Book Reviews? LRB vs the failing New York Review of Books vs ... ?

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

Not to further derail the NYRB publishing imprint thread and to continue this discussion.

The NYRB seems to be really unravelling under Buruma. I let my subscription lapse a couple of years ago but from the occasional issue I've picked up or read bits of online, it seems to be inconsistent in tone both from issue to issue and within an issue. Which I think is a pity because I like many of its regular contributors and don't know where else you would be able to find several of them published in the same place.

The whole Fall of Men seems almost parody and at best appears to be a shameless and tasteless attempt to have an issue go viral. Maybe there'll be an editorial coup in the office and they'll replace him with one of their female editors/regular contributors and/or return to two editors(Silvers/Epstein) to provide a better counterbalance (Darryl Pinckney? Daniel Mendelsohn?).

I do think the LRB is still pretty good but also not as consistent as it used to be. I only pick up the occasional issue where there is an article or two or three I know I want to read. I do like that they continue to publish more interesting younger writers (at least relative to other places).

Where else do people regularly read reviews? James Wood is sometimes good in the New Yorker, depending on what he's writing about. I haven't read the TLS in a long time - maybe worth revisiting?

Federico Boswarlos, Monday, 17 September 2018 15:15 (two months ago) Permalink

I often enjoy book reviews in the NYer but it probably doesn’t compare in hypothetically comprehensive usefulness to the three outlets mentioned. I don’t know how many books LARB actually reviews but they’ve got to be a bit fresher in editorial outlook.

faculty w1fe (silby), Monday, 17 September 2018 16:34 (two months ago) Permalink

Before this later Fall of Men Donnybrook (on which I will reserve judgement until I read the piece in question) I hadn’t noticed any particular decline at the NYRB. It seemed like mostly the same writers covering mostly the same subjects. It was never a magazine known for consistency of tone.

o. nate, Monday, 17 September 2018 17:14 (two months ago) Permalink

Reluctantly say TLS is best for fiction reviews/coverage although I look mainly online, scavenge whatever I am interested in. All sorts of off piece in The New Republic and The Nation.

The other copycat RBs (there is a Brixton review of books now: http://www.brixtonreviewofbooks.net/) are all mildly interesting as an area.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 17 September 2018 17:18 (two months ago) Permalink

o.nate, maybe it's a reflection of my lack of personal interest on areas of its coverage? It dates back to the last couple years of Silvers' reign to be sure but I've just been finding less and less of it very engaging and I've skipped over an increasing % of articles (and I feel like it's been more the case since Buruma took over).

There have also been a few pretty bad/weak one-off reviews over the last few years that I feel wouldn't have meet their editorial standards earlier, as well.

I don't mean to say that regular contributors continuing their beat(s) - so to speak - have all of a sudden declined, but that outside of that I personally find it's been getting less interesting.

Federico Boswarlos, Monday, 17 September 2018 20:00 (two months ago) Permalink

I'll go back and look, but I think there have still been a fair number of interesting articles per issue. If there's been a decline, I'd say it's been fairly slight. It's not like NYRB under Silvers never courted controversy either. Silvers continued publishing Freeman Dyson for instance, even after he fell afoul of climate activists by taking a slightly skeptical stance on how much certainty was possible and suggesting that technological solutions might be worth considering (to be fair Silvers also published Bill McKibben and others).

o. nate, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 00:49 (two months ago) Permalink

Hate to say good things about a Murdoch publication but I do like the TLS, I think it reviews a much wider range of things than the LRB or NYRB. I find myself reading about mediaeval calligraphy or something I'd never normally read about and finding I'm getting something out of it. All too rare an experience with online reading.

Zelda Zonk, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 01:22 (two months ago) Permalink

A glib, but perhaps accurate, statement would be something like:

The NYRB is for people who think Colm Toibin is a good critic.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 09:30 (two months ago) Permalink

Unfortunately this statement would also somewhat redound on the LRB, to which I am a long-term subscriber.

The NYRB always feels attractive to me, as something comparatively unknown - and bulky, hefty, dense.

But I fear that in truth it is worthy, stuffy, bulky or hefty in a more figurative and unattractive sense.

It's also obsessed with the minutiae of US politics -- understandable maybe, but to a degree that makes it almost like a news review (Spectator, New Statesman or something) rather than a reflective literary / intellectual journal.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 09:33 (two months ago) Permalink

Another statement that I fear could be a bit accurate is:

The NYRB is the place where even Lorrie Moore writes uninterestingly.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 09:33 (two months ago) Permalink

I subscribe to the NYRB on-line, primarily to be honest for its archive. Since Charles Rosen died I think the only NYRB writers I actively care about are Garry Will, Joan Didion and very occasional ilxor Luc Sante. Probably I've forgotten someone obvious and important. I feel Buruma was a poor choice as editor: even ignoring his bad opinions, he seems out of his depth.

