Faint praise and damnations

by Henry Farrell on April 11, 2008

Doug Feith, the “stupidest fucking guy on the face of the planet”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Feith, has a new book out, and the “back cover blurbs”:http://marcambinder.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/04/advance_praise_for_war_and_dec.php are … interesting. Says Jean Edward Smith

“The fact that the policy to which he contributed was flawed from the outset in no way diminishes the historical importance of this firsthand account.”

Robert Gallucci, who hired Feith as a professor of practice at my alma mater, Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, against “vehement faculty opposition”:http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/05/25/news/teach.php, is scarcely more enthusiastic.

“Douglas Feith has written what will be a controversial book. It will certainly anger many readers because it takes a different position that most other accounts on the wisdom of going to war in Iraq, on what mistakes were made, and on what made them. But Feith’s is a serious work, well-documented, that presents the best defense to date of the defining policy of the Bush presidency. It is a readable account that deserves to be read and its argument debated.”

Nor is Henry Kissinger precisely fulsome in his praises (and if you’ve lost Henry Kissinger …)

“The fullest and most thoughtful statement of the Pentagon thinking prior to and in the first stages of the Iraq war. Even those, as I, who take issue with some of its conclusions will gain a better perspective from reading this book.”

And these were the blurbs they chose to promote the book …

More generally, consider this an open thread on dubious blurbs and promotional snippets taken from book reviews. My favourite example of the latter being the Irish Times‘ review of Iain Banks’ _The Wasp Factory._ (“Powells”:http://www.powells.com/partner/29956/s?kw=Iain%20Banks%20the%20Wasp%20Factory, “Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FWasp-Factory-Novel-Iain-Banks%2Fdp%2F0684853159%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dbooks%26qid%3D1207883741%26sr%3D8-1&tag=henryfarrell-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325 )

It is a sick, sick world when the confidence and investment of an astute firm of publishers is justified by a work of unparallelled depravity. There is no denying the bizarre fertility of the author’s imagination: his brilliant dialogue, his cruel humour, his repellent inventiveness. The majority of the literate public, however, will be relieved that only reviewers are obliged to look at any of it.

How could you possibly, possibly refuse to buy a book with a blurb like that?



Matt 04.11.08 at 3:51 am

If I recall correctly the later editions of W.W. Bartley’s biography of Wittgenstein (which was controversial for claiming that Wittgenstein used to pick up men in the park, among other things, with very limited evidence, so far as I understand) had blurbs like “A horrible piece of slander that is better ignored” (some famous Wittgenstein scholar). Unfortunately I can’t find a copy of the back cover of any edition, and not even a front cover of a later one, on the web. I thought it was a pretty good marketing idea, though. Who doesn’t want to read horrible slander, after all?


Bloix 04.11.08 at 4:11 am

“Fulsome” means insincerely flattering or unctuous, like Uriah Heap.


John Emerson 04.11.08 at 4:17 am

Not on topic, but I once gambled and asked a teacher I disliked for a recommendation. I had done fairly well in his class, but not especially well. His recommendation was approximately “In 1979-80 Mr. Emerson was a member of a very fine class I taught”. I suspect that I had failed to conceal my dislike adequately.

As was my wont.


Kieran Healy 04.11.08 at 4:27 am

Like in “Fulsome Prison Blues.”


Nabakov 04.11.08 at 4:47 am

An oldie but a goldie

“Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterrley’s Lover has just been reissued by Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-by-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant-raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion this book cannot take the place of J. R. Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping.”
– Ed Zern


Elf M. Sternberg 04.11.08 at 4:57 am

Just for the record, I loved The Wasp Factory. Yes, there is one scene in there that stayed with me for days and made me wish I could clean out the inside of my brain with bleach. That was the point. Banks is brilliant that way.

He does it again in his SF book Use of Weapons. You’ll never look at a chair the same way again.


Righteous Bubba 04.11.08 at 5:05 am

Alasdair Gray wrote his own blurb for 1982, Janine which I thought got it mostly right:

This already dated novel is set inside the head of an ageing, divorced, alcoholic, insomniac supervisor of security installations who is tippling in the bedroom of a small Scottish hotel. Though full of depressing memories and propaganda for the Conservative Party it is mainly a sadomasochistic fetishistic fantasy. Even the arrival of God in the later chapters fails to elevate the tone. Every stylistic excess and moral defect which critics conspired to ignore in the author’s first books, Lanark and Unlikely Stories, Mostly, is to be found here in concentrated form.


