In this week’s TLS – A note from the Editor
To those readers already sated with sugared platitudes of the season, this is a bracing, salted double edition of the TLS. James Campbell delivers a damning verdict on the new, much-publicized biography of J. D. Salinger, the official book of the little-acclaimed new film about the author of The Catcher in the Rye. Campbell detects two dominant theses, about war and sex, neither of which convince. He fails to detect an index to the 600 pages because, bizarrely for such a book, the publishers saw no need for one. Daniel Karlin has been considering another life of a legend, Ian Bell’s massive work on Bob Dylan, in which the early period comes with not a single new fact or forgotten witness, and the rest is resonant (very slightly) with “summary lessons on major events”. Neither Gandhi nor his latest biographer emerge well from R. W. Johnson’s review of the Mahatma’s life in South Africa before 1914: Ramachandra Guha’s account, however, is “suffused with a sort of euphoric glow from the Gandhi-yet-to-come era in India”. Michael Dirda, formerly of the former Washington Post Book World, recounts his memories of Christmas times gone by, when books were bought, rated in lists, but not very much read.
The TLS does turn out to have one set of holiday heroes this year, the bakers of cakes based on modern works of art, like the Richard Avedon parfait of bees which graces our cover. And there is credit too for the cooks of the Soviet Union, those inventive mistresses of the arts of Stalinist cod and processed cheese. Lesley Chamberlain praises a memoir by Anya von Bremzen that offers nostalgia, tragedy and “absurdity by the ladleful”.
Finally, for all those anxious about the future of all newspapers this festive tide, Nicholas Lemann salutes George Brock’s Out of Print, which “deals comprehensively, intelligently and unsentimentally with the entire range of major questions about journalism now”. Brock’s book is the “best single source available for wisdom and context about the situation as a whole”, a verdict which sounds like a recommendation for the Christmas trade but might be better kept for when reality and reading return in the New Year.