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Matt Ellsworth

I'm glad to hear that Politics and Prose is getting into the defense. I have to say, though, Yardley wasn't the worst offender in this crazy review-a-palooza.

That honor belongs to Malcolm Jones.

The good people at The Literary Saloon and Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant note with admirable restraint his review over at Newsweek.com. For those of you without the attention span to find and read the review, no worries; Jones only read the first 10% of Sacred Games.

Newsweek covered for him by calling the piece a “Web Commentary.” Thus permitting, I guess, digressions to comment on the genius of Dickens generally and Bleak House specifically–although Jones acknowledges he didn’t finish that either–and to muse on the basic legitimacy of big books.

So Chandra's book might be as heavy as a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew, coming in at 900+ pages. But if you’re a professional reviewer, wouldn’t you swig some more high-fructose corn syrup, order six pizzas, and roll through that in about three days? Yardley acknowledged it took him five days, but at the very least had some specifics.

Back in the days of the MFA, a few of us spent a semester with Alan Cheuse working through the basics of literary journalism, surely the best class I’ve ever taken. He employed his trademark technique, terrifying and effective, of making us read our reviews aloud, then stopping us after the first awful sentence–and not letting us continue. And God help the poor wretch who missed a deadline. If I had submitted something like this Jones thing, Alan might well have thrown me off the 14th Street Bridge.

Almost lost in these fisticuffs is the novel itself. I can’t say for sure that I’ll add it to my reading list, given that my main reading time comes in twice-daily 15-minute slots on the Oakland city bus (I spent six weeks on Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks). But part of the service that reviewers provide is keeping a culture acquainted with its literature, and the literature of other cultures, even when we’re too occupied otherwise to keep up on our own. In that respect, Malcolm Jones let us down--a lot more than Yardley, I think.

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