SG 04.11.08 at 5:05 am

I agree with the elf.


foolishmortal 04.11.08 at 5:34 am

The Wasp Factory was much, much better than the war in Iraq.


The Witch From Next Door 04.11.08 at 6:48 am


The Witch From Next Door 04.11.08 at 6:49 am

Oh, bloody HTML. I knew that was going to happen, the preview box isn’t working for me and I’m too stupid to get it right without it. The book is:

The Darwin Wars: How Stupid Genes Became Selfish Gods

The link above works.


Dave 04.11.08 at 7:30 am

Hey, THE Elf Sternberg was here! Cool!! Furry fun for everyone… Much nicer than the Chairmaker, though I do have a thing for Diziet Sma…


john b 04.11.08 at 8:07 am

“Yes, there is one scene in [the Wasp Factory] that stayed with me for days and made me wish I could clean out the inside of my brain with bleach.”

s/”for days”/”for blimming *ever*”. At least, I’m fairly sure it’s the same scene (metal skull-cap, right?)


bad Jim 04.11.08 at 8:14 am

1) This is not a book to be set aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force!

2) I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review before me. Soon it will be behind me.


Mrs Tilton 04.11.08 at 8:20 am

witch @10,

Brown’s book is not notably superficial, and it’s not merely about Gould v. Dawkins — IIRC it goes to much greater length, for example, on Midgely v. Dawkins — and its framing conceit is poor old George Price being driven mad by the implications of his famous equation. It might be fair to say that the book is a survey of how evolutionary theory has affected thought about what we humans are, and why; especially, but not only, when the people doing the thinking are scientists.

Midgely herself gave the book a much nicer blurb, BTW, even though the book had pointed out that, in her attack on The Selfish Gene, she had “got the biology as wrong as one could possibly get it”, or words to that effect.

All that said, Dennett’s blurb is splendid. I imagine Brown is particularly proud of it.


Henry (not the famous one) 04.11.08 at 8:21 am

Then there’s the (apocryphal?) review of John Cage’s work 4′33″: “We found this work to be intriguing. We hope to hear more of the same from Mr. Cage in the future.”


ajay 04.11.08 at 8:49 am

The other apocryphal one is “this book fills a much-needed gap”…


Andrew Brown 04.11.08 at 9:13 am

Just for the record, Dennett later wrote a pompous letter to the publishers demanding that the blurb be removed, as it was, from the paperback version, since he had not written the phrase as a blurb, but in a letter to a mutual acquaintance.

Some years later he wrote me another exceptionally abusive letter with a note claiming that he didn’t want that published either. It is available on application by any biographer of his.


Bruce Baugh 04.11.08 at 9:15 am

I remember once listening to a bunch of professional authors tossing out ideas for ambiguous cover blurbs. It might have been Ursula Le Guin who suggested, “I cannot recommend this book too highly.”


Chris Williams 04.11.08 at 10:10 am

On the back of _Two Hundred Pharoahs, Five Billion Slaves_ (Adrian Peacock, ellipsis, 2002) we see:

A critic writes: ‘During the investigation large amounts of personal material, of an anarchist nature, were found on your PC . . . Some of the documents in question were of 40 sides A4 in length . . . it was determined that this was, potentially, a serious disciplinary matter . . .”


Ken MacLeod 04.11.08 at 10:23 am

Cheerful thought for the day: the scene in The Wasp Factory alluded to above is the only one in the book that actually [*] happened.

Which, given some of the things that happen in that book, is a cheerful thought.

* In that something very like it was recounted to Iain and me by a nurse. She could have made it up, but I doubt it.


novakant 04.11.08 at 10:31 am

I loved 1982, Janineand always liked the blurb proudly displayed on the back cover of the paperback edition:

I recommend nobody to read this book … It is sexually oppressive, the sentences are far too long and it is boring hogwash. Radioactive hogwash.

Of course it’s wrong, because 1982, Janine is an amazing book, but I like the heartfelt sentiment expressed by the critic.


