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NY Times Book Review Offers Brutal Starvation Diet

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What a morning. Trudged three miles out and three miles back just to get the Sunday N.Y. Times in a blizzard. The dog nearly froze to death. The return trip's the hardest part, since I'm carrying the heavy paper. It's crazy, schlepping all those ads back to my house when all I want is to know what's new in the world.

Finally back at the house. The usual -- waffles, bananas, maple syrup. A fire roars in the fireplace, the dog stinks but at least she's starting to thaw out. Open the paper. Which section to start with? No reason to defer pleasure this stormy morning. Book Review first.

The cover is not too promising. Say Hey is the title of the book review by Pete Hamill. Another review of the Willie Mays authorized bio? Didn't I read the N.Y.Times review of this a while ago? It's coming back -- there was a promo piece on January 30 in which we learned Mays had decided to tell his story. Funny he would allow an immodest subtitle on his autobio -- The Life, The Legend. Looks like a Full Friedman at work here: big puff piece in the Jan 30 Times, first review in the daily Times Feb 9, and finally front page on the Book Review Feb 28. And already #8 on the non-fiction bestseller list! Can someone tell me why the N.Y. Times is reviewing a book that's been out for more than a month, already reviewed in the paper, and is already on the Times bestseller list? Is it the only book out there? I Google James S. Hirsch. "Former reporter for the N.Y.Times." Got it. The Times takes care of its own.

I can't wait for the review of the Kindle edition.

Hmm. Beginning to wonder if it was worth risking life, limb and dog this morning. Turn the page, look for more reviews. I'm a non-fiction reader, hunting for what's new and important. Looking for breakthroughs in the human story. Science, history, politics, philosophy. Answers to the big questions, like why our democracy seems to be failing. Or why Toyota lost their way. Or why we can't get the big banks under control. Or whatever happened to the loyal opposition?

It appears the Times is determined to starve me. The other non-fiction titles are about roadbuilding in China, forensic medicine in the Jazz Age, five books about jazz and pop music including Phish The Biography, a memoir by Dani Shapiro (are all memoirs really non-fiction?) and a book dedicated to Yucca Mountain. Maybe a morsel there. I toss another log on the fire.

Charles Bock has written the review. I grok a little here and there and then I read that the author is "a serious thinker who regularly lays down stylish, intelligent sentences." A glimmer of hope. Maybe we're on to a new John McPhee. Fortunately the reviewer provides us a sample of the new master's craft: "I think that what I believe is that..."

I stop and read it again. "I think that what I believe." The editor in me is already reaching for a pencil, but I read on: "...and yet still it remains unknown, revealing only the fragility of our capacity to know." Yet still? Why not, "But yet still however maybe, I wonder?"

I guess I can live with "Yet still." But "fragility of our capacity to know?" How in the world can a capacity be fragile? Capacity is measured in size, not strength. If these are examples of the writer's best prose, I am concerned.

That's it. The entire Book Review read in seven minutes flat. I'm starving.

Steam rises from the dog. Maybe Frank Rich has something important to say. I change sections.