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The Death of the New York Times Book Review: And Why That Is a Very Good Thing for Books

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This week, the New York Times goes behind a paywall. Good riddance. The section that will be least missed is the book review, which presents, week after week, calculated affronts to literary taste and value. If American literary culture is in serious trouble--reflecting the perverted groupthink of empire's intellectuals in the last stage of decadence--then a sure barometer is the unmitigated trash one finds without fail on the Times's book review pages.

The glorious decadence of the Times's book review section holds broad lessons for reviewing and criticism, so it's important to break down where the tyrannous review section failed, and point out better paths for a more democratic future. The Times's book section, like any reviewing outlet, hews close to a certain agenda, and it's necessary to point out where in practice adherence to this agenda hurts acknowledgment of important books while elevating unworthy books and writers. The Times has been a very important contributor to the formation of recent American literary taste, showering praise or holding it back according to an occult hierarchy of values perceptible only to its elite cadre of editors. If we believe that literary taste in America today is debased--weighted toward the transitory and derivative, rather than original advances in writing--then the Times bears its share of responsibility for propagating the collective delusion: for example, that Philip Roth is a writer worthy of the Nobel Prize, or that Jonathan Franzen is a writer in the league of Balzac.

The Times's book review section sets a terrible precedent for other reviewing organs in the following intentional limitations:

1. Limited range of books. An enormous range of innovative fiction and poetry issues forth from the nation's vibrant independent presses, yet the Times studiously ignores these books in favor of the few hyped-up books from the major commercial houses centered in New York. The South, the Southwest, the West, and to a certain extent the Midwest, might as well be foreign lands, despite their literary productivity. Most of the innovative new writing in this country remains unexposed, and readers get the false impression that Jonathan Lethem, Paul Auster, or Mary Gaitskill are somehow writing the most interesting new books. There isn't another country with our incredible range of independent literary presses from coast to coast, yet the Times is determined to ignore their existence. Would it do so if its interest was to make the public aware of the real range of quality literary writing at any given time?

The same applies to nonfiction. The university presses produce the overwhelming majority of worthwhile books in the social sciences, humanities, arts, and sciences, yet they are almost completely unrepresented in the Times's review pages. The major houses tend to ride the trends, promoting conventional wisdom rather than challenging it; thus, in the last decade, they've pushed the basic legitimacy of the war on terror, or the facile, personalized exhumation of the financial industry's corpse, or the after-effects of the environmental catastrophe they're sure is imminent, always taking care to stay several steps behind gathering evidence. And these are the books the Times pushes as the gospel truth: for example, laudatory tomes on the Fed's actions, presenting the agency as the welcome savior of last resort. Can one imagine the Times finding room on its pages for any of these books, or these? The editors have some explaining to do, if they promote on their pages books by celebrity writers or, in many instances, the actual culprits (or sycophants to the culprits) of the various disasters in progress--the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the corruption on Wall Street--treating these books with the hushed reverence reserved for the sacred truth.

2. Limited range of opinions. The milquetoast politically correct liberalism, without any foundation in class analysis or indeed any coherent ideological framework, leaks from the rest of the Times's pages into the book section as well, to drown it in hollow platitudes. What really hurts honest coverage of books in this country is when this stubbornly apolitical style, couched in the aggrieved fuzzy righteousness of the Manhattan cultural elite at odds with the unwashed masses in the hinter regions of the country, aspires to be the norm, as if bland categorization of the correct and the incorrect were the reviewer's primary aim. Anything radical--meaning, anything that goes against the peculiarly subdued elite New York liberalism, any radicalism of the left or the right, any questioning of the basic rightness of institutions--is treated with derision by the reviewer.

The book review becomes, in effect, a mechanism to screen out incorrect political opinion. This is one reason innovative fiction and poetry finds no place in the Times's review pages: by definition the territory beyond domestic realism is where the institutions of society are being bombarded, by radical and anarchic and individualistic forces--namely, out-of-control writers. The Times has perfected the art of cutting down to size even the most mildly incorrect opinions in generally conventional books; the author is criticized for letting his passions get the better of him, for stooping to populism, for tainting the entire system when only selective correction is called for, for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In literary writing, established authors, should they attempt experimentation, are chided for venturing into forbidden territory, and the reader given no credit for interpretive ability. If it's not plain and decipherable on the surface, then there's a problem for the reviewer.

