Our Critic's Tip Sheet on Current Reading: Jim Webb Unvarnished; Move Over Mitt Romney, Here Comes Stephenie Meyer

It’s hard to get your book properly reviewed when the critics are only interested in sizing you up as Barack Obama’s running mate. For Jim Webb, who is, as Elizabeth Drew insists in the June 26 New York Review of Books (www.nybooks.com), "a serious writer, not a politician who writes books on the side," it must be especially galling.

Or maybe not.

Ms. Drew herself seems much less engaged by the Virginia senator’s new book, A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America (Broadway, $24.95), than by the man himself (a "warrior-intellectual," she calls him) and his zigzag career. In fact, I think she’s smitten:

"When I was about to meet with Webb for the first time, in 2007, I expected to find someone who would be difficult to talk to, a little bit strange—someone with whom I had to be very careful not to put a foot wrong, lest I set off some land mine. What I found was completely surprising. Webb turned out to be an easy conversationalist with a low, gentle voice, a ready smile, and a sometimes very full laugh. During an hour-and-a-half-long conversation over sandwiches in his office, I kept waiting for him to be weird, but that never happened. Even Webb’s looks are surprising: on television his large, flat face, with its broad forehead, looks like a potato—pale and pasty. In person his complexion is ruddy—with piercing blue eyes that suggest a man who might in fact have a wild side, a man whom one doesn’t want to cross. Yet there is an air of almost preternatural calm about Webb, of a man who knows who he is. He is reserved; one gets the sense that he’s seen things he just doesn’t want to talk about. (This is a characteristic shared by other Vietnam veterans.)"

My advice to Ms. Drew would be to hold fast to her initial trepidation. Here, from A Time to Fight, is Jim Webb’s warning to those who might be fooled by the bonhomie of U.S. Senators:

"[B]ehind all the smiles and backslaps, and beyond the necessary courtesies that lend dignity to what otherwise would be a vulgar brawl, is the reality that [on the Senate floor], right at this moment, are some of the shrewdest and most cunning creatures on earth."

In case you’re wondering what kind of creature he has in mind, he spells it out: "[B]ehind all of its courtesies the United States Senate is composed of 100 scorpions in a jar."


MOVE OVER, MITT ROMNEY—IT’S now abundantly clear that our most famous Mormon will soon be Stephenie Meyer, a 34-year-old Phoenix housewife who woke up one morning in 2003 and felt compelled to write a novel based on the dream she’d had the night before about an ordinary teenage girl and a vampire falling in love. That book, Twilight (Little, Brown Young Readers, $10.99), is at the moment No. 1 on the PW best-seller list of children’s fiction; two sequels are at No. 4 and 5. Together, the first three books have sold more than five million copies in this country alone. (Ms. Meyer also tops the charts in Germany.) The next book in the series, Breaking Dawn, the final installment of the Twilight saga, is already No. 5 in sales rank at Amazon—even though it won’t be released until August.

O.K., they’re children’s books. But that’s what they said about Harry Potter.

And besides, cast an eye at the adult best-seller list. There she is again, at No. 2: The Host (Little, Brown, $25.99), a novel Ms. Meyer describes as "science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction." It’s about body-snatching aliens and their human hosts—as she told Time magazine, "I rarely write about just humans. You can get humans anywhere."

Oh, yes, and the movie of Twilight is coming in December. Merry Christmas, Stephenie Meyer. Our Critic's Tip Sheet on Current Reading: Jim Webb Unvarnished; Move Over Mitt Romney, Here Comes Stephenie Meyer