13 January 2009


Two letters

From the Editor . . .

Welcome to N1BR, the online book review of n+1 magazine. We’re pleased to present our first issue of new critics taking on new literature.

This issue features Gideon Lewis-Kraus on a study of Richard Rorty, Charles Petersen on Marilynne Robinson, Molly Young on Hugh Hefner and Playboy, and Saul Austerlitz on Tony Judt and perceptions of Israel. In the future, we look forward to bringing you more ambitious criticism on a wide range of subjects, including the best and most interesting books from independent and academic presses. We also promise to run one non-review each issue: this time, an account of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington.

We’re said to be in the middle of a book review and book reviewing crisis. It’s hard to believe, though, when we know so many good young writers who want to be critics and there’s so much space on the internet. We’ll be publishing their very best work here, every other month.

See you in March.

Carla Blumenkranz

. . . And from the Editors of n+1

In n+1, we never wanted to run book reviews. Our purpose was to print the long arguments—unexpected flashes—wild visions that mattered to us, but that no one else would publish, naked as they came. “You need a peg to hang that on. How about a new book on Daniel Bell?” A generation hid its real ideas in book reviews, the way previous generations, wary of the Inquisition, hid theirs in arcane tracts.

We wanted to stitch a dress to clothe a king. But we wrote book reviews to see that something of ours, at least, got out. It taught us skill with scissors, and accuracy of measure, and how to tear out seams and put the construction together again.

“At least we have book reviews,” we said. Now we find out younger writers don’t even have those. New contributors come to us and say they want to write book reviews. They want to find out what a sociologist, or a novelist, or an intellectual historian has to say, and launch their own ideas as a missile back.

At a certain point, taking the old order for granted, you just find you’re standing athwart History, and History’s like, “I want to review the Susan Sontag diaries.” Okay. You have 3,000 words.

And once you get going, there’s a lot to be done. It’s a disaster in general that scholarly books fail to get reviewed (it seems too important a thing to leave to scholars), and eccentric novels go ignored, and publicity budgets can determine review editors’ assignments. It will be nice if the N1BR can sometimes swim against this current (as with the reviews of Gross and Schutt in this installment). But it’ll also be the case that young writers want to review “major” books, or even pop materials—Marilynne Robinson and Playboy—rather than let themselves, and the world, take opinions secondhand. To which we say: Amen.

We’re grateful to Carla for putting this together and continuing it into the future. We’re grateful to the contributors for their hard work. Please enjoy what’s here, please harangue us (no, bother Carla) for what’s not, please send in books for some new contributor to take home, love, and review.

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