3. Limited range of reviewers. This is a perennial difficulty in book reviewing, yet the Times has turned it into a subtle system of patronage and servitude, a carrot and stick approach that perpetuates an incestuous system of backslapping and mutual admiration, rather than any independent judgment of the quality of books under review. Assigning well-known novelists to review the work of other well-known novelists--with obvious connections to each other, in the small, incestuous world of literary publishing--is problematic enough, but assigning writers within particular niches to those within the same niches is even worse. There are the few haughty reviewers--generally New Yorkers--who are not writers themselves, but are made to stick to particular writers like flies on ointment, discovering value where there is little, subverting the reviewer's credo of putting a book into cultural context by instead decontextualizing it, praising an author's work as if he operated in a world of his own. Such examples of arrogant reviewing--arrogant because there's no respect for the reader's need to know the facts about the writer, his oeuvre, or the work of comparable writers--are paradigmatic of the review pages.

What would be interesting is if the Times were to find independent scholars or authorities to assess the work of, say, fellow social scientists (assuming the Times ever covered real social science, rather than its pale replica, aimed at the lowest common denominator, from the major houses), to get a diversity of opinion about advances in economics and political science, so that such reviews become spurs to broader thinking about the fields in question, not narrow endorsements of certain specific ideas that meet the approval of the Times's editorial brand. Or if the Times were to get an honest critic to evaluate a poet--a critic with standing in the scholarly community, that is, not a jaded or failing poet with axes to grind and scores to settle. Or if it were to get a theoretically inclined fiction writer to evaluate the work of a critic. Or get an outspoken politician to evaluate the work of a political scientist--or vice versa. The vast range of combinations and possibilities goes intentionally ignored, in favor of sticking the predictable sycophant, or boring termagant, on those he is presumed to have a deep acquaintance with--thereby ruling out the element of surprise, which, of course, is very much part of the editorial calculation.

4. Limited range of tone/style/language/attitude. Almost any review in the Times's pages will prove this point. The reviews lack any individual voice, any eccentricity of tone and attitude--all in keeping with the general bland liberalism. Ideally, reviews should excite the imagination, create a stir about the book in question, whether it's a good book or a bad one--the reviewer should have an opinion, first of all, if the review is to mean anything, but then the opinion must be expressed in memorable language. The review is a place for playfulness, fun, exploration, speculation, sarcasm, anger, rage, frustration, prejudice, mockery, hubris, restlessness, nihilism, adoration, sickness, joy, love, indeed any familiar human emotion. The review ideally feeds off the book's own emotions and responds in kind or counters it--in any case, emotion is the backbone of a substantial review. But the Times's reviews are groomed in the bureaucratic house style, slavish to the standard formula, which is stripped of any excitement in language.

The formula is this: Say a few harmless (often downright irrelevant) words about the writer, his previous books or his recent successes, say some meaningless things about what a book in the given genre means (reiterating the point of view of the reviewing committee at the Times), then launch into an extended précis of the plot or narrative, with the subtext that, now that the reviewer has adequately summarized the book, the reader need not tackle it at all, and end with a few bland comments about the posture of the review just concluded.

In other words, the review is a self-sufficient artifact with no reference to the external world in any of its dimensions, but rests content in the sufficiency of its own premises. If there is any criticism, it is generally mild and trivial--pick a point or two of minor disagreement, and then flick that off with a fey jerk of the shoulder, as though to say, none of it matters in the end. The review should never entice the reader to read the book or others similar to it or opposed to it; it should be a substitute for the reading experience. If there's one most destructive tendency the Times book review embodies, it is that the reader is coaxed not to read, rather than encouraged to read. One finishes a Times book review--when it has met its goal--empowered with the notion that the book has been put into its appropriate box, in a category generally ranging from B-plus to A-minus, where the literary gods will nurse its corpse with the disregard of habitual felons for the niceties of accounting law.

These four limitations show that we are talking about a pervasive corruption, an intellectual deceit that what is being offered is an honest assessment of the wide range of books being published in America, when what is being delivered is the narrowest spectrum of opinions about the narrowest spectrum of books one can imagine slicing off from the main body of publishing. And this masquerades as the authoritative stamp of the highest reviewing organ in the land, feeding prize committees similarly prejudiced to honor the books able to make the most fuss and stir the most publicity, without regard to literary value. If one pursues the issue, what appears clear is that there is a handful of publishers--literally, just two or three--who have somehow created the impression that their books--generally pretentious and unreadable--are at the pinnacle of literature, and their self-proclaimed right to reign at the commanding heights of literary taste is endorsed over and over again by the Times. This is a great disservice to literature, for which the editors of the review ought to be censored and pilloried.

