Taking Sides: the TLS v. the LRB

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which is the greatest book-review-tastic magazine?

DV (dirtyvicar), Tuesday, 18 May 2004 12:46 (eighteen years ago) link

When the LRB is good, it's very good. But I find the TLS's range much better.

Jonathan Z. (Joanthan Z.), Tuesday, 18 May 2004 13:07 (eighteen years ago) link

This *again*, Vicar? Didn't you ask it on ILE?

I am not saying you should not ask it again, though.

the bellefox, Tuesday, 18 May 2004 13:12 (eighteen years ago) link

Okalright TLS but, well i didn't take it too far but somehow decided NYRB is in fact best....i also rate bookforum this much

Scott & Anya (thoia), Tuesday, 18 May 2004 13:14 (eighteen years ago) link

The LRB out of your question, the Vicar.

I very much enjoyed reading the book reviews in the CULTURE section of the Guardian though - but think they could have been far more bilious wrt BERGDORF BLONDES. I admit I didn't read any reviews which took up a whole page ftb I was very very hungover and the print was jumping about in front of my eyes (not in a good way).

Sarah (starry), Tuesday, 18 May 2004 13:16 (eighteen years ago) link

The LRB has slipped right down my list now that they've cut their free year's subscription down to four free issues only.

I like the LRB
Because if you're me
The LRB's free

Because some bloke I live with is always subscribed to it. It is the real reason I don't live alone.

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Tuesday, 18 May 2004 14:44 (eighteen years ago) link


kenchen, Wednesday, 19 May 2004 13:06 (eighteen years ago) link

"Because some bloke I live with is always subscribed to it. It is the real reason I don't live alone."

ha ha! that is perfect. My bloke bought me a Granta subscription several years ago, and that always keeps him in my good graces.
TLS or LRB - in America, it's hard to find either. I haven't tried, but are they available on line? I read the NYT book review and shall be receiving the NYRB soon.
I find it amazing that all you/us posters have time to read reviews as well as books. Sometimes I get completely befuddled by reading a review of a book by an author of a book that I wanted to read. Does that make sense?

aimurchie, Wednesday, 19 May 2004 13:54 (eighteen years ago) link

I did work experience at the TLS. They were kinda mean.

Gregory Henry (Gregory Henry), Wednesday, 19 May 2004 17:24 (eighteen years ago) link

For prim, pedantic dowdiness, the TLS can't be beat; I especially like the way they (used to?) cite the full publication information for illustration captions--including the page count. Sweet.

Is the LRB's bookshop still in business?

Stephen X (Stephen X), Friday, 21 May 2004 16:57 (eighteen years ago) link

They do still advertise their bookshop, so I assume it is still open. And aimurchie, if you are a subscriber to the LRB you can access their online archives. Or if you're friends with a subscriber you can get them to access them for you.

Most people I know get their LRB in the post, so availability isn't really an issue.

Gregory, dish!

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Friday, 21 May 2004 19:18 (eighteen years ago) link

I hate to show my ignorance, but what are LRB & TLS?

Carol, Friday, 21 May 2004 20:51 (eighteen years ago) link

Which do you think would be more quixotic these days--opening a new bookshop or a CD store?

Can you name any other independent bookstores that've opened in the past 3-4 years? God bless 'em, but I'm not sure how they do it.

Stephen X (Stephen X), Saturday, 22 May 2004 01:31 (eighteen years ago) link

I think the LRB (London Review of Books) gets some kind of Arts grant to keep it going, so maybe its bookshop does too.

The TLS is the Times Literary Supplement, Carol.

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Saturday, 22 May 2004 22:05 (eighteen years ago) link

three weeks pass...

There's free stuff to read on both of 'em, and it's often really good.
I'm just glad they're both there, but major props to whichever one had James Wood review Elizabeth Costello; I haven't even read it yet, but that article has been one of the highlights of my year.
Um, yeah. Must get out of the library more often...

Margo, Thursday, 17 June 2004 04:00 (eighteen years ago) link

The LRB's recent review of John Fowles' Journals was a great scathing review. It must be so satisfying to get your teeth into a really rotten book every so often.

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Friday, 18 June 2004 12:05 (eighteen years ago) link

one year passes...
Hey! Has anyone filled in their LRB QUESTIONNAIRE yet?

I have!

I want to know what you said, eg about underrated and overrated writers!

the bellefox, Thursday, 2 March 2006 13:12 (seventeen years ago) link

what survey is this, dude?

DV (dirtyvicar), Friday, 3 March 2006 11:01 (seventeen years ago) link

What survey do you think? The one that I mentioned, in my post! It came in an envelope of its own, last week.