I subscribe to the New Yorker on-line, also primarily for access to its (enormous) archive. I posted that I'm not a huge Remnick fan on the other thread, and it's true -- I don't like his own writing and I think some of his big-name hirings have been bad. Jia Tolentino's take-down of the Ghomeshi affair was good, though.

I subscribe to the LRB to arrive in the post (and generally read most of it, except the fiction reviews). It probably actually has the widest scope of the three.

mark s, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 11:59 (two months ago) Permalink

I find myself reading about mediaeval calligraphy or something I'd never normally read about and finding I'm getting something out of it. All too rare an experience with online reading.

This kind of thing has totally happened to me w/ the LRB.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 13:46 (two months ago) Permalink

It would be great if they offered an option to digitally bundle articles from each for a monthly fee but from their POV would probably be a bad move, eating into their subscriber base.

Lol, I like Colm Toibin's essays and think you could say the same about the LRB. I do agree it has the widest scope and a less Anglo bias.

The archives of each are a great resource - was something I dove into when I had my subs to NYRB and LRB (I like how the LRB links off to related articles online - one of my university libraries had all of the old print issues going back to the mid 80s, it was good fun to go back and look through the old personal ads which alas I don't think migrated to the digital archives).

Luc Sante posted here, really? He's also one of my NYRB faves.

Federico Boswarlos, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 13:50 (two months ago) Permalink

I subscribe to the LRB, but it's a bit like gym membership: rarely feel I'm getting the most out of it. No matter how much of each issue I read, all the interesting letters in the next one are about stuff I missed. I *never* read the poems.

fetter, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 13:51 (two months ago) Permalink

The NYRB is for people who think Colm Toibin is a good critic.

er..the people at the LRB think so:

https://www.lrb.co.uk/contributors/colm-toibin

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 17:06 (two months ago) Permalink

There is much crossover between contributors at both places. Obviously you'd expect the NYRB to have more on the US and less on the NHS (and vice-versa for the LRB).

Ultimately its been a poor year for the LRB - and that's not to include the mountains of poems by Frederick Seidel! The Grenfell piece, Lanchester's fiction, Perry Anderson's two parter on Powell (whatever his merits we could do with better coverage of fiction, and that really wasn't it).

I don't really see both publications being that sustainable in the long run. Politically it does feel - more than ever - like these projects are at the end of their runs, along with their politics (I never cared much for The New Yorker - like all of these good stuff is published - but the Bannon invite is where you see the writing on the wall for these ppl...just this very basic failure to be decent).

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 17:17 (two months ago) Permalink

Another vote for the TLS here. Also The Literary Review, https://literaryreview.co.uk/

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 01:49 (two months ago) Permalink

The NYRB is for people who think Colm Toibin is a good critic.

― the pinefox, Tuesday, September 18, 2018 Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

Unfortunately this statement would also somewhat redound on the LRB, to which I am a long-term subscriber.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 08:17 (two months ago) Permalink

No, I wouldn't expect the NYRB to write about the NHS, as the LRB sometimes does. But I said "the minutiae of US politics -- understandable maybe, but to a degree that makes it almost like a news review (Spectator, New Statesman or something)".

Writing about the NHS is somewhat different: long-range analysis of social issues.

The politics minutiae is something that the LRB used to do (but less than the NYRB) in Ross McKibbin's regular reviews. He was clearly retired out of that role - surely he can't have asked to quit it? - and the paper no longer carries many of those contemporary politics articles. The closest thing to the new McKibbin has been Tom Crewe, who I find mostly very creditable.

The obvious reason for the paper stopping rolling politics coverage in print is the sense that such fast moving developments are better covered online, in its blog. So you could plausibly say that the LRB blog is its answer to the NYRB's vast print political coverage.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 08:22 (two months ago) Permalink

The claim that any print publication is unsustainable necessarily looks plausible.

But if a specific claim is made that these publications are unusually unsustainable, I don't see evidence for that in the LRB's case.

re the LRB specifically: I have heard here and there that it now has a bigger print circulation than ever, as well as its online readership. It also has its own healthy though small promotional / esteem-building ecosystem with its author events and films, which are always packed -- the shop in general would appear to be solid infrastructure in the LRB's make-up now.

