Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Pleasures of the Sunday New York Times

I've just spent a few hours at the Starbucks down the street, sipping a vanilla latte and browsing through the Sunday NYT. I confess I've loved the Times since college, when my roommates and I would pool our money for our mandatory subscriptions to the Harvard Crimson and the NYT. Procrastination was always time well spent in the company of Quindlen et al. (In fact, it still is, even though Quindlen is no longer there -- I get my Quindlen fix through Newsweek now).

Of course, I start my Sunday forage with the Book section. Yes, I know I could read the articles online, but it's not the same. I like the sensory experience of holding the oversized pages in my hand. Plus, I confess, I like to look at the book ads!

Yes, publishers, readers do look at the ads. And I, at least, use these ads to add books to my Buying List (which I then take to my local independent bookstore -- I try to spread the wealth beween them, Borders, and amazon.com). Which is why I wish most ads were more informative -- how am I supposed to make up my mind to order a book when I can't even tell what the book is about?

Take, for example, an ad on page 3 for The Society of Others by William Nicholson. Mmm... never heard of this author, but that's really not a deterrent... No description of the plot, not even a teaser... Just five blurbs from people/newspapers I don't know or care much about, saying unenlightening things ("fascinating", "exciting", "a joy to read")... A picture of the cover (a two lane highway going off into a horizon dominated by a huge half-moon -- I wouldn't pick this book up at the bookstore to check out the inside flap)... A mention of Catcher in the Rye... nope, not hooked, not even interested. Next!

An ad for Jodi Picault's new hardcover, Vanishing Acts. Mmm... Okay blurbs from recognizable publications... Then I read the teaser: "The beautiful yet shocking story of a woman caught between a past she cannot recall -- and the life she cannot lead without it." Turn-off. "Beautiful" and "shocking" -- yuck. That's the best the publisher could do?

Another ad -- this time a two-page, full-color center spread for Danielle Steel's new hardcover, Impossible... What marketing genius placed this ad here? Is the average NYT Book Review reader likely to be a Steel reader? I used to read Danielle Steel; when I was in middle school I read everything she had ever published up to that time. I stopped when I read the novel about a union activist who gets unfairly sent to jail and both he and his lover (maybe wife?) know that he'll get killed in there, and of course he does, maybe 20 pages from the end. In those 20 pages she grieves, gets over her grief, meets a new guy, marries him, and lives (apparently) happily ever after. Even as a young girl, I was disgusted with this plot resolution. Granted, I dislike the so-called romances of male authors like Nicholas Sparks (was I the only one who thought Message in a Bottle --the movie-- showed promise until 10 minutes from the end Sparks killed off his male lead in an idiotic accident?) who resolutely eschew happy endings, but I like my happy endings plausible and well-plotted. I also like romance novels, which to fulfill genre expectations, must end with the hero and the heroine happy and together.

The award for weirdest ad goes to to one on page 28. It's for a free downloadable book by a weird fringe group who claims to have deciphered the keys to Armageddon. Creepy.

So, no new books added to my Buying List from the ads, though some from the articles. The new memoir by Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle) is one -- it's the book featured on the cover.



By the way, why the horrible cover illustration in the NYT Book Review? How does that even relate to the subject of the article? And it's not aesthetically pleasing either. Could it be they were going for disturbing? If so, they got it, but I am not sure to what purpose... And a fantasy YA novel, The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson. I admit it was Kerry Fried's review that sold me on this book; it's an uncommon review in that it shows familiarity with the reviewed author's entire ouvre and places the new book in its context. I now know that if I like The Star of Kazan there are plenty more good books from Ibbotson to choose from.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see a nice review of three books I bought Friday at Borders, the three Prof. von Igelfeld volumes by Alexander McCall Smith. I admit I love his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and I'm looking forward to reading these short tales. I think they will make for light, entertaining bedtime reading.





Other highlights from the Sunday Times so far: an article in the magazine about Lewis Black, of The Daily Show fame.

Well, time to put the Times aside and go type that exam I'm giving my British lit students on Tuesday.

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