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The Times Is On Their Side

Earlier this week, Sarah had some comments on the NYTBR Notable Books list, and now Paul McLeary’s raising another criticism in the Columbia Journalism Review, namely that the Times sure does love its staffers:

“All the big guns are included in the list, like Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary?, Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat and Times art critic Michael Kimmelman’s The Accidental Masterpiece. Then there is Kurt Eichenwald’s Conspiracy of Fools and two more self-serving picks: 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Timesmen Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, and Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey by staffer Linda Greenhouse. The Dwyer/Flynn book and the Greenhouse book were actually published by the New York Times Company’s own imprint, Times Books.”

McLeary also mentions books by Jonathan Mahler, George Packer, and Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, all of whom contribute to the Times, as well as the memoir of the paper’s former executive editor, Joseph Lelyveld. What he doesn’t mention is the fiction books on the list that were written by regular contributors to the Review, including Francine Prose, Kathryn Harrison, William T. Vollmann, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Kirn, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Benjamin Kunkel. That’s eight out of 39 books, just over 20 percent—the nonfiction figure is 16.4%—and Prose and Harrison even have reviews running in the same issue.

Some of this can be explained away by “the insulated, back-slapping world of the New York media,” as McLeary puts it, and because some of these books are objectively notable, I’d like to be trusting enough to disagree with him that the whole siutation “seems to stretch the limits of credibility.” Heck, it’d almost be more fun to debate why the balance is skewed at 61-39 in favor of nonfiction (over fiction and poetry combined), which certain critics who’ve never looked kindly upon Sam Tanenhaus will take as evidence that the fix is in…

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