Examples abound of fiction writers lavishing absurd praise on mediocre efforts by fellow fiction writers who in turn praise them on the same pages. Consider Lydia Millett on Sam Lypsite's desperate book (March 10, 2010): "Sam Lipsyte's third novel, The Ask, is a dark and jaded beast--the sort of book that, if it were an animal, would be a lumbering, hairy, crypto-zoological ape-man with a near-crippling case of elephantiasis. That's not to say The Ask isn't well hewn, funny or sophisticated, because in fact it's all three." (Translation: He fails to be funny.) Or Jay McInerney on Ann Beattie's completely marginal Walks With Men (June 10, 2010): "Beattie's refusal to overdetermine her characters, her reluctance to explain their behavior, is a hallmark of her style, and one of the reasons she came to be identified as a minimalist in the early '80s. It was part of what made her fiction seem so knowing and hip. Stuff happens. And it's not always explicable. Let's not make too big a deal about it." (Translation: she's too lazy to develop character.)

The format all but forces smart people to say stupid things. Thus, Scott Turow on Adam Ross's Mr. Peanut (June 24, 2010):

In many ways it would have taken less courage to present a sympathetic portrait of Osama bin Laden than it did to write this novel, which flouts the treasured conceptions of love and marriage many of us depend on to make it through the day.

I thought Cheever, Yates, and Updike covered that territory long ago. The Times's mission in 2010 was to build up Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, and Emma Donoghue. This is Will Blythe on Jennifer Egan's A Visit to the Goon Squad (July 8, 2010): "Here Egan attempts to bring a centrifugal narrative full circle, which, given the entropic exhilarations on display, isn't really in keeping with the story's nature. But this is perhaps the only shortcoming (and a small one at that) in a fiction that appropriately for its musical obsessions, is otherwise pitch perfect." And here's Aimee Bender (who wrote last year's worst novel) on Emma Donoghue's gimmicky Room: "But these are objections based on the very high standards set by the beauty of the book. On the whole, Donoghue goes the distance with Room, and she brings her story to a powerful close that feels exactly right. This is a truly memorable novel, one that can be read through myriad lenses--psychological, sociological, political. It presents an utterly unique way to talk about love, all the while giving us a fresh, expansive eye on the world in which we live."

Vendela Vida, Dave Eggers's wife, is one of the talentless favored ones, so here's Josh Emmons on Vida's utterly forgettable The Lovers (July 9, 2010): "Vida is a subtle writer whose voice is spare and authoritative, at times sounding like a less gothic Paul Bowles, and her third novel is further evidence that she can fashion characters as unpredictable as they are endearing. Although its ending is a little rushed (some situations feel arbitrarily abandoned), the book is a satisfying, often brilliant portrait of a woman searching for relief from things that will not, she discovers at last with something like acceptance, go away." Nicole Krauss, Jonathan Safran Foer's wife, is another of the favored mediocrities. In classic understatement, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein writes about Krauss's The Great House (Oct. 17, 2010): "In themes and preoccupations, Great House and The History of Love overlap." A celebrity academic like E. O. Wilson will get the star treatment, even when he ventures into fiction, not his specialty. So Barbara Kingsolver praises Wilson's Anthill (April 9, 2010):

Wilson suggests with winning conviction that in our own colonies, we proceed at our peril when we cast off mindful restraint in favor of unchecked growth. It's hard to resist the notion that as we bustle around with our heads bent to the day's next task, we are like nothing so much as a bunch of ants.


Commercial interests conveniently merge with political bias to create a propagated landscape of erosion and waste, hiding the real vibrancy of books in America. The books that end up in the Times's Top 100 or Top 10 every year are simply the ones with the most advertising muscle and public relations hype behind them. This year, as always, these lists were utterly predictable: one knew Jonathan Franzen would be there (along with Ann Beattie, Emma Donoghue, Jennifer Egan, and William Trevor), and of course, Rebecca Skloot'sThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, one of the consensus great nonfiction books of 2010 made the top 100 and Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Sons, another safe consensus book, made the top 10, even as life-and-death books on the economic crisis or civil liberties or global development from the academic presses went ignored. The book on Cleopatra made it to the Top 10. Cleopatra! As empire collapses, freedom shrinks, and all the signs of the closed society become more manifest by the day--chronicled with authority by the widest range of perspectives imaginable, in countless books the Times won't deign to touch--we get, Cleopatra!

