The Making of Books

When I came to Chronicles, I looked forward to the arrival of a steady stream of books for review: new fiction and poetry, histories and biographies, and the occasional works of popular scholarship or science.  From the first I was disappointed in the quality of the books sent in “over the transom,” and I turned to catalogs and Publishers Weekly, only to discover that the overwhelming majority of books published in the United States were absolutely worthless junk that no one, certainly not the typical naive American reader, should be exposed to.  Those were the Good Old Days, however, when it was still possible, every year, to find new books worth reading.

In this brave new world of the new millennium, very little readable fiction is being published; poetry—with a few distinguished exceptions—has disappeared; and the bulk of the nonfiction books that make the best-seller lists are afflicted with a disease that is fatal to serious inquiry: They are almost all exercises in hermeneutics.  Instead of describing, narrating, analyzing, making sense of reality, the authors attempt to impose their own theoretical reinterpretations on some aspect of human life or culture.  There are (inevitably) feminist or Marxist takes on this or that period of history; bizarre and idiosyncratic critical reevaluations of famous writers; economic or sociological analyses of pop music, baseball...

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