Maybe it is not available in the Republic of Letters, I mean, Ireland.

the finefox, Monday, 6 March 2006 14:24 (seventeen years ago) link

I filled this in on behalf of the missus (who is the subscriber) the other day.

Underrated: Norman Rush.
Overrated: Ian McEwan.

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Monday, 6 March 2006 15:03 (seventeen years ago) link

I never got this survey in the mail, but I'm a US subscrib er.

kenchen, Monday, 6 March 2006 19:25 (seventeen years ago) link

twelve years pass...

Given how critical I've been of Colm Toibin, it is fair to say: his recent LRB review of Thom Gunn is one of the better critical pieces I can ever remember reading from him. He knows the poetry, compares collections, makes it personal without being too self-indulgent.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 23 October 2018 09:28 (four years ago) link

one year passes...

Very good:


xyzzzz__, Monday, 22 June 2020 16:15 (two years ago) link

It is.

Future England Captain (Tom D.), Monday, 22 June 2020 17:21 (two years ago) link

Another wonderful Katherine Rundell

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Thursday, 25 June 2020 02:09 (two years ago) link

"And it highlighted the fact that over the 10-year period, the London Review of Books did not publish a single review of a non-white poetry book, or the writing of a single non-white poetry critic. A total of 105 poetry articles by 39 poetry critics were published by the LRB over this period.

“All 39 were white. Those 105 articles reviewed 127 different books and all were by white poets,” says the report. “No other magazine in the UK has published more articles without a single non-white critic. It is the only magazine in our data set to have never published a review of a non-white poet.”

The Ledbury analysis points out that since 2009, eight non-white poets have won the UK’s major poetry awards, the TS Eliot and the Forward prize, including Derek Walcott, Claudia Rankine and Ocean Vuong. “The LRB has reviewed none of these,” it says."


xyzzzz__, Thursday, 25 June 2020 22:54 (two years ago) link

As July begins, I have reached the first LRB of May.

Still reading articles about the pandemic from the beginnings or first half of its duration thus far. It felt more dramatic then.

the pinefox, Thursday, 2 July 2020 09:01 (two years ago) link

The poetry that gets printed by the lrb is generally from a very small number of poets (Anne Carson, John Ashbery (rip) August klienzahler, Rae armantrout) some I love (eg the first two) some I quite dislike (the second two). But like the rest of what they publish its for the mostpart from within a very narrowly defined cultural milieu. Hard to even imagine them going as off-piste to include more experimental contemporaries of armantrout (Susan howe say). In part the narrowness of the lrb is part of what can make it good. The article they published about Theresa may is one of my favourite and it's insights only make sense from within the same parochial 'i went to Oxford' perspective that unites their core staff. Patricia Lockwood is a real oddity and her regular articles delight in contrasting with a house style that can feel oppressively uniform in its tics. It says something of what is so simultaneously monstrous and refreshing about the lrb that its obvious that reflecting greater 'diversity' wouldn't even occur to them.

plax (ico), Thursday, 2 July 2020 10:49 (two years ago) link

I think I'll never catch up.

But then I think: I won't bother reading Jacqueline Rose. And I don't need to bother with this preposterously long, utterly typical Colm Toibin article about letters that Robert Lowell wrote about having an affair.

the pinefox, Thursday, 2 July 2020 14:14 (two years ago) link

Lol I remember that one. I couldn't help thinking that I would love to read an article of similar length about someone in another profession's utter shit-headedness towards an ex. A profession like hairdressing or database management. I don't know why writers' private lives are supposed to be particularly interesting. I know the justification is that Lowell wrote a book of poems about it, and that it was supposed to be a particularly scandalous conflation of the private and the public etc but frankly the length of the article and the detail therein just felt like wallowing in exactly the worst parts of the whole affair.

Li'l Brexit (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 2 July 2020 15:02 (two years ago) link

Lowell is boring but toibins writing on him is appalling drivel

plax (ico), Thursday, 2 July 2020 15:44 (two years ago) link

Haven't read the particular article you're referencing

plax (ico), Thursday, 2 July 2020 15:44 (two years ago) link

And I don't need to bother with this preposterously long, utterly typical Colm Toibin article about letters that Robert Lowell wrote about having an affair.

lol that is a pretty fair summation

I don't know why writers' private lives are supposed to be particularly interesting.

Everyone loves gossip + parasocial relations with celebs.

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 2 July 2020 15:47 (two years ago) link

I read that Tobin piece and concur, but for the bits on Hardwick, whose writing I've been getting to know more in the last year or so.