If the claim is that the LRB's politics are out of date, eg because it is 'centrist', I don't agree because by UK standards it has been quite far to the political Left for many years. Anderson, Eagleton, Hatherley, even Jameson and Zizek (who longer appears for some reason) are regulars, or contributors, who are Marxists. More to the point, perhaps, Crewe is closer to the Corbyn position and movement, as many of us are. And it has embraced the latest wave of feminism in a big way, albeit still provoking claims of imbalanced coverage, which I think have in turn led to more women writing and being written about, in the last year or so.

I can't claim that any of the above applies to the NYRB - a different matter.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 08:29 (two months ago) Permalink

mckibbin is 76 so he may have bowed out decided of his own accord

mark s, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 09:57 (two months ago) Permalink

he started writing sentences like that

mark s, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 10:07 (two months ago) Permalink

I agree.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 10:09 (two months ago) Permalink

I was just thinking about Alan Bennett as an LRB political figurehead (long quoted as saying he likes it cos it's the most radical literary review).

His schtick in effect is: 'the "national treasure" that "Middle England" loves, but who is actually a left-wing critic of our society, radical in a way that would worry many of his admirers'.

As such, it occurred to me that he could literally be called an avant-gardist - as in, say, someone who covertly takes the fight deep into enemy territory.

I wouldn't call him an avant-gardist in other ways.

It might possibly be that AB's status as key LRB totem is well on the wane, and that he is withdrawing much as McKibbin did (as above).

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 10:13 (two months ago) Permalink

The LRB and NYRB are entwined with a kind of pre-cold war politics. It's left, but its Perry and Tariq Ali, no intersectionality. Like nyrb it engaged with the issues but as the stats show it doesn't have enough women reviewing, and I can see the LRB making the exact same mistakes the NYRB made.

Ultimately and once the trust fund cash runs out I can see the whole thing dying off.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 10:25 (two months ago) Permalink

Sorry cold war, like its left but as the Grenfell piece showed it has different colours.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 10:28 (two months ago) Permalink

I don't like the Grenfell piece, but I don't think it represents the political stance of the whole LRB (certainly not all of its contributors) -- more the political stance of its author.

It's true, though, that in publishing it across the whole issue, the paper allied itself with the article, which I think was very poor judgment.

The Cold War seems a red herring to me. The LRB has an interest in Russian history (Sheila Fitzpatrick) but otherwise the Cold War isn't really much part of its politics at all, no more than anyone else's. Once again, Crewe's engagement with Momentum, et al, seems more significant than any of that.

If 'no intersectionality' means that not many of the writers (or topics) are non-white or female, then this is broadly true, but not more true than of most equivalent titles (are they all also unsustainable for the same reason?). More to the point, the engagement with a) changing that, at least re gender and b) taking on big political issues of the time, eg Rose on Trans, Mishra on white nationalism, etc, seems genuine and increasingly extensive. That's not to say that the actual writing has always been good.

The LRB doesn't need me to defend it - I have been frustrated by it as much as most people - and it will survive or it won't, regardless of what we say. So I suppose I am merely trying to state facts.

Once more, the financial facts are another matter - you may know more than the rest of us about the balance of the paper's income. I don't know about trust funds, do know that it was long recipient of an Arts Council grant. I agree that such sources of income can be important to keep these presses going, and think it's a good thing that they do.

Once more, the NYRB seems to be a different thing, part of a somewhat different culture. But we would need evidence for the claim that it is financially unsustainable.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 11:53 (two months ago) Permalink

The LRB's underwritten by Mary-Kay Wilmer's family fortune - low estimates are about a million a year. I think… accounts show a £3m loss last year..

(fwiw I think it's an excellent way to use an inheritance)

woof, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 12:07 (two months ago) Permalink

Mary-Kay Wilmers' father was a successful Belgian industrialist which helps fund the LRB and lets it operate at a loss (a good use of the money, I would say). It has a wide circulation for a magazine/journal/paper of its kind (bigger than the NYRB, maybe, if we incl Europe?) but I don't think it's a profitable enterprise (maybe because it's never felt as much pressure to be it hasn't had to make sacrifices or changes to aggressively try).

I remember reading that the NYRB was successful year over year (not sure if this is still the case), but I think it has a wide subscriber and institutional sub base that keep it afloat. Also there are maybe more ads? Or am I just cranky and noticing them more?