Chris Williams 04.11.08 at 11:29 am

Ken, couldn’t you have waited until _after_ lunch to mention that?


ejh 04.11.08 at 11:33 am

If I recall, The Wasp Factory included many snippets from hostile reviews inside the front cover in subsequent printings. It might have been the first book to do this – certainly the first one I saw.


ajay 04.11.08 at 12:21 pm

21: which is an excellent reason for, “Carry On” films and white stockings notwithstanding, not socialising with nurses. They come out with this kind of stuff without warning. (Especially casualty nurses.)


christian h. 04.11.08 at 12:44 pm

Thanks Ken. Now my weekend is ruined. (I agree with everyone that The Wasp Factory is a brilliant book.)


rea 04.11.08 at 12:47 pm

Feith’s is a serious work

The fullest and most thoughtful statement of the Pentagon thinking

God, yet another right wingnut writing a very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care . . .


shpx.ohfu 04.11.08 at 12:54 pm

Feith’s publisher did not use any of these quotes as cover blurbs, but they should have.


Rob 04.11.08 at 1:44 pm

It wasn’t just hostile reviews just inside the front cover of The Wasp Factory, I think. I remember it having alternating incredibly hostile and complementary reviews, with the conceit presumably being not only that you had to read something which some people thought was quite so reprehensible, but that you had to read something which people disagreed about quite so much. You might almost think that it was designed to provoke that kind of reaction…


Kev McVeigh 04.11.08 at 2:21 pm

I once reviewed a book* as ‘the funniest book I’ve read since The Wasp Factory’ which shocked some people who hadn’t realised The Wasp Factory is hilariously funny.

*Unnatural Selection by Daniel Evan Weiss (reprinted as The Roaches Have No King) — I was disappointed not to be quoted ;-)


Elf M. Sternberg 04.11.08 at 2:41 pm

Oh, thanks, Ken. Just what I needed to consider.

Someone correct me, but didn’t Will Self once receive just about the best review I’ve ever seen: “This is a horrible, loathsome, revolting book that I could not wait to reach the end, and I have the terrible sinking feeling that I shall soon pick it up and read it again”?


Righteous Bubba 04.11.08 at 3:08 pm

I have read your book and much like it.


Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I’ll waste no time reading it.


This book fills a much-needed gap.

All by Moses Hadas.


Franks Sister 04.11.08 at 3:12 pm

Am I mistaken or was that Irish Times review penned by John Banville?


P O'Neill 04.11.08 at 3:23 pm

The Feith book came up in a Cheney interview with Hugh Hewitt yesterday —

I have plunged into Doug Feith’s new book. Have you had a chance to read it yet, Mr. Vice President?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don’t — I have a copy. Doug brought me a copy, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Q It’s fascinating. But it does describe a fairly dysfunctional United States intelligence capability and one that’s endured — I don’t — barely up to the time he’s writing the book and left the government.

Revealing, if nothing else, that Feith appears to be still in the Cheney loop.


Henry 04.11.08 at 3:26 pm

Way, way late to say this, but the positive sense of “fulsome” is a perfectly acceptable meaning (and indeed the original meaning of the word, I believe).

My younger brother read the skullcap scene aloud to a bunch of his mates at the dinner table when he was twelve years old or so, in order to disgust everyone there so much that he could eat all the sausages. It worked. Looking at the back cover of the book again yesterday evening though, I realized it would be hard for me to read the book again, not because of the grand guignol, but because of the bit with his younger brother, Paul. Since becoming father of a little boy, I haven’t been able to stomach fiction in which bad things happen to trusting little kids.

Ken (or anyone else who might have contact with Banks on a quasi-regular basis) – I’ve had a ship name that I’ve been saving for _years_ on the off chance that I’d somehow have the opportunity to communicate to him – the _Target Rich Environment._ If anyone who knows him can pass this on, it’d be much appreciated – and if he likes it and it pops up in his next Culture novel, You Read It First Here.


don't quote me on this 04.11.08 at 3:26 pm

Bennett Cerf’s brilliant jacket copy for Gertrude Stein’s “The Geographical History of America or the Relations of Human Nature to the Human Mind,” read: “I do not know what Miss Stein is talking about. I do not even understand the title. That, Miss Stein tells me, is because I am dumb.”


Philly 04.11.08 at 4:06 pm

From a blurb on the dust jacket of a perfectly adequate, if workman-like monograph in my field:

“There are keen insights in almost every chapter, and the research is excellent.”

I feel like the usual phrase is “almost every page” and what’s more, the reviewer is pointing out that whole chapters of this book are without a single keen insight. Ouch.


rm 04.11.08 at 5:13 pm

On the back cover of old Mountain: “This novel is so magnificent — in every conceivable aspect, and others previously unimagined — that it has occurred to me that the shadow of this book, and the joy I received in reading it, will fall over every other book I have ever read.” — Rick Bass

Surely this counts as a damningly negative review. He cannot possibly have meant what he wrote sincerely — it’s a caustic Swiftian pastiche, a tour-de-force demonstration of the cynical art of blurb writing, an exercise in high sarcasm, a sustained one-note scream of derision.

