I must apologize to the hundreds of interns whom I so badly advised over the forty years I worked as a magazine and newspaper editor. I recently experienced my long-held dream to have a book of mine reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. The book is titled Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange, How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos, and in their wisdom, the editors at the Book Review assigned the review (Rebels and Radicals, March 28) to a 2013 graduate of Columbia University. That's why I'm apologizing to all my interns, many of whom also were recent grads with M.A. in hand. I vastly underestimated not only your promise, but your immediate prospects.
I should have told interns to aim high. Instead, I flatly rejected your requests to write reviews for me, even at my last place of employ, a publication famous for being dictionary challenge in its use of such non-words as "thesp," "crix" and "boffo." Instead, I introduced interns to journalism by having you cover lowly red-carpet events and do humiliating party coverage for $25 a pop. I told you that would-be critics need to sharpen their skills by first writing blogs or doing reviews for small underground newspapers (do they still exist?) thereby amassing a file of articles. Pay your dues. Then, and only then, would I assign you reviews.
I was lying, of course. I would never assign reviews to people just out of college when my freelance list already bulged with writers who had OD'd watching too many old movies, plays and TV shows. That kind of intense absence of a real life takes time.
I have to congratulate the editors at the New York Times Book Review for taking a chance on a recent college grad, the one who wrote Rebels and Radicals. The cultural editor at the Times should take note and get rid of Ben Brantley, a theater critic who has seen way too much Ibsen and Shakespeare, his perspective cluttered by countless productions. How refreshing and insightful it would be to get people who've never seen Hamlet or Hedda Gabler on stage to review.
While I disagree with the writer of Rebels and Radicals on the subject of the Hays Code, which was replaced by the Production Code in the mid-1930s, about three decades before my book begins, I found the review delightfully chock full of quotes that sent soaring on Amazon.com -- quotes like "parade of scandals," "feminists were outraged," "shocking homophobia" and "lurid detail." Lurid detail is one thing this Times critic knows first-hand, having mentioned in her short critique that I once held an editorial position at Penthouse magazine, a job I left sometime before she was born.
If Google is to be trusted, Rebels and Radicals may be her first piece for the Book Review, but she has already distinguished herself by writing for such other top-notch print publications as the Wall Street Journal and Men's Journal, which have published her articles Cooking Up a Kitchen with Character, Best Blenders and A Fan for Every Room. That is "fan" as in ventilating device, not cultural aficionado. Oh, and there are her blogs, too, not unlike this one.
Prior to the honor of having my book reviewed in the Times, I dreamed about who'd review it, as does every author with a new book.
There's Mark Harris, who writes freelance reviews for the Times. No, please not Harris, I prayed. He had his own book about pop culture, Five Came Back, and he might trash my book to create less competition for his own on best-seller lists.
There's Molly Haskell, who also writes freelance reviews for the Times. No, absolutely not Haskell. She's a feminist, and my book questions those feminists who advocated censorship in the early 1970s.
There's Janet Maslin, a Times staffer. No, she'd be the worst. The Times is well known for taking no prisoners, and my book reprints the newspaper's many homophobic diatribes of the 1960s and early 70s, like the now-infamous page-one story "Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern," not to mention its attacks on Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Edward Albee and Lance Loud, whose sexual orientation was referred to as "eel-like homosexuality" in a Times piece on PBS's "An American Family." No, please have anybody other than a Times staffer review my book.
After the novelty of having John Heilpern, Lily Burana, Peter Bart and Clive Davis review Sexplosion, I looked forward to seeing whom the Times would assign. Someone with a fresh perspective, someone new. That's exactly the kind of critic I wanted to review my book.