You have to love The New York Times’ ridiculously ethical refusal to look out for their own in reviews. If you haven’t already, check out Rice history professor Douglas Brinkley’s review of Times correspondent Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas in this week’s New York Times Book Review, one of the more condescending and (sorry) gendered reviews we’ve seen in a long time.
With weeks of media hype and White House blowback muddying the water surrounding The Obamas, one can imagine how the freelancer assigned to review it might not be able to pass up the opportunity to flay a Times reporter in her own backyard. (See Michael Kinsley’s review of Times documentary Page One.) But Mr. Brinkley’s review wasn’t negative, it was just dismissive.
“Call it chick nonfiction, if you will,” he wrote. (We probably won’t, thanks.) “This book is not about politics, it’s about marriage, or at least one marriage, and a notably successful one at that.”
Ah, books about politics are regular nonfiction and books about marriage are chick nonfiction. Got it. But what, according to Professor Brinkley, are the conventions of this newfound genre?
If The Obamas is an exemplar, chick nonfiction is a home for “dimly controversial palace intrigue” that “reconstructs a half-dozen or so strange, gossipy moments that hardly hold up as serious journalism, but provide insight nonetheless.”
In other words, finding unreported, if minor, controversies and reconstructing them through conversations constitutes “insightful” chick nonfiction, which is not the same thing as “serious journalism.” (We wonder if Ryan Lizza has been informed.)
We suppose Ms. Kantor (a reportorial Wunderkind, Mr. Brinkley says) was overjoyed to hear she has “gumption,” at least. We’re pretty sure that’s, like, the chick nonfiction equivalent of talent.