“Summer Reading” Makes Me Feel Fine

By Neal Comment

summer-reading.jpgIf you were expecting me to dump all over the “summer reading” issue of the NYTBR as yet another example of stunt publishing, well, let’s get that out of the way: Not only does the cover (at right) have nothing to do with the reviews inside, it swipes a DC Comics icon for no good or even discernible editorial reason. Consider the point duly noted; as for the content itself, that was actually pretty good, especially in comparison to other recent issues, because much of it doesn’t cater to the “summer reading” conceit.

Thus, instead of lightweight fare, we get reviews of new histories by Nathaniel Philbrick and Simon Schama, as well as fiction by Martha McPhee, Pauls Toutonghi, and Sara Gruen, among others. Even the take on the new Plum Sykes novel has a certain gravitas, and the baseball books, clearly part of the “summer” package, are handled with the same degree of substance. The gimmick packaging only becomes obvious in the proliferation of capsule reviews, from the economy-sized helping of Marilyn Stasio’s mystery capsules to the much-needed return of comic book expert John Hodgman, with fiction and travel roundups thrown in for good measure.

The editorial introduction makes much of the launch of Terrence Rafferty’s horror column, the second major new foray into genre fiction by the Review this year. So will Rafferty piss off horror fandom and professionals as quickly as their science fiction reviewer? That would take some doing given the near-universal loathing for the sci-fi column, but Rafferty manages to start on the wrong foot by asking readers to give him a chance even though “most right-thinking… people consider horror fiction repulsive, juvenile or plain stupid.” I don’t know why the new columnists feel like they need to apologize for trafficking in genre, since John Hodgman came out swinging in 2004 and has maintained his confident stride with each successive essay—did I mention that six months is too long to wait between installments? Anyway, once Rafferty gets past the Psych 101 analysis of why horror works, the reviews themselves show promise that if he can burn through the defensive posturing, his column should have some rather cogent insights into this neglected corner of the literary scene (neglected, that is, by the mainstream world of the NYTBR). And can anybody else remember a time when the Review devoted two pages to mass-market originals?