And I don’t even think _Cold Mountain_ was bad. But really.


rm 04.11.08 at 5:14 pm

Cold Mountain, not Old Mountain.


Doug K 04.11.08 at 5:50 pm

Cold Mountain was a most meretricious concoction. Rick Bass is a better writer than that, so I hope rm is right.

I’ve never attempted The Wasp Factory, and now I never will..


Alan Vanneman 04.11.08 at 6:01 pm

I used to pick up women in the park. Does that make me a straight Wittgenstein? Everyone knows that Ludwig was gay. So what if he picked up men in a park? I read that biography and it was excellent.


Bruce Moomaw 04.11.08 at 6:19 pm

During his tenure as a theater critic, Robert Benchley had to write an entirely new blurb each week describing why he detested “Abie’s Irish Rose”, which ran for years and years and years despite his detestation of it. (“Who are the people who go to see this play? You don’t see them out in the daytime.”) He finally staged a competition for the public to mail him the best suggestions for new pans, which was won by Harpo Marx: “No worse than a bad cold.” Maybe Feith could use that review.


roac 04.11.08 at 6:23 pm

I never could keep Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks straight. Now I get it: They are the same person.

My question is: Is he the son or grandson of Rosie M. Banks, the celebrated female novelist?


rm 04.11.08 at 6:27 pm

Rick Bass is a better writer than that

I imagine that blurb (which never names the novel) was written as boilerplate, to be used when necessary, and though I doubt it would happen, I would be very amused if he sent that blurb in response to every request.


Righteous Bubba 04.11.08 at 6:35 pm

“I have been stunned and baffled by Roger Lewis’s vast biography of the stunningly baffling Anthony Burgess.” –Jan Morris, author of The Meaning
of Nowhere


tired of blogs 04.11.08 at 7:29 pm

The rather nutty Mark Steyn was a visitor to my campus recently. His book, America Alone, has the lovely front-cover blurb: “The arrogance of Mark Steyn knows no bounds. — Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Ambassador to the United States”


Dave 04.11.08 at 7:32 pm

@35 Target Rich Environment is way too obvious. I always thought a good one would be Regrettable Necessity


Barnett R. Rubin 04.11.08 at 7:40 pm

Ted Sorenson on a book by Pete Peterson about the coming crisis in social security: “This is the type of book that, once you put it down, you will not be able to pick it up again.”


RobertSeattle 04.11.08 at 8:05 pm

If Feith is the “stupidest” according to Gen Franks, what exactly is Franks then? Franks didn’t have the balls to stand up and say without a well planned ofccupation phase, we shouldn’t even have an invasion phase.


Andrew J. Lazarus 04.11.08 at 8:11 pm

…which was won by Harpo Marx: “No worse than a bad cold.”

That euphemism was not originated by Harpo Marx.

(God, I feel old right now.)


Berkeley Reader 04.11.08 at 8:22 pm

This is the NYT review of a book written by Amy Fisher:

Amy Fisher’s taste in music is as lamentable as her taste in men. You might think that a book that begins “The Eagles are my favorite group of all time” can only go uphill, but just a few sentences later we are told “Joey himself wore no underwear.” Joey, of course, is Joseph Buttafuoco, aka Joey Coco-Pops, who Miss Fisher says became her lover almost a year before she shot his wife, Mary Jo, in 1992. In “Amy Fisher: My Story,” written with Sheila Weller, the author of “Marrying the Hangman: A True Story of Privilege, Marriage and Murder,” we are also told that Joey French-braided Amy’s hair, taught her how to do the lambada – the forbidden dance – and sucked her toes. Mr. Buttafuoco, now under indictment for statutory rape, will most likely deny that any braiding, lambadaing or toe-sucking took place. Miss Fisher claims to possess a photographic memory (well, maybe) and to have visited every motel on Long Island (no argument there). The reader may sometimes wonder if it is really Amy Fisher doing the talking – “I am a grim, chastened person” – but a more recognizable voice inevitably asserts itself: “Those pea-brains who arrested me weren’t on my side one bit.” According to one of those “pea-brains,” whom Ms. Weller interviewed, Miss Fisher asked the police during her confession if they would have to tell her parents that she had shot Mrs. Buttafuoco. To quote Joey Coco-Pops: “You’re a trip, babe.”


