy about it, not because he thought it was a contemptible suggestion, but because he was surprised, even embarrassed, that nobody higher up on the NYTBR food chain had thought of maybe the foremost political essayist writing today, Garry Wills.

Garry Wills's name, actually, was the other one I meant to propose, and now that's my NYRB fantasy for Nixonland -- for the simple reason that I would love to read that review.

By the way, Rick also informs me that Russell Baker in fact reviewed his first book for NYRB. I don't know how I didn't remember that. Maybe the same way I don't remember more and more of the stuff I once knew. But I offered him belated congratulations -- what a way to launch a book-writing career!

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