The piece by Rose on Camus is really fine and you all should read it. The way it integrates covid with a novel that has had a bizarre re-discovery.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 2 July 2020 15:51 (two years ago) link

Tracer Hand's post above is my favourite on ILX for some time.

the pinefox, Friday, 3 July 2020 08:41 (two years ago) link

LRB used to (might still do) advertise internships only in its own classifieds. I guess it saves money, but doesn't do much for diversity.

fetter, Friday, 3 July 2020 09:31 (two years ago) link

Thank you pinefox! :)

Li'l Brexit (Tracer Hand), Friday, 3 July 2020 09:38 (two years ago) link

I don't know why writers' private lives are supposed to be particularly interesting.

They are to other writers it would appear. Especially Phil Space.

Future England Captain (Tom D.), Friday, 3 July 2020 10:41 (two years ago) link

i think LRB's been quite meaty recently but but my reason for reading tends towards "odd perhaps useful fact i was till now unaware of" rather than "deeper understanding of specific topic or person close to my heart" -- and on the whole i prefer the fact to be historical rather than personal these days

i vaguely had an urge to write a letter abt runciman's whitewashy takedown of rahm emmanuel (but i was too busy writing abt adam ant) (who still doesn't feature often enough in this so-called magazine)

(i sent them an actual pitch a couple of months back but got no reply) (i am very very bad at pitches)

mark s, Friday, 3 July 2020 10:54 (two years ago) link

i like jacqueline rose but also tend to leave her big long pieces to "read later" as i assume they will be intellectually demanding -- and then entirely forget to read them

mark s, Friday, 3 July 2020 10:55 (two years ago) link

adam ant) (who still doesn't feature often enough in this so-called magazine)


the pinefox, Friday, 3 July 2020 11:04 (two years ago) link

it reads like the pitch i sent was abt adam ant but it wasn't (one of several problems with it)

mark s, Friday, 3 July 2020 11:06 (two years ago) link

"The poetry that gets printed by the lrb is generally from a very small number of poets (Anne Carson, John Ashbery (rip) August klienzahler, Rae armantrout) some I love (eg the first two) some I quite dislike (the second two)."

Btw I have noticed more people whose poetry I've heard of on twitter being published in the lrb in the last year or so.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 3 July 2020 11:21 (two years ago) link

"i will never log off"

mark s, Friday, 3 July 2020 12:03 (two years ago) link

I came across this piece from Al Alavarez's (someone I hear about now and then but never in an interesting enough way to actually read up on) ex-wife today, reviewing Al's account of their marriage:


It has that tediousness of the literary brand of gossip, but its a one of a kind too.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 5 July 2020 22:02 (two years ago) link

two weeks pass...

enjoying the big piece on robert louis stephenson and henry james in bournemouth -- which i think does the spadework to establish how a long gaze at entwined biographies can in fact be illuminating

(if only bcz it notes -- claims? -- that henry jekyll of jekyll and hyde fame is in fact a. based on his close friend james ftb same initials and b. kind of a critique of james' attitudes to the world and to writing?)

(also bcz fucksake it's fascinating that these two writers were so close)

mark s, Wednesday, 22 July 2020 11:26 (two years ago) link

i thought the hardwick reaches of the lowell-affair essay were also interesting, tho very VERY buried in much too much material abt lowell, who always elicits a massive #whocare from me -- not that i give much of a fuck abt poetry at all but with him it's like "what if beat poetry but dully posh?"

mark s, Wednesday, 22 July 2020 11:28 (two years ago) link

Might fuck about with the Christopher Rick's archive:


(Read the piece on Empson's Using Biography last week, which I did enjoy. I finished Gulliver's Travels recently so his piece on Swift is just in time)

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 22 July 2020 11:39 (two years ago) link

A lot of swearing going on here.

I very much agree with Mark S's post except his spelling of RLS's name.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 22 July 2020 11:43 (two years ago) link

Is RLS in the TLS or the LRB?

Sonny Shamrock (Tom D.), Wednesday, 22 July 2020 11:50 (two years ago) link

visited my aged aunt today (90, sleeps mostly) and passed the shop where i bought my first ever LRB (18 11 82, cover = drawn portrait of the young neal ascherson)

mark s, Saturday, 4 February 2023 21:31 (one month ago) link

Extraordinary - to have a drawing of a contributor!

Glad they don't do this now.


the pinefox, Sunday, 5 February 2023 09:16 (one month ago) link

an intriguing aspect of those early years -- and i think their covers game was generally actually really strong in the 80s, bold cryptic black-and-white -- was that you very often didn't know who or what the picture was until you'd bought it and peered inside, since the explanatory caption was on the inside front cover. they liked super-minimalist contents teasers! (this would be karl miller's choices i assume)

viz the rest of that year (mostly issues before my first ever): https://www.lrb.co.uk/archive/v04

mark s, Sunday, 5 February 2023 11:34 (one month ago) link

The old covers were much stronger than this sort nothing splash of colour they have now.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 5 February 2023 11:50 (one month ago) link


mark s, Sunday, 5 February 2023 12:05 (one month ago) link

If that's not Bernard Hill then I don't know who it is.

the pinefox, Sunday, 5 February 2023 14:38 (one month ago) link

even as a known non-fan of james wolcott i found the giuliani piece exhausting

mark s, Thursday, 9 February 2023 17:49 (one month ago) link

LRB 2.2.2023.

