The Breakfast Table

Book Review Etiquette

Dear jh–

Well, apparently the 17th-century Dutch expressed their wish to be good by not only scrubbing their already clean steps but washing their trees as well. My wish to be good comes out mostly in keeping my temper, judging people more kindly (and often more fairly) than my original inclination, and not making faces when people say really stupid things.

I like Lorrie Moore’s reviews, too. And I would miss Francine Prose’s, as well. And I loved Carolyn See’s review of Alex Miller’s new novel. She was so jubilant and grateful, you could just see her (as I imagine her to be) tossing a bunch of crappy books out the window and turning her radiant face to God, tears streaming, thanking Him for sending her a wonderful book to read, for a change. And as long as Anthony Lane keeps writing movie reviews, I’m happy. Now, there’s a truly, inexhaustibly clever and intelligent reviewer. I’ve always declined to do a book review for a book I didn’t like (in fiction). It’s so hard to write even a bad book, and it seems just odd and bad form to trash another hardworking person in this difficult field. There have been books I’ve so loathed that I was tempted to break my own rule, but then I thought a) about my above-mentioned efforts to be good and b) the horse’s head scene in The Godfather.

As Alex (my son) and I were zipping around doing last-minute things, I heard some oily radio voice talking about “Mrs. Clinton’s latest minefield.” There was such pleasure in his voice and in the dimwitted cliché of the minefield that even though HC is no personal hero of mine, I thought, “This poor woman has a bull’s-eye on her ass for the rest of her life.” Apparently, 26 years ago she uttered an “anti-Semitic slur.” No videotape, I bet, and no audio, either. I love the way they always try to let you know the awful thing without themselves stooping to such language. (My father has been known to say: “What’s a kike? The Jewish gentleman who just left the room.” Exposed to far more meaningful and straightforward anti-Semitism that I have been, he’s always seemed quite matter-of-fact about the scholarships he was denied, the hotels he couldn’t stay at, etc.)

Off to the airport. Still thinking about the green crinkle silk coat. Where are the Medicis when you need them?

Till tomorrow, Apple Blossom.

xo Amy