In fiction, unreadable books like Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge are bound to end up as favorites, because the reputation of a couple of elite houses is at stake. The hollowed-out workshop-style story collections by the Times's favorite professors of writing are all duly covered--although it's revealing that the judges who chose the international Frank O'Connor short story award longlist in 2010 studiously ignored nearly all the Times's favorite short story writers. Story collections covered included A. L. Kennedy's What Becomes, Anthony Doerr's Memory Wall, Suzanne Rivecca's Death Is Not an Option (the last a juvenile collection by a Stegner fellow, who just won a Rome Fellowship), and of course everything by Joyce Carol Oates. It can be safely argued that the fiction the Times editors and reviewers acknowledge as any given year's best is likely to be some of that year's most conventional, and that if one wants to discover the cutting edge of fiction, one had better stay as far away from their bland choices as possible.

How on earth did the Times manage to ignore, for example, Teddy Wayne's debut novel in 2010? (There 's an ideological reason: Wayne's book utterly subverts the uses to which 9/11 has been put by major American fiction writers to date; the omissions are never innocent.) One asks the same question again and again, disgusted and revolted by the corrupt bias of the editors, who could care less about quality writing, and who seem enamored only of names and brands and reputations and calculations. Meanwhile, the ever-reliable Liesl Schillinger gives a thumbs-up to Antonya Nelson's constricted Bound (Oct. 1, 2010): "In her new novel, Bound, set mostly in Wichita, Kan., Antonya Nelson compels you to linger, makes you take in the shimmer of the long gray highway beside the strip malls, the promise and punishment of the steely blue sky. This America is her stage, and its characters are her people." Yes, she owns it!

As though to thumb their noses at the rest of the reviewing community at the end of a year of calculated affront, the Times picked Andrew Ervin's Extraordinary Renditions, from Coffee House Press, for a good old thrashing. Ervin's crime was that he tried to bring a risky politics to his three intersecting novellas--not the kind of thing the Times goes for.

It's a safe bet that every one of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 will get star treatment on the review pages. Thus, Karen Russell's Swamplandia! was glowingly reviewed (Feb. 3, 2011) by none other than Emma Donoghue (note the consistent incestuosness):

In 2006, Zoetrope published a story by a 24-year-old writer, Karen Russell. That story, "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," featured a lusciously strange setting (an alligator theme park in the Everglades) and a tough young heroine with a dead mother and an absent father, as well as a weird problem: how to save her resented-yet-beloved older sister from eloping with a ghost. A few months later, Russell's first story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, with "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" leading a crazy procession of nine other Florida swampland stories, won her wide acclaim, and last year she was chosen one of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 top fiction writers. Now her fans can sink their teeth into her first novel, Swamplandia!, a sort of expansion of and sequel to that alligator story.

Russell is capitalizing on George Saunders's theme park stories; let's see if she ever moves beyond swamps. Similar undeserved star treatment is currently being meted out to Tea Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife, another member of the New Yorker club.

To take another example of constriction, poetry has been almost entirely eliminated from the Times's pages, setting a terrible precedent--except in capsule roundups that betray the reviewer's pettiness, or the occasional snark attack by one particular critic who seems to love his enemies as much as he hates them; it's an inside game, after all, and no wider audience for poetry is solicited by these acts of willful masochism.

The rare poetry coverage belongs only to mainstream stars, including, in 2010, books by Charles Bernstein, Derek Walcott, Maxine Kumin, and Seamus Heaney. The curmudgeonly Daisy Fried, however, says about Bernstein (April 7, 2010): "I'm not sure whether art is up to the task of dealing with 9/11 and its aftermath" (certainly, the Times's reviewers aren't up to the task of evaluating art dealing with 9/11 and its aftermath). The trend continues in 2011, as David Orr has been given space to cover Richard Wilbur's decidedly minor Anterooms: New Poems and Translations (Jan. 9), while younger poets like Melissa Kwasny, Harmony Holiday, Chris Martin, Joni Wallace, Joshua Edwards, Zach Savich, and Anthony McCann shall go begging. How did the Times, in 2010, manage to ignore important poetry books by emerging writers like Thomas Sayers Ellis, Julie Carr, Steve Healy, Anna Rabinowitz, John Hodgen, Lynn Emanuel, John Beer, Suzanne Buffam, and Nathalie Handal, to mention just a few?