Jonathan Rée on Hayek: I don't usually relish Rée but this is the exception - the best thing I've ever read by him. Hayek doesn't sound at all something to relish, either, but Rée does a tremendous job of narrating the prehistory of Hayek's neoliberalism, through Ludwig von Mises. For a philosopher, Rée's grasp of economics in this essay is remarkable. Hayek surprisingly emerges as more thoughtful and sensible than you'd expect, a bit like Adam Smith said many communalist things.

Michael Wood on Zeffirelli: one of MW's better film reviews for some time, with some characteristic Woodian passages: 'we wonder for a while if the movie isn't going to include a few songs' - though the last paragraph or so lacks much meaning . I am now reminded to mention MW's line in his previous Rimbaud essay on the virtues of walking around academic libraries.

Andrew O'Hagan on Prince Harry: I don't like O'Hagan, a preening poseur of a writer, who often writes phrases to sound tough or impressive despite their not being true. But in this particular case he does repeatedly get to the point, a good point or two, about Harry being contradictory in wanting normality and royal privilege, criticising royalty without fundamentally doing so. One of O'Hagan's best performances in a long time.

Mary Hannity on interwar psychoanalytic thought: reminds me that I'm glad that psychoanalysis is not my world.

Maureen McLane on H.D.: H.D. can't have been discussed much in the LRB in 15 years, so this seems like a good topic. But the review is sometimes obnoxious and almost all the poetry quoted seems bad.

Owen Hatherley on Battersea Power Station: a strong critique. From limited experience, that vast building site of Vauxhall has been an awful thing. OH gives the impression that it's all been for no good.

the pinefox, Thursday, 9 February 2023 19:28 (one month ago) link

I'm quite a ways behind this thread, but just wanted to say that I enjoyed the Iain Sinclair piece on the London super sewer. My familiarity with Sinclair's output is mostly limited to the book Rodinsky's Room that he co-authored, but his style in this piece seems basically the same, despite the passage of years and difference in subject matter. I don't feel like Sinclair is a writer to read for facts or in fact to learn anything in particular. His prose only superficially resembles journalism, and beneath the veneer of professional respectability is a roiling sea of free association and bizarre juxtaposition. Its more like prose poetry to my mind, and is best enjoyed for its rhythms and imagery.

o. nate, Thursday, 9 February 2023 20:20 (one month ago) link

This will sound fighty - and I think it's a magnificent book! - but Sinclair is at his worst in *Rodinsky's Room*, or at least his style, his repertoire of tics and riffs, come off poorly against the stark background of Lichtenstein's story.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Thursday, 9 February 2023 22:09 (one month ago) link

It's been a while since I've read it, but I do recall that the contrast in styles between the alternating chapters was stark.

o. nate, Thursday, 9 February 2023 22:24 (one month ago) link

The Wood piece seems entirely characteristic in ending up with the observation that we are watching real people, not just characters, but completely failing to include the fact the said real people have recently and loudly talked about how they felt used and abused as sexualised children by the director and the film, something that would have been interesting and pertinent, but would have required some research.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Friday, 10 February 2023 12:01 (one month ago) link

LRB 2.2.2023.

Loads of articles I have now read and will not comment on, except:

* the Spanish badger who discovered a hoard (p.27)
* numismatics languishing beside heraldry as an 'auxiliary science of history'! I haven't even thought of heraldry this way before, as an ongoing academic discipline. (p.25)
* article (pp.26-7) on the Rosetta Stone and / or reading hieroglyphs in general. A case of the LRB bringing in someone very expert on a field, giving them a short space to explain it - he does a good job, but mostly it's still, predictably, beyond me. (The appearance of Derrida in penultimate column further livens it up but is never likely to clarify anything.) I expect that Mark S will claim to understand it.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 15 February 2023 13:20 (one month ago) link


mark s, Wednesday, 15 February 2023 13:32 (one month ago) link

Last couple of pieces I've read :

Michael Ledger-lomas on Vivekananda, who was an interesting figure in the development of yoga in the early 20th century, and how that tradition translated to the West. Sort of funny to read an account of (mostly) Western women who fell under his spell (though he wasn't a cult leader-type), how they dote on him. Overall, as someone who does a lot of postural yoga and who knew of Vivekananda as someone who was dismissive of it I found it quite informative on the person and his journey.