I definitely am more sympathetic to the LRBs politics and while, yes, there is a generational thing think it's mostly among their old guard of regular contributors (Perry, Tariq, etc.). I think some of the younger contributors they've been bringing in are better engaged with different currents in the left (Benjamin Kunkel, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Adam Shatz - also in the NYRB but mostly just writes about jazz, Joanna Biggs, Emily Witt). It's not the same, but they do also publish other good younger writers on their blog. The NYRB on the other hand seems pretty firmly fixed in its leftish early 90s post-Cold War liberalism which - with the notable exception of some individual writers - seems fairly out of date.

(I didn't read the Grenfell issue though was discouraged after hearing some of the critiques about its treatment of it).

Even though I read both much less frequently, I hope both remain sustainable in one way or other, whether it be as the recipients of public funding/a benefactor or by subs/ads. I

Federico Boswarlos, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 12:18 (two months ago) Permalink

mary kay wilmers subscribe to my patreon

mark s, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 12:38 (two months ago) Permalink

Largely agree with Federico. FWIW I'm not sure that Adam Shatz is young.

There was a moment, perhaps about 2007, when the LRB tried to bring on board n+1 writers -- Batuman, Kunkel, at least. That was one of those moments of partial generational transition, which was something of a precursor to the present with Witt, Heti, Diane Williams et al in it regularly. We probably discussed it on here, over a decade ago.

Though people often complain about the same old names, it is fair to say that for good or ill, it is a different paper from what it was. Kermode, Rorty, McKibbin, Sturrock, James Wood, various others used to be regulars; several are now dead. It's largely a different generation now, with continuities (Collini) and new staples (Runciman).

The copy-editing has declined (Mark S and I both see this), and possibly parts of the writing are also worse. I don't think either of these will damage it commercially at all.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 12:50 (two months ago) Permalink

The closest thing the LRB has to a regular / old guard US 'cold war [?] liberal' type, who would tie it in with the NYRB, is ...

David Bromwich.

I don't much like him and I'm glad he no longer appears very often.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 12:52 (two months ago) Permalink

twitter is claiming that buruma is out at NYRB

mookieproof, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:27 (two months ago) Permalink

Confirmed: Ian Buruma is out as editor of the New York Review of Books, following much criticized decision to publish piece by Jian Ghomeshi. "I can confirm that Ian Buruma is no long the editor of The New York Review of Books," said a spokesman

— Cara Buckley (@caraNYT) September 19, 2018

mookieproof, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:42 (two months ago) Permalink

:D

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:45 (two months ago) Permalink

Must be a real trip to reach the apex of your profession and then lose all credibility with your entire organization in one fell swoop.

faculty w1fe (silby), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:48 (two months ago) Permalink

aww I was kinda looking forward to my first angry cancellation letter

Uhura Mazda (lukas), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:55 (two months ago) Permalink

it’s not too late

🧛🏻‍♂️ F A T 🧛🏻‍♂️ D R A C U L A 🧛🏻‍♂️ (bizarro gazzara), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:55 (two months ago) Permalink

I don't know the story here, or whether IB should go over this particular incident -- but I'm instinctively inclined to be glad about this, as I remember him writing a regular Guardian column, maybe 15 years ago, that I found unpleasant and reactionary.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:57 (two months ago) Permalink

It seems puzzling to me that someone should publish an essay, presumably after lots of discussion, copy-editing, official agreement, etc -- *then* be told (by bosses?) that it was unacceptable.

Wouldn't or shouldn't they have made this clear at an earlier stage?

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:58 (two months ago) Permalink

lol kicker in the NYT story about it

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DneaxZFVYAAA4rW.jpg

mookieproof, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:59 (two months ago) Permalink

Note: the Brixton Review of Books doesn't seem to have any content online?

the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 18:00 (two months ago) Permalink

i would guess that robert silvers published whatever the hell he wanted, so there may have been no apparatus overseeing buruma editorially. i would also guess that his publisher (and buruma himself, obviously) had no idea what kind of firestorm it would bring. i don't know what the NYRB's last major public fracas was, but i'll bet it happened before twitter was available to magnify things beyond a series of angry letters over the following issues

mookieproof, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 18:07 (two months ago) Permalink

i was a NYRB subscriber from ... 2010 to 2015ish.

i was always a month or three behind reading them. the ability of their US politics writers to make predictions that, in the time it took me to get around to reading the article, turned out to be laughably wrong was notable. i'm sure i'd feel the same way about other politics writing if i read it on a 3 month delay. but the tone was so above the fray that i kind of felt/feel they should do a better job than the news.

their science (and history of science) coverage was (and perhaps is) excellent and afaict unique (serious, accessible, humane, etc.)

daryll pinkney being the fossil they wheeled out (and perhaps the only person on their roster) capable of reviewing ta-nahesi coates earlier this year doesn't bode well. (it was a good review though.)

i've never had an LRB subscription but i read more of their stuff these days via the web. e.g. i have saved 5 LRB pieces this year, and zero NYRB (unless you count the odd blog post, e.g. https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/06/17/world-cup-2018-the-yob-swagger-of-inger-land/ was fun).

