Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of July 2nd, 2007

Having been greeted with gee-whiz American reviews (and one or two stifled yawns), Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles has landed near the top of the New York Times best-seller list. The reception on the other side of the pond has been less polite. Consider, for example, the Tina-fest in the June 23 issue of The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk). In the news section, there’s a satirical piece on the 266 individual thank-you’s in Ms. Brown’s acknowledgements. In a withering book review, columnist Catharine Bennett complains that Ms. Brown has “nothing illuminating to add”—other than “relentlessly smutty guesswork”—to the voluminous Diana postmortem; in Ms. Bennett’s opinion, Ms. Brown has merely succeeded in “translating Morton/Burrell/Jephson/Bradford into a racier dialect.” Why did she bother, asks the reviewer, especially as she “seems neither to have liked Diana nor to have found her all that interesting”? Perhaps the best answer comes in the midst of a long, balanced profile in The Guardian’s “Weekend” magazine: Emma Brockes asks Ms. Brown if her advance for the book was really $2 million—“Not unadjacent to that” is the smiling reply.

Tina Brown is not alone: More and more, the youth of the nation are choosing a fat paycheck over meaningful work—or at least that’s what Daniel Brook warns in The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America (Times, $23). But Mr. Brook (Yale, class of 2000) is not blaming the kids, nor is he simply whingeing. His book concludes with an old-fashioned lefty manifesto, complete with reverential appeals to F.D.R. He wants us to get out there and force radical changes—reform the tax structure, reduce the cost of education and health care—so that young people eager to devote themselves to noble causes can afford to do so.

When I try to picture the cast of characters who inspired The Trap—“the anticorporate corporate lawyer; or the anticonsumerist adman; or the Lehman Brothers leftist”—I think of the “long act of dissimulation” forced by rather different circumstances on John Marcher, the antihero of Henry James’ The Beast in the Jungle (Dodo Press, $10.99): “What it had come to was that he wore a mask painted with the social simper, out of the eyeholes of which there looked eyes of an expression not in the least matching the other features.”

Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of July 2nd, 2007