To demonstrate the fatuous agenda in nonfiction, consider Liesl Schillinger's useless review of Elif Batuman's The Possessed (March 18, 2010), which is as usual a detailed summary:

Hilarious, wide-ranging, erudite and memorable, The Possessed is a sui generis feast for the mind and the fancy, ants and all. And, unlikely though this may sound, by the time you've reached the end, you just may wish that you, like the author, had fallen down the rabbit hole of comp lit grad school.

This is not the language of criticism, it is the language of blurbing. Invariably, conventional books on politics from the major houses get undue attention, as does Jeff Shesol's Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt versus the Supreme Court, which is a thoroughly worked-over subject, even as major scholarly contributions to current political shenanigans go undiscussed.

If there is a historical/political book which dares to make connections, it will be appropriately cut down. Thus, Daniel Bergner on Robert Perkinson's Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (March 25, 2010):

Unfortunately, Perkinson presents his case in a sometimes numbing fashion. He details Texas's prison history decade by decade, failing to fully dramatize the characters who could bring life to his urgent writing. Problematically, too, his case seems, in certain ways, overly broad, and in other ways evasive. The abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo may not be as easily attributed to the legacy of slavery and Southern penology as Perkinson abruptly and sweepingly asserts in his final pages. And along with his condemnations of Texas and America, Perkinson would have done a service by thoroughly examining, rather than nearly ignoring, recent evidence that both the state and the country are holding incarceration rates in check partly by embracing, however gingerly, the spirit of rehabilitation.

When it comes to trivial, personalized nonfiction, praise knows no bounds. Chris Suellentrop, editor at the Times Magazine, comments on Tom Bissell's Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (June 18, 2010):

Bissell was born in 1974, which puts him on the cusp of gaming's generational divide. That transitional position affords him a perspective not unlike--if you'll indulge the grandiose analogy--that of Tocqueville or McLuhan, figures who stood on the bridges of two great ages, welcoming the horizon while also mourning what the world was leaving behind. Bissell sees video games with open eyes.

Instead of cosmopolitanism in taste, what we have is a dastardly parochialism, all the worse for its aura of invincibility. The New Yorker suffers from the same consistently middlebrow tendency, favoring the lightweight and superficial, and in both cases the affliction is aggravated by its presumption of elite taste; to accept their own lowly condition would relieve the stress a lot, but both organs must act as the arbiters of high literary taste, which is one reason the prose always seems to be at odds with itself, on the one hand interested in setting itself beyond reproach, on the other hand envious of the higher grounds forever denied to it.

The venerable Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the book review, bestowed these embarrassing encomiums on Franzen's Freedom: "The family as microcosm or micro-history has become Franzen's particular subject, as it is no one else's today" and "Once again Franzen has fashioned a capacious but intricately ordered narrative that in its majestic sweep seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life." There is not a shred of critical judgment in evidence in Tanenhaus's extended coverage. Tanenhaus also wrote, on the eve of the conservative/Tea Party renaissance, a book called The Death of Conservatism; nice timing, nice touch of the Manhattan elite's self-serving delusions, nice indifference to context, history, and above all, the evidence all around him, should Tanenhaus ever decide to venture beyond his Times Square cage into plebeian territories. This man, who licked Franzen's boots so feverishly, is the ultimate arbiter of books in America: which ones get a first shot at entering the provisional canon, being adopted in college curriculums, or considered for awards and fellowships.

The reviewing community tends to be bothered by conflicts of interest, and while this is too narrow a basis to cover the ultimate issues in reviewing, the term needs to be expanded to a greater meaning to include the magnitude of corruption the Times consistently reveals. Whose interests are being served in the Times's peculiar selectivity, and whose interests are being ignored? What is the nature of the closeness between publishers' marketing departments and the editors and reviewers who must depend on advertising budgets to support their pages? Why is there the pretense of independence--and even servitude to literature--when there is no shred of evidence that such is the motivation?

Reviewing escalates in durability and resonance by the degree to which it aspires to the condition of criticism--ideally, the reviewer is a critic who sees the review as serving essentially the same function as his more serious and extended forays; but the Times has utterly severed reviewing from criticism, perfecting a nonsensical prose form that serves no constituency well--not even publishers, who would be better served by more honest criticism.