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 20:26 (two months ago) Permalink

*Darryl *Pinckney

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 20:27 (two months ago) Permalink

also: i liked it more when i didn't live in new york. when i lived in mitteleuropa it felt like they might know lots of things i didn't, but it seemed more obviously out of touch when i moved to NYC and had more direct knowledge of the culture/institutions it covers.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 20:32 (two months ago) Permalink

Well, look at that...

This is certainly an opportunity for them to re-think the mag and have a more considered approach to who takes over the editorship (I think in large part Buruma was named because he was there and regularly contributing for so long).

I think it would be swell if they went back to two editors and perhaps opted to not continue only under the helm of an older white guy. I don't know if I'm optimistic this will be the case, but you never know...I think they are self-aware enough, like the Paris Review was, not to do it but, you never know.

Federico Boswarlos, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 20:52 (two months ago) Permalink

Note: the Brixton Review of Books doesn't seem to have any content online?

― the pinefox, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

I know its very small, only 2/3 issues and I've only seen it sold in our local 2nd hand bookshop lol.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 20:57 (two months ago) Permalink

I pretty much read the NYROB for Elizabeth Drew.

The Silky Veils of Alfred (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 21:00 (two months ago) Permalink

i was always a month or three behind reading them. the ability of their US politics writers to make predictions that, in the time it took me to get around to reading the article, turned out to be laughably wrong was notable. i'm sure i'd feel the same way about other politics writing if i read it on a 3 month delay. but the tone was so above the fray that i kind of felt/feel they should do a better job than the news.

Can believe that although iirc Michael Tomasky was dispassionately assessing Trump's chances and wasn't discounting him.

I think these two papers are not much better than the general media in terms of analysis and prediction (trying to think of Adam Shatz (writing for the LRB) on Egypt but I'm too exhausted to check and assess).

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 21:06 (two months ago) Permalink

I still haven't recovered from learning Jan Morris love watching Mrs Brown's Boys, so not able to even consider looking at signatories to that list

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Wednesday, 26 September 2018 03:47 (two months ago) Permalink

I actually agree with the writers of that letter. It's such an overblown reaction to fire someone because of one stupid decision. Jonathan Haidt said on Sam Harris' podcast last week that the only correct way to deal with an internet mob is to ignore it. And here's Laura Kipnis in the New York Times:

Do we now live in such unforgiving times that one problematic essay (or interview) guillotines a job? If so, my fear is that no editor in America will be taking editorial risks ever again.

What’s painful about the stance of many now claiming the #MeToo mantle is the apparent commitment to shutting down voices and discussions that might prove distasteful or unnerving. What use is such an intellectually stifled version of feminism to anyone?

ArchCarrier, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 06:36 (two months ago) Permalink

Again, i suspect it's not so much the article alone as the completely clueless follow-up interview that did him in.

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Wednesday, 26 September 2018 07:18 (two months ago) Permalink

Yeah, what will we do if no editor will take brave risks like getting a scumbag to lie in an article and then keep the article away from editors so that the lies aren't caught in the editorial process. I mean, if prestigious magazines aren't willing to do that, then what are they even for?

Frederik B, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 07:47 (two months ago) Permalink

The letter is disappointing, but it seems a lot like a professional group closing rank. They would rather not let outsiders have the ability to determine if an editorial process was good or bad.

Frederik B, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 07:51 (two months ago) Permalink

I wasted an hour looking up the ages of half the people on this list. the oldest i found was 93, the youngest was 42, and the average age was 69. https://t.co/C23ongVmPq

— t e whalen (@tewhalen) September 26, 2018

Tim, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 08:45 (two months ago) Permalink

It's so revealing that they without a shred of evidence - and despite NYRB denying it - just assumes Buruma was fired because of the 'public reaction' to the piece. Elitist assholes who needs their right to write anything without the public having a say.

Frederik B, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 09:24 (two months ago) Permalink

Lol @ "one stupid decision".

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 09:40 (two months ago) Permalink

interesting that garry wills -- who's been pressing extremely hard on the related problems in the catholic church for almost two decades now -- is not on that list

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 09:52 (two months ago) Permalink

nor is joan didion

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 09:53 (two months ago) Permalink

also they spelled jonathan freedland's name wrong lol

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 09:58 (two months ago) Permalink

In all honesty I could see this go Kavanaugh and a bunch of them go 'He did what? Ok, I did not know that...'