In the latest issue there is Ian Pace on Hugo Wolf. This pianist-musicologist -- who is a very annoying liberal who yes has now picked the usual culture war bigotries on twitter -- imparts his knowledge on the course of late 19th century music, with not uninteresting stuff on the various factions. What gets lost is Hugo Wolf and why should we care?

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 18 February 2023 11:58 (one month ago) link

yes, i wanted a lot more on the shifting importance of the "song" as a valued form within the classical aesthetic, and (the curve would not be same shape). the shifts in its popularity also even back when i was studying music for a-level (mid-1970s), wolf was basically shunted into a halfway house: "important composer (know his name!) except also not important (he only wrote songs and we never analyse songs!)"

my own hurried theory of the decline in presence classical parlour song would address shifts in the focus of amateur musical activity (incuding the decline of parlours and of pianos in parlours) alongside the rise of recorded music (which introduced alternative forms of song and song-practice) -- but these actually probably impinge only indirectly on the attitude that high critical aesthetics took to the "song" (high critical aesthetics was slow to recognise recorded music as an instrumentality to pay mind to, and rarely gave a fvck abt amateur activity)

better still someone could explore it all who knew what they were talking about

(in conclusion: i'm not sure we *do* need to care abt hugo wolf, but that fact is interesting in itself)

mark s, Saturday, 18 February 2023 16:29 (one month ago) link

full stop before "the shifts" s/b after "its popularity"

mark s, Saturday, 18 February 2023 16:31 (one month ago) link

also s/b less pompous in delivery but i'm tired and can't write properly apparently

mark s, Saturday, 18 February 2023 16:40 (one month ago) link

I was once in a seminar on Roland Barthes' essay 'the grain of the voice', and someone fairly knowledgeable said that this was all about German 'lieder' which I believe were some kind of song.

I add that small fact to Mark S's history of classical song.

the pinefox, Saturday, 18 February 2023 17:55 (one month ago) link

yes that's right -- lieder is the normal german word for song (any song) but in the correct context very much means the kind of art song that eg dietrich fischer-dieskau would have sung

what i'm calling parlour song is a much broader (and tbh much vaguer) term which (i feel) functioned as the larger cultural space in which the lieder (dieskau mix) could flourish

mark s, Saturday, 18 February 2023 19:14 (one month ago) link

I saw a piece a while ago around arts cuts/how could classical survive. I don't think it mentioned a return of Lieder.

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 18 February 2023 19:18 (one month ago) link

Standing in a small group in somebody’s house listening to a person sing is a hell of a lot more cringey than listening to someone play the piano.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 19 February 2023 01:06 (one month ago) link

TS Lieder vs. Schlager

after the pinefox (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 19 February 2023 01:47 (one month ago) link

GENTLEMAN JIM really good. Now watching one with a different star from Errol Flynn that is fantastic. Will report later.

after the pinefox (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 19 February 2023 01:49 (one month ago) link

Ha. Wrong thread!

after the pinefox (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 19 February 2023 01:51 (one month ago) link

"Standing in a small group in somebody’s house listening to a person sing"

Thinking more of a small venue. If I got to a person's house I am stealing stuff.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 19 February 2023 08:42 (one month ago) link

i think that even in parlours listeners were allowed to sit down (but the territory is underresearched IMO -- at least in english, maybe there's loads of sociological liederchat in german -- and the fact that it's "cringe" is exactly the item that needs explanation tbh)

(this review did none of that work)

mark s, Sunday, 19 February 2023 12:10 (one month ago) link

LRB 16.2.2023.

James Wolcott on Guiliani: very strong, brisk, salty. One of the best pieces of writing I've seen from this mannered writer. He mentions the era of 'zero tolerance' as a RG policy area, and rather implies that it was successful. That's one area where more thorough critical analysis would be merited - but I guess Wolcott thinks that's not the territory of a biographer.

Bee Wilson on Paul Newman. People have remarked before that the LRB is poor or light on film - leaving aside the regular film reviews, ie: that it doesn't carry enough extended film work. Here's a fair instance of such work. I think it rests too much on the claim that Newman was fantastically good-looking. I don't like the casual judgment that Tom Cruise is much less handsome. I might even agree with it, but it's just too subjective to belong here.

Adam Mars-Jones on novel THE FURROWS: masterclass in close, technical, attentive eloquent criticism from perhaps still the finest reviewer of new fiction in English.

Terry Eagleton on Peter Brooks and narrative: outstanding in its way, though also, you could say, a montage of opinions TE has expressed before, most of which I agree with. I wonder if Brooks's slim book is a bit more suggestive than TE makes it sound.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 22 February 2023 13:46 (three weeks ago) link

I was mixing up Peter Brooks with Peter Brook and thinking that the slim book was The Empty Space. As you were.

