Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rediscovering The New York Review of Books

Many years ago, I subscribed to The New York Review of Books. I enjoyed it, and learned from it, but the review essays were so long and dense that I would sometimes put off reading them, and the copies would pile up to a point that they felt oppressive and made me feel guilty. And I was reading so many other periodicals. So I somewhat reluctantly but realistically stopped subscribing, and have picked the periodical up only occasionally since then. Until… A couple of weeks ago in an independent bookstore, I saw the NYR for sale; something drew me to it and on a whim, I picked up a copy. A couple of days later, I started reading it and found almost every review/essay absorbing and well written. Some standouts were a poignant essay by Jerome Groopman about a boy who died partly because of his doctors’ mistakes; E. L. Doctorow’s beautiful essay about Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” which rekindled the feelings I had when I read this novel in college; W. S. Merwin’s “Poem for Adrienne Rich,” which brought tears to my eyes as I continue to mourn this great poet and feminist; an Anthony Grafton review of Andrew Delbanco’s “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be”; Joyce Carol Oates on Jeanette Winterson’s new memoir; Darryl Pinckney on post-blackness; Nadine Gordimer on current South Africa; and Garry Wills on the implacable hatred between Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy (as portrayed in Robert Caro’s fourth volume of his Johnson biography). And these were only the highlights. What a rich array of topics, well-known writers, and important books reviewed. I was reminded of how the NYR consistently commissions some of the best writers alive to write essays that are far more than simply book reviews; thus readers learn so much from the review essays, and have the added pleasure of the high-quality writing. I was bedazzled all over again! Then, serendipitously, a day later I saw in The Nation magazine an ad for a very reduced cost trial subscription to the NYR. This confluence of events seemed to be a sign; it seemed it was meant to be that I subscribe again, after all these years. And so I did.

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