Frederik B, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 10:21 (two months ago) Permalink

Freedland beginning to write for it -- which I think is quite recent -- was a really bad move

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 10:36 (two months ago) Permalink

agreed, tho since the 80s new york media has a bit of a history of hiring unsufferably glib london-media lightweights for its entire UK coverage (here we briefly mourn the passing of the great mollie panter-downes, a briton of another age)

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 10:45 (two months ago) Permalink

The letter, I have to say, reads like a pro forma loyalty round robin: “we deplore this turn of events”. I think it fairly likely that a significant proportion of the signers aren’t aware of all the details — the Slate interview, perhaps even the publisher’s account (which took way too long to come out, ideally it should have preceded and certainly should have been put out within an hour of the resignation announcements). They will have signed for a variety of reasons, including:
1: friendship and personal loyalty (e.g. Margalit co-wrote a book with Buruma)*
2: a p much knee-jerk (and in most circs entirely correct) sense that in a dispute they have deeper craft ties to the editor than the publisher, and shd back the one they work with against the big bad boss…
3: I hope not but some may be straightforwardly onside with the piece ghomeshi wrote!
4: some will feel that Buruma was brought in (as per the letter) to bring some new energy to NYRB’s contribution to public debates, so shouldn’t be sanctioned at the first whiff of cordite
5: harsh to come down after just one mistake

But it’s not one mistake, it’s three.

A: commissioning the piece
B: denying it the routine editorial procedure
C: that interview

In my opinion it’s B and C that sunk him. A by itself was bad judgment but salvageable. This is what I wrote a week ago and I stick by it (not least bcz I called some the facts abt the editing based just on reading the piece):

it hadn't -- in my judgment -- been edited, beyond routine proofing for spelling and grammar: to be publishable at all in the context buruma claimed for it in the slate interview it need two or three more serious rewrites and rethinks, with tough editorial notes requiring a whole bunch of stuff (like -- minimally -- accurate descriptions from ghomeshi of what he'd been a accused of!) but clearly none of that had been done

who can say -- there would have been a furore either way -- but i suspect what truly sunk him was the interview, which was jaw-dropping to the point of being weird.

Re A:
Buruma wasn’t hired for his years of editorial experience (he had none); nor to radically and experimentally shake up the world’s ideas of good editorial process (inasmuch as I understand “polder model”, it’s what an editorial process at a mag like NYRB will normally be, with Buruma declaring at that pre-appointment point that he will happily take advice from his experienced team).

No, he was hired as a celebrity intellectual and storied author, who the contributors can trust even as he re-injects some pizazz back to the coverage of the more controversial elements in present-day politics (predecessors Silver and Epstein’s first decade had been notably controversial: they put a grenade on the cover at some point in I think 1968, to flag a piece by Andrew Kopkind abt the student revolt). Buruma was I believe heavily involved in Dutch debates abt free speech (the Dutch-knowledgeable ilxors can correct me here? — my main source of info has been Wilders-fantype crackpots on twitter cheering IB’s current plight…)

So, as a commission, this matches up with the reasons he was brought in. His error isn’t toying with the idea, or looking some way into it — “let’s see the piece” — it’s what he did next.

Re B:
There are two reasons you put a piece into the usual process of your magazine editorial. One is to make it better — you make use of the varied thoughts and expertises of a number of people at a number of levels, from the spellcheck and fact-check desks on up. It turns it from “any old piece” to “a piece this magazine is publishing”: it becomes a collective work and in that work, much value is added. The second is — frankly — covering your arse: if you make a mistake, and everyone else on the team has signed off on it also, then it’s not purely yours to own. They can’t sack the whole staff (well, obviously they can and sadly we’ve seen just this on dozens of other titles in recent years, but the NYRB has surely set its institutional face against that culture).

Again, setting aside issues of content, this act was just so reckless! What did IB think was going to happen — he was publishing a highly controversial piece and shut out most of the staff to do so. Did he think no one would notice or voice displeasure? Why would the staff still have his back in this most arrogantly dismissive od circumstance? Who was the one other man who saw it? Was he literally just the spellcheck desk? (It slightly makes me wonder if there hadn’t already been run-ins and ructions with the support staff he was supposed to be polder-modelling with…)

Re C:
OK, in “YOU HAD ONE JOB” terms, IB’s job was NOT GIVING THAT FUCKING SLATE INTERVIEW. He is the public face of the magazine: he should not be so utterly easily first-time ambushable (I know Chotiner is a master at this; all the more reason to dodge the call until you have yr ducks in a row and — ifs — have the contents and the background of the piece at issue AT YOUR FINGERTIPS).