Ward Fowler, Wednesday, 22 February 2023 14:29 (three weeks ago) link

I thought it was about Peter Brook at first too (esp since he passed away a couple of months ago)

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 22 February 2023 14:44 (three weeks ago) link

An LRB contributor quits her job.

Last week I resigned my post at QMUL. Although the sector as a whole is becoming inhospitable & I loved my students & colleagues, QMUL managerial decisions made staying untenable. For me the last straw was the cruel, craven call by management for students to snitch on us. https://t.co/gnDcUfBrhu pic.twitter.com/6ZzimMcvbd

— Laleh Khalili (@LalehKhalili) February 21, 2023

the pinefox, Wednesday, 22 February 2023 14:57 (three weeks ago) link

Zero tolerance certainly was successful at absolutely helping to destroy New York and put tons of people in prison.

Goose Bigelow, Fowl Gigolo (the table is the table), Wednesday, 22 February 2023 23:11 (three weeks ago) link

That Giulani piece seemed to try for a fall-from-grace narrative of sorts, and while he had that in public perception, I can't really entertain the notion of anyone joining the Republican party posessing grace in the first place, so stopped halfway through.

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 23 February 2023 10:33 (three weeks ago) link

Nice piece by Hofmann on an East German novel, where he spends only some of the time reviewing, choosing to talk about the place and the culture, with a few titbits of biography.


xyzzzz__, Thursday, 23 February 2023 21:51 (three weeks ago) link

Oh cool, we bought a cheapo proof of that one at the weekend.

Tim, Thursday, 23 February 2023 21:57 (three weeks ago) link

LRB 16.2.2023.

Laleh Khalili (see above) does a good job explaining history of Diego Garcia, evacuated for a US military base, situating it in a much larger geopolitical history. The article is stronger for not being sentimental or outraged, but coolly reporting the (arguably outrageous) facts. It's rather like a NLR work in that respect, in the spirit of Anderson. She also makes Philippe Sands' book sounds worthy.

Neal Ascherson on Tom Nairn: OK as a personal reminiscence, but people seem to like asserting Nairn's intellectual greatness without actually citing specific good ideas that he had. One bad bequest from him to left intellectual idiom was 'Ukania', 'Ukanian', which is taken by everyone from Anderson down as marvellous satire, something to guffaw at, devastating to the British state. I've always found it lame and unrevealing, and I note that the hapless and archaic UK state has so far outlived Tom Nairn (though it is in trouble, giving some credence to his general outlook).

This particular poor satirical trope, by the way, was also echoed by the great Raymond Williams who, in TOWARDS 2000, wrote of 'the YooKay'. 'Mad Frankie' Mulhern evidently thought this was a brilliantly caustic reframing of the UK state. I think it's even weaker than Nairn's (which was at least tenuously linked to an idea of 'Ruritania'). You might as well say 'the You Ess Eh' or 'the Ell Arr Bee' and think you'd thus made a significant critique of those phenomena.

I forgot previously to mention that Joe Moran's 'Gen Z & Me' was quite touching and thought-provoking, especially well supported by sociological models. One particularly good observation he makes is that (scare story) 'young people are indoctrinated by radical lecturers' doesn't seem very plausible given that most lecturers actually find it very hard to influence said young people to do or think anything at all. In this genre of writing, a danger is 'the kids are all right!' - excessively celebrating young people, mainly just in order to disagree with older people who are suspicious of them. Moran mainly avoids this naive note and manages to stay curious and balanced.

Article on 'radical literary practices' and the alphabet: it's well enough turned to LRB style, but much of this is a celebration of sophistry and empty, smug gestures. In England I find that this discourse is dominated by twee mutual congratulation. I'd like, for a change, to see someone with a more impatient view demolish it.

the pinefox, Friday, 24 February 2023 10:14 (three weeks ago) link

I'm sure he had his skeletons in the closet like everyone else but man that article on Adolfo Kaminsky is inspiring stuff.

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 24 February 2023 11:36 (three weeks ago) link

Easily the best thing they've published this year. A must read!

xyzzzz__, Friday, 24 February 2023 16:27 (three weeks ago) link

James Wolcott on Guiliani: very strong, brisk, salty. One of the best pieces of writing I've seen from this mannered writer.

I usually enjoy Wolcott as a media critic, and I found the Giuliani piece fairly typical of his style, though I think perhaps he is less sure-footed in discussing politics as he is writing about film, for instance. He seemed to stick pretty closely to the conventional wisdom about Giuliani, and I wouldn't say he was wrong about anything per se. But it also didn't seem to offer much in the way of new insight.