The Times book review has operated at a particular nexus of taste formation, occupying a unique perch in American letters, unchallenged by any other newspaper or magazine, driving hard its selective worldview as though it were the gospel truth, and it has pulled it off without notable hits against its general credibility; authors and publishers have been desperate to get in its good graces, believing that its imprimatur could make or break a book. The sad truth is that this perception has been true to a large extent.

The bright spot on the horizon is that the future of book reviewing, in the age of the Internet, will be nothing like what the Times has propagated over the years: reviewing in the imminent future should be more open-ended, interactive, democratic, transparent, authoritative, credible, opinionated, stylish, argumentative, deep, and controversial, or at least more so than the Times has ever shown any inclination to be. In the last ten years, as the Internet came of age, the Times, rather than becoming open to the possibilities of the medium, seemed to double down on its lackluster prose, pushing a top-down image of the reviewer dispensing frictionless wisdom (a podcast by itself doesn't create excitement, if the general rule about discouraging readers from exploring unfamiliar material remains in effect, and if the bland tone of the printed text carries over to audio and video).

Now the field is more wide-open to experimentation; all sorts of possibilities offered by the new medium, from live interviews with authors to truly interactive reader response, will hopefully be utilized in the reviewing organs that will surely come on the horizon in the near future. The Times's book page steps back, to leave a much desirable vacuum. The vibrancy of books will ensure that the vacuum is honestly and rigorously filled. Cliques, though, are always the danger when reviewers congregate around any organ; as the most prominent of the moribund literary cliques fades out, we shall see if others will be able to overcome the temptation of laziness and superficiality.

So we've established from this analysis of a year's worth of reviews that the Times does not cover poetry, except from aging stars; the bulk of substantial nonfiction on any subject, since that predominantly comes from university presses; and innovative fiction, since it radically questions empire, race, and class relations. What it does cover, in spades, is made-for-book-clubs memoir (Dwight Garner's bailiwick), New York-centric narcissist/realist fiction of the most conventional sort, and political and historical opinion screened by status quo sensibilities. Nice work, Tanenhaus! See you in digital subscription land.

Books Covered in the Sunday book review, March 18, 2011:
James Gleick, The Information: A History. A Theory. A Flood. (Pantheon)
John Darnton, Almost a Family: A Memoir (Knopf)--Darnton, a former Times reporter and editor, gets a second review on March 24
Paula McLain, The Paris Wife (Ballantine)
Charles Cumming, The Trinity Six (St. Martin's Press)
Rosalind Brackenbury, Becoming George Sand (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin)
James Attlee, Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight (University of Chicago Press)
James Carroll, Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World (Houghton Mifflin)
Anne Roiphe, Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust Without Reason (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Ben Ryder Howe, My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store (Holt)
Brian Christian, The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive (Doubleday)
Robert Baer and Donna Baer, The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story (Crown)
Richard Rushfield, American Idol: The Untold Story (Hyperion).
(Four memoirs, a familiar South Asian multigenerational family secrets saga, and the only university press book a meditation on that most urgent of subjects, moonlight!)

Alternative List of Books Published in the Same Period:

Anya Schifrin, Bad News: How America's Business Press Missed the Story of the Century (New Press)
Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Beacon)
Robert Duncan, The H. D. Book: The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan (University of California Press)
Michael J. Graetz, The End of Energy: The Unmaking of America's Environment, Security, and Independence (MIT Press)
Kathryn Lofton, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (University of California Press)
Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray--and How to Return to Reality (Yale University Press)
Marjorie Cohn, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse (New York University Press)
Dezo Kosztolanyi, Kornel Esti: A Novel (New Directions)
Alexander Nemerov, To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America (Yale University Press)
Feature essay critiquing memoirs, drawing on Timothy Aubry, Reading As Therapy: What Contemporary Fiction Does for Middle-Class Americans (University of Iowa Press)
Viral Acharya, Matthew Richardson, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, and Lawrence J. White, Guaranteed to Fail: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Debacle of Mortgage Finance (Princeton University Press)
Malcolm Turvey, The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde Film of the 1920s (MIT Press)
Poetry Roundup: Evie Schockley, The New Black (Wesleyan University Press), Timothy O'Keefe, The Goodbye Town (Oberlin College Press), Geoffrey O'Brien, Metropole (University of California Press), Brian Teare, Pleasure (Ahsahta Press), and Xochiquetzal Candelaria, Empire (University of Arizona Press).

Anis Shivani's debut book of criticism is Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies (July 2011).

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