Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of September 17th, 2007

Steve Wasserman, who spent nine years, from 1996 to 2005, editing the Los Angeles Times Book Review, has poured out his valedictory sentiments in the Columbia Journalism Review (Sept./Oct., $4.95). The essay conforms in most respects to his editorial strategy: “Where everyone else was going faster, shorter, dumber, I was intent upon going slower, longer, smarter.” It worked for the Book Review, which was much admired during Mr. Wasserman’s tenure, but the essay, which is slow and long, is smart only in patches. The best bit is an anecdote I’ve trimmed so that it’s faster and shorter: “In the fall of 1996 … I attended a reception … at the New York Public Library to mark the centenary of The New York Times Book Review. … As I greeted Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who had only recently been named publisher … I drew him aside, thinking to … ask him whether or not The New York Times Book Review … had ever made any money. It had long been rumored in publishing circles that it did not. But who really knew? He looked at me evenly and said, ‘I think, Steve, someone in the family would have told me if it had.’” By the way, Mr. Wasserman bravely confesses that during those nine years he spent in L.A., the Book Review lost about a million dollars annually.

N+1 is expanding, sort of. Paper Monument, a new semiannual arts journal launched this week, is published “in association with” n+1, according to the press release, and “is edited in London and Brooklyn.” The opening gambit of the inaugural issue (Sept. 15, $10)—which contains four portfolios and 12 essays, several of them devoted to local topics—is Christopher Hsu’s “New York Must End,” a bitter, archly aphoristic meditation on the spasms of commodification in “a place that cannot refrain from unconscious tautology and repetition: New York City. New York, New York.” I was amused by the jaded tone, and impressed by the bold use of irony (shading, even, into naked sarcasm)—but disappointed to learn, in the notes on contributors, that Mr. Hsu lives not in Brooklyn or even in London, but in Washington, D.C.

In his newly reprinted A Choice of Shakespeare’s Verse (FSG, $15), Ted Hughes did what most anthologists refuse to do: “break into the sacred precincts of [the Bard’s] drama and start looting portable chunks from the holy structures.” In other words, he snipped “self-sufficient” speeches from the plays and threw them into the mix along with the sonnets and the songs. He chose a couple of hundred pieces of verse in all, and arranged them in a chronologically inflected order. The effect is weird and magical and most definitely speaks, as Hughes put it, to the reader’s “immediate plight, as an ephemeral creature, facing the abyss, on a spinning ball of self-delusion.”

Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of September 17th, 2007