I don't like the casual judgment that Tom Cruise is much less handsome. I might even agree with it, but it's just too subjective to belong here

I mean you could argue that Newman is closer to the "ideal" male model physically, largely by virtue of being 5'10" instead of 5'7".

o. nate, Monday, 27 February 2023 14:22 (three weeks ago) link

LRB 16.2.2023.

Izzy Finkel on 'shopping basket' for Retail Price Index: informative. She knows a lot. The article seems like it could be about inflation in general but keeps diverting into the actual 'items in the basket' and becomes more about that.

Rosemary Hill on lighthouses: more entertaining than expected for being so critical of the book reviewed. Rather than 'a glorious tour through the history of the lighthouse', it's 'a rather disappointing and inconsequent muddle' and the author seems never to have been in a lighthouse.

Emma Smith on Twelfth Night: very irritating, banal reading of an old play, full of strained arguments. She modishly hitches her reading to contemporary events, then complains that critics do this, then says she'll do it anyway. The fact that this is a UCL lecture suggests that the old UCL-LRB links endure.

Adam Shatz on Adolfo Kaminsky: I'd never heard of this character, had no idea what it would be about, but Kaminsky turns out to have been an admirably principled person who served the oppressed and endangered for most of his life. The ethical commitments he makes, to Jews under Nazism, Algerians resisting France, or against Israeli military policy, are remarkably sound, consistent, impressive. He worked with one Francis Jeanson, who appears as himself in Godard's LA CHINOISE (1967). The article is odd in not seeming to fit anywhere, as a review of anything or part of a larger project, unless that's Shatz's forthcoming book of essays.

Thomas Meaney on George Grosz: so often I find LRB visual art essays pointless. Here, for a change, is one with energy and direction as well as description and information. We get a real sense of Gross's career and its political implications.

Julian Bell on Cezanne: for a while I felt the same here, that Bell's taut and well-controlled writing takes us a long way into interest in Cezanne. It makes me decide to go to the exhibition before it closes.

Ian Pace on Hugo Wolf: I was amused to remember Mark S's comments on this essay's failure to dig into its subject. A funny thing about the essay is that it stages big aesthetic confrontations between Wolf and eg: Brahms, but if you don't know what Brahms sounds like, as I don't, then the meaning of the confrontation is entirely unavailable.

the pinefox, Saturday, 4 March 2023 10:33 (two weeks ago) link

LRB 2.3.2023.

William Davies, 'The Reaction Economy': LRB Winter Lecture. Davies is intelligent, thoughtful, well read, often makes distinctive observations about contemporary life. He deserved to get a Winter Lecture slot. I hoped for good things from the article. But ultimately it's a curious letdown.

He's right to posit the 'reaction economy' in some form. Right that people are used to 'reacting' on social media. Right that this can be connected to 'feedback loops'. The connexion with behaviourism is less clear. That movement might be better connected with the modern usage of 'triggering'.

But WD proves unable to connect these things convincingly with his other themes, like (predictably) the 'populism' of Trump and BJ. He doesn't really show that those politicians have much to do with liking social media posts. He brings in the word 'reactionary', seemingly almost as a joke, then forgets that it's a joke and acts as though it (in its origins) closely relates to his 21st century theme. He finally turns - again rather predictably nowadays - to Hannah Arendt and preaches 'forgiveness' as a radical action. This is useless unless we have some criteria about whom to forgive, for what, and when. Actually there are numerous people in public life that I will not, and do not wish to, forgive. And if I did, it would not be a beneficial action to anyone.

The simplest problem here is that WD just can't connect up the different themes he wants to talk about; his article isn't really a whole but pretends to be one.

But another problem is that he falsely extrapolates from extreme examples. It's definitely true that lots of people go on holiday and take pictures and post to Instagram. But it's not true that large numbers organise their holidays around potential photos, taking large amounts of time preparing things 'including costume, hair and make-up' for the shoot. This is only true of 'influencers', models, etc -- not most people. By a like token, WD spends much time talking about 'reaction videos'. These may indeed be popular with some people. But the fact that WD has to spend a lot of time explaining what they are suggests that his audience, at the lecture or in the LRB, are not really familiar with them, and would not spend hours each day watching them. The dedication involved in making and following them cannot be in the same category as 'Liking things on Facebook'.

There is an element here of ;anthropological inquiry', exploring 'the other', those strange people over there who do these queer things - yet WD covers this up by saying 'we'. But I think his 'we' is unconvincing. I don't think he himself is much part of these particular reaction chains he describes - a fact that he could reflect on, re the differentiation of the 'reaction economy'.