DCA 04.11.08 at 8:51 pm

Robert Southey produced an unreadable poem called “Madoc” (the Welsh discoverer of America); Porson, the classicist, when asked for an opinion, said, “Madoc will be read–when Homer and Virgil are forgotten”


Greg L Johnson 04.11.08 at 9:19 pm

Musician magazine used to run a page of very short, usually cutting reviews. My all-time favorite was a review of The Best of Kansas. In its entirety: “Why did I expect both sides of this record to be blank?”

I’ve never read The Wasp Factory, but have read Use of Weapons and know exactly what elf meant about looking at chairs in a different way. Incidentally, just started the new Culture novel Matter today. So far, so good


joe 04.11.08 at 9:38 pm

i may be wrong but Target rich environment rings a bell as he it has been used before in a culture book.


Mark Bergseid 04.11.08 at 9:45 pm

Dang, a nest of intellectuals. Where am I?


aaron 04.11.08 at 9:59 pm

No link to buy the book? Isn’t that just common courtesy?


Youffraita 04.11.08 at 10:43 pm

Haven’t read _The Wasp Factory_ but I’ve read a number of Banks’s other books, and he’s as brilliant as the above commenters say. Definitely should not be included in any paragraph that references Feith or the rest of the right-wing nutjob squad.


mateo 04.11.08 at 10:56 pm

“The covers of this book are too far apart.”

— from a review by Ambrose Bierce


Tyrone Slothrop 04.11.08 at 11:19 pm

The blurb on the back of Banksy’s Wall and Piece is:

“There’s no way you’re going to get a quote from us to use on your book cover.”
— Metropolitan Police spokesman”


WarrenS 04.11.08 at 11:25 pm

doug k: “Cold Mountain was a most meretricious concoction.”

Meretricious does not mean what you think it means.


WarrenS 04.11.08 at 11:33 pm

bad jim cites “2) I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review before me. Soon it will be behind me.”

This was the response by the composer Max Reger to Rudolf Louis’ review of his sinfonietta. It sounds even better in the original German:

“Ich sitze in dem kleinsten Zimmer in meinem Hause. Ich habe Ihre Kritik vor mir. Im nachsten Augenblick wird sie hinter mir sein.”


ct 04.12.08 at 12:01 am

rm brings up a good point, and I am inclined to agree about Rick Bass, however it isn’t just Rick Bass. The overbearing, slobbering hyperbole which infects most jacket reviews is either the average reviewer becoming utterly unhinged or a lot of knife edged sarcasm. I’m worried it’s the former.


John Quiggin 04.12.08 at 1:34 am

#38 reminds me of the famous (and almost certainly spurious) Chinese rejection letter. To my horror, a full minute of Googling turns up only allusion that assume you already know the full text. Anyway, the general point is that your paper is so marvellous that publishing it would set a standard that no future contribution could ever meet.


herr doktor bimler 04.12.08 at 2:47 am

#63 — That’s in one of the Kai Lung stories. Can’t remember which one off-hand. If anyone offers me a beer, that might jog my memory.


dete 04.12.08 at 5:10 am

I wasn’t really creeped out by “the scene” in The Wasp Factory, because it was obviously fictitious: Maggots don’t consume live flesh, and have been used, even in modern times, to clean wounds of the dead tissue that could cause infection.

(Side note: There are some parasitic maggots that do consume live flesh, but not in temperate climates, which is where the book takes place.)

Y’all are a bunch of pansies! :-P


Albanius 04.12.08 at 6:23 am

“Before they made SJ Perelman, they broke the mold.”
–Perelman, on the back of one of his books


John Quiggin 04.12.08 at 6:50 am

#64 I’m not so sure. As far as I can tell, the provenance “ancient Chinese saying invented by Ernest Bramah” is fast become as general and spurious as “ancient Chinese saying”.

See, for example May you live in interesting times


Ray Davis 04.12.08 at 9:47 pm

My all-time favorite was plucked from the London Times and plastered on the back of the first edition of Richard Ellman’s James Joyce biography:

“If Joyce be a great writer, then this be a great book.”


Ray Davis 04.12.08 at 9:50 pm

Ahem. “Ellmann”; “is”. Where’s the copy editor in this joint?


