Damned if you do, damned if you don't
what it means to be inclusive

Grudge Match: NYTBR vs. WRB

LibraryMoi I've gone on here and in other places about how badly the New York Times Book Review and the reviewing establishment in general ignores books by women and women's opinions on books. With book reviewing on the wane (hell, books are on the wane), it's hard to find a good source of book reviews that doesn't entail subscribing to a number of different journals and blogs. I'm terminally fed up with the Times, and yet I keep going back to it because there's so little else. In desperation, I subscribed to Book Forum, which I like, but which is also heavily skewed toward art and academics. Not that I've got anything against either art or academic books, but I'm a writer, among other things, and I want to read about fiction and history and poetry and biography and okay, yeah, some politics for general readers. There are still some of us, yanno, who actually read books.

Today, like the infamous dog returning to its vomit, I glanced over the Times list of the year's ten best books, which is a dubious proposition anyway. I mean, ten best book for whom? Never mind in whose opinion. How many women made the cut? Three. Four (see comments below). Oh so predictably, two in fiction, one in non-fiction: Toni Morrison for A Mercy and Jhumpa Lahiri for Unaccustomed Earth (excellent writers both); Jane Meyer for The Dark Side:The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. I'm a fan of both Morrison and Lahiri and happy to see them on the list. Would one more women author have killed them? Like, oh, Marilynne Robinson's Home? or Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves? Jane Meyer's investigative reporting on the Bush administration's adoption of horrific policies like sanctioned torture, suspension of habeas corpus, and extraordinary rendition is a great piece of work and belongs on the list. But instead of, say, honoring yet another book about the Civil War (it's OVER, people; quit fighting it), it would have been nice to showcase, for example, Joanna Bourke's Rape: Sex, Violence, History, given the continuing conditions in Darfur and the widespread use of rape as a tactic of war in Africa.

It makes me tired that so many good books by women, about women, and about issues facing women imposed on them by the other half of the population, go unnoticed or deliberately ignored. So today I put my money where my mouth is and subscribed to the Women's Review of Books. In honor of that switch, I thought I'd do a side by side comparison of the tables of contents. The NYTBR comes out each week, WBR comes out every other month, so I think I may make a habit of this. Six times a year I'll carp on what a piece of crap the NYTBR is if you're a woman. Here's Nov/Dec 2008's death-match:

New York Times Book Review Women's Review of Books
Reviewed by TOM McCARTHY

'Annie Leibovitz at Work'

Exposed Comics
Reviewed by DOUGLAS WOLK

'The Road to Quoz'

'The Jewel of Medina'

Books About Humanitarian Intervention

'The Hour I First Believed'

'The Lost Art of Walking'

'Martial’s Epigrams: A Selection'
Translated by GARRY WILLS
Reviewed by STEVE COATES

'The Northern Clemency'
Reviewed by SOPHIE GEE

'The War Behind Me'

'A Quiet Adjustment'
Reviewed by JAY PARINI 
*An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene's
Journey from Prejudice to Privilege
By Heidi Ardizzone
Reviewed by Marilyn Richardson

*Rape: Sex, Violence, History
By Joanna Bourke
Reviewed by Jody Raphael

*When the Ground Turns in its Sleep
By Sylvia Sellers-Garcia
Reviewed by Martha Gies

*Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation
By Anna Marie Smith
Reviewed by Jean Hardisty

*Amalia's Tale: An Impoverished
Peasant Woman, an Ambitious Attorney,
and a Fight for Justice
By David I. Kertzer
Reviewed by Susan M. Reverby

*Fragment of the Head of a Queen
By Cate Marvin;
Blessings and Inclemencies
By Constance Merritt;
The Dirty Side of the Storm
By Martha Serpas
Reviewed by Kate Daniels

*What the Blood Knows
By Peggy Miller;
Constituents of Matter
By Anna Leahy;
One-Breasted Woman
By Susan Deborah King
Reviewed by Janet McCann

*Map of Ireland
By Stephanie Grant
Reviewed by Carol Anshaw

*Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of
Science: An Astronomer among
the Romantics
By Renee Bergland;
Elizabeth Blackburn and the
Story of Telomeres
By Catherine Brady
Reviewed by Kathleen Ochs

*To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed
By Alix Kates Shulman
Reviewed by Diana Postlethwaite

*Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream:
A Day in the Life of Your Body
By Jennifer Ackerman;
Rethinking Thin: The New Science of
Weight Loss - and the Myths and
Realities of Dieting
By Gina Kolata;
Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters:
The Frightening New
Normalcy of Hating Your Body
By Courtney E. Martin
Reviewed by Lori Rotskoff

*Loving the Difficult
By Jane Rule
Reviewed by Marilyn R. Schuster

*Unaccustomed Earth
By Jhumpa Lahiri
Reviewed by Mandira Sen


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I have to admit that I don't read as much as I once did. No excuses. Just a fact. On the upside, I am much more aware of sexism, racism, ageism, heterosexism, sex role stereotypes, etc. than I was years ago.

Sharon is my movie guru, so I'm making you my book guru, if you can suffer the dishonor of it. Seriously. I love reading thrillers, history, and politics (who me?). So what is the next book you recommend for me? Don't worry. I've only re-read Eric Hoffer's The True Believer this year. It has been a bad year for me and books. (hanging head in shame) I did read a magazine once. ;-)


It's hard to get time to read, I know. I just have the kind of jobs where it's easier than most. Plus I get to write off my book purchases! :^)

That's a heavy responsbility you're putting on my shoulders, Roger. I'll try to live up to it. Here's my first recommendation, though it's not a new book:

To the Mountaintop: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Sacred Mission to Save America 1955-1968.

For thrillers, you can do worse than John Burdett's Bangkok series (now up to three, I believe).

I'll have to get back to you on the politics recommendations.

I should have added that Powell's Bookstore in Portland has a great RSS Review a day feed here: http://www.powells.com/review/2008_12_09.html?utm_source=review-a-day&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rss_rad&utm_content=Revolutionary%20Road&PID=18 and you can also subscribe by email. The reviews come from places like the Atlantic, NY Review of Books, Harpers, etc., and Powell's staff, who are a bright bunch.


One note: the book about the Civil War _is_ by a woman, Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard.


Thanks, Tom. My mistake--and an ironic one, too. Closer to parity by one. But still, enough with the Civil War already. That choice I still blame on the NYTBR editors.

Marilyn Richardson

Always glad to see a shout-out to The Women's Review of Books - - especially when one of my reviews happens to be the lead article mentioned.


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