It’s such a stupid and bad interview that I actually have some sympathy for O.Nate’s point. There’s no good reason to assume anything said in it is well said: in other words, that he gets across what he actually meant, courtesy the various ridiculously damning pull-quotes people have made. Again though: his job is knowing what he makes in that situation and getting it across. He couldn’t; he’s out. True it’s not quite fair in the blurred portrait of the process he gives to argue that he deliberately lied: more accurate say he misled by omission — by failing to state that the usual editorial process had not taken place. (Repeating: why he thought the staff wd back him here is baffling to me: it’s their professionalism he’s basically allowing to be impugned, for his blunders.)

*Re signing these types of letter our of collegiate loyalty: it kind of happens A LOT and ppl get caught out when the person organising them is a fool or not entirely on there up-and-up (we don’t now who organised this, but IB himself will have said all their emails!) (which is why I’m interested who didn’t sign). In the Avitall Ronell case, a bunch of ppl who really should have known better signed a substantially more problematic letter in which they extended their knowledge of her public behaviour (which they approved) into assumptions about her behaviour in an private intimate context (which by definition they knew nothing of). This case isn’t that case (the public vs private dynamic is there but it’s very different): still, as we are repeated learning in this dismal time, this extension of indulgence is a fatally easy move to make in respect of those you have a lot of time for (with good reason) in other circumstances. “Their prose is persuasive and intelligent, they can’t be this much of a dick; I like our phone chats abt my work, he can’t have taken leave of his moral senses” and so on.

And all in the high-speed world of email (which as noted is not the world many of these writers grew up with).

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 11:14 (two months ago) Permalink

I HAVE OPINIONS

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 11:15 (two months ago) Permalink

(which i have filled full of typos for yr decoding pleasure)

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 11:25 (two months ago) Permalink

Yeah, I can't help but think of the Avitall Ronell case.

Frederik B, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 12:11 (two months ago) Permalink

shorter me above, this multipart jeet heer thread lol (which i hadn't read when i posted):

1. So, this letter on behalf of Ian Buruma raises an interesting question but doesn't persuade because it fails to grapple with why Buruma was actually fired (or perhaps forced to quit). https://t.co/4c0ymp9BLu

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) September 26, 2018

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 12:52 (two months ago) Permalink

here's the silvers/epstein "grenade" cover i mentioned (ie not a grenade but a molotov cocktail, and 1967 not 1968):
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DoBlT9WX0AA6T28.jpg

good issue! (i have not read it as an issue)

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 14:23 (two months ago) Permalink

alfred brendel and marina warner are the names on there that cut me the most in case anyone's keeping score

did brendel say something other than signing the letter?

valet doberman (Jon not Jon), Wednesday, 26 September 2018 14:51 (two months ago) Permalink

the only independent comment i've spotted so far from a signer -- not that i've been looking very hard -- was joyce carol oates on twitter going in HARD abt how bad the JG essay is

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 14:57 (two months ago) Permalink

(in fact, having done that, she also goes on to say this will blow over -- like remnick/bannon -- bcz no lasting harm done and later, when proved wrong, to lament that it's too harsh sacking IB for just a single blunder)

mark s, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 15:09 (two months ago) Permalink

i did not previously have a fully formed opinion of joyce carol oates -- prolific! enjoys boxing! -- but her twitter has convinced me that she is Bad

mookieproof, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 15:17 (two months ago) Permalink

It is not too harsh firing someone for a single blunder when that blunder completely undermines a leader’s ability to lead their staff, as I’m certain happened here. I think that’s what the letter’s signatories might not be sensitive to. That trust won’t come back and the organization would sink slowly if Buruma didn’t exit quickly.

faculty w1fe (silby), Wednesday, 26 September 2018 15:18 (two months ago) Permalink

Enraging dipshit thread from NYRB signatory Harry Shearer below this tweet

If you're designated a "sexually violent predator", does that mean you can't hang around kids and feed them Jell-O any more? #AskingForAFriend

— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) September 25, 2018

(thread)

Chuck_Tatum, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 16:05 (two months ago) Permalink

the only independent comment i've spotted so far from a signer -- not that i've been looking very hard -- was joyce carol oates on twitter going in HARD abt how bad the JG essay is

Fintan O'Toole had a piece in The Irish TImes last week with his take

https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/fintan-o-toole-metoo-cannot-win-in-a-climate-of-fear-1.3639666

(tl, dr: The article was bad and Buruma "made mistakes' but he's a mate and we need editors who are willing to take risks)

Number None, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 16:21 (two months ago) Permalink

I agree with a lot in that article, but nobody needs a man to explain how much leeway should be given to men before women are allowed to lose faith in them.