JamesP 04.13.08 at 3:16 pm

I have a not very good book on the Northern Crusades that has, on the back, ‘There is only one book in English on the Northern Crusades. This is it.’ Which one can read with either an upwards or downwards tone at the end, really.


DC 04.13.08 at 7:44 pm

From the Irish Times again, Brian Dillon reviewing the reviewer (specifically a collection of reviews by Dale Peck, who famously called somone or other the worst writer of their generation):

“And then there is the matter of his own style: a medium in which “transition” is a verb, and banal metaphors so belaboured that by the time he announces (of an obscurely significant hole in the ground) “I want to embrace that image, but also let it go”, this reader could only sigh: yes Dale, please, give it up… And if that sounds “snarky”, consider this: “genuine polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby”. That was Walter Benjamin, a critic who deserves better than to be seen in the same sentence. As Dale Peck.”


Kris 04.14.08 at 12:29 am

Douglas J. Feith is the spitting image of Dennis the Menace’s father. Seriously.

What other hells has he wrought?


Danny Yee 04.14.08 at 6:19 am

jamesp @ 70: What’s wrong with Christiansen’s book on the Northern Crusades? I thought it was rather good, actually, as is his The Norsemen in the Viking Age.


Ken MacLeod 04.14.08 at 1:15 pm

Henry – I’ll pass the ship name on.


SG 04.14.08 at 2:41 pm

Ken macleod, whether you are right or wrong about that maggoty scene happening, I can assure you that I read a few years ago in the Sydney Morning Herald about someone who had been a victim of exactly the underlying causal events in The Wasp Factory. (Obviously to say what those underlying events were would be to spoil the whole novel for other commenters, so I shan’t). When I read the account I assumed Iain Banks had read something similar somewhere.


mjc 04.14.08 at 3:44 pm

Gerhard Weinberg on Niall Ferguson’s Pity of War:

“There are indeed many interesting and challenging ideas in this book… But for the basic thesis of the work, one might well point out that those who walk on their hands instead of their feet do see the world differently, but not therefore necessarily more clearly.”


lemuel pitkin 04.14.08 at 6:21 pm

a collection of reviews by Dale Peck, who famously called somone or other the worst writer of their generation

Rick Moody. Who, to be fair, may indeed be the worst writer of his generation. Peck’s review (of The Black Veil) was outdone by James Wolcott, however:

To conduct his investigation, Moody will walk in Handkerchief Moody’s footsteps and cross ‘a bridge of ghosts’ into the New England of Puritan belief and Indian raids. He will quote extensively from Handkerchief’s diaries, visit graveyards, describe the rooms he lived in, put Hawthorne’s text under the microscope for dissection, and explore every crooked branch of the family tree. He will bore us, bore us, and bore us some more.

Permit a personal note. I pride myself on being a professional. I’ve reviewed epic borers by John Barth and Harold Brodkey that would have broken the spirit of Cochise. Here I nearly met my match. It took every ounce of fading willpower to get through word-choked pages in The Black Veil that seemed to stare back, defying anyone to finish them…


lemuel pitkin 04.14.08 at 6:33 pm

(I wrote this before noticing that Wolcott just posted a piece on his own blog about Peck. Spooky.)


Henry 04.14.08 at 7:25 pm

Ken – many thanks! Dave – “Regrettable Necessity” may indeed be better (although isn’t that more or less the motto of the entire Special Circumstances section, or whatever it’s called?)

roac #43 – that’s a lovely suggestion. I’d love to see an M.Banks/M.Banks mash-up along the lines of “Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod” of “Mervyn Keene, Clubman” (I’m currently reading the relevant Jeeves and Wooster novel to my wife – are any of Rosie M’s novels described elsewhere in the _oeuvre_ ??) . And if “Charlie Stross can do Wodehouse”:http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_0701/Trunk.shtml, why not Iain M?


Henry (not the famous one) 04.15.08 at 4:23 pm

I know this thread is nearly done, but everyone should go read Steven Hayes’ review of Feith’s book in the New York Post. Brief synopsis: falsus in uno, falsuus in omnibus: http://www.nypost.com/seven/04132008/postopinion/postopbooks/memory_fails_106253.htm?page=0
Not quite faint damns and not praise either.


roac 04.15.08 at 8:38 pm

(Anybody still here?) Henry, after I squeezed off the line about Iain M. and Rosie M., I Googled Iain. According to Wikipedia, he originally wanted to be Iain M., but his publisher induced him to drop the initial because of the potential confusion(?) with Rosie M. Swear to God.

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