The one reaction chain that WD was indeed part of was Twitter, which he mentions at the start. But a strange thing that WD does not notice, though it is oddly germane, is how far social media engagement has gone *down*. In the case of FB, of course, large numbers have left it and certain demographics remain. In the case of Twitter, it is very common to see people say 'my engagement has dropped by 90% in the past year', due to Elon Musk algorithms or whatever reason. And on Instagram, many ordinary users have likewise found 'engagement' (number of likes and comments) plummeting. One reason for this last, I think, is that IG is now so full of adverts, and also recommendations for other things, rather than the accounts (of friends, et al) you are actually supposed to be following. So 'monetizing the reaction economy' is actually diminishing 'engagement'? These more localised factors might need to be taken into account in a full account of WD's case.

One would also expect WD to have a more nuanced historical sense of the emergence of what he describes. That is, not to depict it as something that's just handed, but something that has been developing gradually. His version of that is to cite Erich Fromm. OK. But a really historical narrative of how 'reaction' was different in 2023, 2013, 2003, 1993, 1983, 1823, would also help.

A small example comes to mind. People now display their holidays on IG. 40 years ago, a staple of sit-coms was: 'Oh dear, Gerald -- Marjorie and Duncan want us to go over and look at their holiday photos'. Duncan would project the pictures on a screen in a darkened room, and give a lengthy commentary on them. Gerald would mutter at the tedium, but also have to give a polite 'reaction', while hoping for another G&T. Yes, 'reaction' has changed, but 'narrating the self', 'displaying experience', etc, are also very long-standing features. By a similar logic, you could posit Trump not as new and unprecedented, but as an extension of Reagan - and so on.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 8 March 2023 10:26 (one week ago) link

"That is, not to depict it as something that's just handed"

For handed, read landed.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 8 March 2023 10:27 (one week ago) link

Agree the Davies piece was not good but I hadn't really thought much about why. So this is very satisfying to read and articulates a lot of what I think my subconscious was.... "reacting" to.

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 8 March 2023 10:44 (one week ago) link

yes, I thought it was all a bit "so what?" too

Critique of the Goth Programme (Neil S), Wednesday, 8 March 2023 11:42 (one week ago) link

at the point he suggested ppl watch twich because of a fear of freedom as theorized by the Frankfurt school I had to think "you sure about that one sport?"

(possibly mangling the argument a bit here but it was something on that level)

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 8 March 2023 11:44 (one week ago) link

LRB 2.3.2023 has turned out to be a dull issue. Compact Michael Hoffman on the pathos of the DDR is the best thing I've read in it.

When I rediscovered the fact that it contained a long review of W.H. Auden I thought I still had a treat in store. I didn't, really, because I soon realised this this review is of a particular kind that the LRB publishes, mainly (or only?) about major poets. (But I can't think who else now, save multiple overlong articles on Eliot.)

This particular kind of review:
* doesn't start by providing any basic background; part of its schtick is the implication that we all know the basics already. But why does that apply here, and not to other topics like physics or Ancient Roman military campaigns? (NB I, personally, don't especially need a basic introduction to Auden; I love a few of his poems; but others might need it more than I do, and actually the challenge of writing down basics can actually clarify for a writer what they aren't clear about.)
* doesn't proceed by clearly reviewing and describing the material in question (but I'm well aware that is standard LRB procedure).
* doesn't move forward chronologically, in a way that might best help most readers to grasp a writer's career, but jumps about arbitrarily between phrases from different moments.
* quotes these phrases sonorously and pointedly, and draws some paradox out of each, but doesn't seriously examine them in context.
* doesn't quote or discuss whole poems at length, thus producing a misleadingly decontextualised sense of a given poetic line or couplet.
* strikingly, doesn't make any advancing *argument*. After I'd read a page of the elegant musing of Matthew Bevis, I realised that I had no idea what his main arguments about Auden or even his basic view of Auden might be.

It would be good, just as an instructive kind of experiment, to imagine an alternative kind of review that would do the opposite of these things.

the pinefox, Monday, 13 March 2023 21:42 (one week ago) link

haha i leapt for my copy in a "let's see if i can disagree with the pinefox" mood and realised that
(a) i'd actually already read the auden review
(b) literally totally forgotten this fact and also everything from the review

so in conclusion i do not disagree with the pinefox

mark s, Tuesday, 14 March 2023 14:51 (six days ago) link


I don't like James Butler but his Care article is creditable. Takes on a difficult, largely unhappy subject, with a lot of reading and facts, combined with reflection. The financial accounting becomes beyond me: Butler could have explained it more directly. But the more speculative thought is welcome, eg when he talks of the omnipresence of corporate 'care' alongside the 'invisibility' of the care industry.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 15 March 2023 10:24 (five days ago) link

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