Frederik B, Wednesday, 26 September 2018 16:48 (two months ago) Permalink

Many many XPs, but yes we need a Mollie Panter-Downes in the world again

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Thursday, 27 September 2018 00:40 (two months ago) Permalink

I know this joke has been made approx 50 million times but: Fintan O'Tool

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 27 September 2018 07:39 (two months ago) Permalink

I guess its whether you think Buruma was taking a risk or trying to burn down the building.

I think it fairly likely that a significant proportion of the signers aren’t aware of all the details

Which, if true, is something given a lot of them aren't some rent-a-penny journo crying over getting yelled at on twitter but are able to churn out often considered thoughts of around 2-5K on a book, often covering a subject they've spent years thinking about. Maybe they'd take a pause and think about what they are actually signing.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 27 September 2018 07:47 (two months ago) Permalink

this piece isn't quite as good as it could be -- it needed also to grapple with ballard tbh -- but the kicking that remnick gets pleases me, he is bad not good

mark s, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 15:42 (two months ago) Permalink

lol i mean THIS PIECE: https://hmmdaily.com/2018/10/02/man-writer-against-nature/

mark s, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 15:43 (two months ago) Permalink

(xp why do I keep typing "ponder" when I mean "polder") Do you think Remnick is a bad editor? Never read him much, but a lot of good writing (maybe mostly nonfiction) has been published during his time on top, whatever he actually had to do with it.

dow, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 16:27 (two months ago) Permalink

i'm no judge of the fiction as i barely read it: the cartoons seems trapped in a loop of sameness (the make-up-yr-own captions are almost always better): some of the arts is OK tho i HAAAAAAATE anthony lane: the long-read non-fiction reporting has highs (ronan farrow is so far a p good hire!) but i think the long-read non-fiction political commentary is patchy at best: jeffrey goldberg, george packer, jeffrey toobin, jon lee anderson -- an inadequate poor gaggle going back to the early 00s and iraq (toobin inadequate all the way back to the OJ trial tbh).

a friend on twitter who hadn't read a full copy for a few years picked a recent one up to read on a train and said it was entirely nervously obsessed with trump without being remotely insightful. which, ok, join the club in US media terms (on and off ilx haha) but i remember* when it stood well away from the lack and made something of that.

*bcz lol i am old, shawn 4evah

mark s, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 16:42 (two months ago) Permalink

s/b pack but i've been wrestling with lacan half the day sorry

mark s, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 16:45 (two months ago) Permalink

Anthony Lane is a miserable old lech who never met a turn of phrase he couldn't belabor into several painful paragraphs

I have measured out my life in coffee shop loyalty cards (silby), Wednesday, 3 October 2018 17:29 (two months ago) Permalink

Lane genuinely used to be good

not for a long time though

Number None, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 17:43 (two months ago) Permalink

when, in the 70s?

I have measured out my life in coffee shop loyalty cards (silby), Wednesday, 3 October 2018 17:45 (two months ago) Permalink

…when he was apparently an adolescent? wow.

I have measured out my life in coffee shop loyalty cards (silby), Wednesday, 3 October 2018 17:45 (two months ago) Permalink

no he was bad from the get-go tho not as bad

mark s, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 17:50 (two months ago) Permalink

Reportage, yeah: taking me deep or at least far into Yemen, Brazil, American Halls of Justice ( & related, incl. detention camps), for instance. Also Superfund sites, dark money, other related.

dow, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 18:16 (two months ago) Permalink

i like some of its younger crew of short commenters also: jia tolentino, osita nwanevu

(and to be fair to remnick tina brown hired anthony lane)

mark s, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 18:24 (two months ago) Permalink

Sanneh still a bright spot. The Xtian rock piece was fun.

o. nate, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 20:48 (two months ago) Permalink

Yes. Also, the leftfield, for inst:
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/08/the-comforting-fictions-of-dementia-care

...or else seemed to have reached a point at which the question of where they were was no longer important. GOAL.

dow, Wednesday, 3 October 2018 23:29 (two months ago) Permalink

no mark s. letter, no cred

mookieproof, Friday, 5 October 2018 17:35 (two months ago) Permalink

it'll be the cover i'm sure of it

mark s, Friday, 5 October 2018 17:36 (two months ago) Permalink


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.