The Clinton book blitz.

Media criticism.
June 30 2004 7:03 PM

The Clinton Book Blitz

Can you really review a 957-page book in 24 hours?

(Continued from Page 1)

Rutten defends instant reviews as "a service to readers who are engaged by the 24-hour news cycle." Whether instant reviews are a service to letters or history, he says, is debatable.

Novelist Francine Prose spent 12 hours reading My Life—"The first 200 pages very carefully"—and a few hours at the keyboard composing her Newsday review. "It's the sort of book that's writing the review in your head while you're reading," she says. Newsday published her review in its June 24 edition; the Web version carries a June 23 12:33 p.m. time stamp.

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Prose agreed to write the instant review in part because the paper offered a premium rate—which she won't confide. But her main motivation was the opportunity to write something political.

"I knew that regardless of the literary merits of the book, the human being that was going to appear from those pages would be superior to the people in the current administration," Prose says.

Washington Post editorial writer and columnist Anne Applebaum (a friend and former regular Slatecontributor) wrote a sweeping assessment of My Life for her paper's June 23 op-ed page, and while it's not billed as such, it's a review in every respect but name.

"It isn't just that it's dull, like so many political memoirs, or that the sections on Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky are weirdly abrupt and uninformative; it's utterly lacking in perspective," Applebaum writes in her piece.

Did Applebaum read the whole thing? No. Just "600-odd pages," she e-mails.

"I read the early chapters on Clinton's childhood, high school, and Oxford experiences, skipped the Arkansas governorship, and went on to the presidency. Then I got stuck. Pretty quickly, it becomes obvious how disorganized the book is. As it happens, I do read unusually fast and always have. But even if I'd had six months, I wouldn't have learned more than in the several hours I had," she writes in e-mail.

(Michiko Kakutani   of the New York Times,another blitzer, did not make herself available to discuss her piece. *)

Having written this column in my head before I started to report it, I expected to conclude that no book review should be written on amphetamines against a short deadline. Instead, I've concluded that blitz reviews have their place. To begin with, publisher Knopf encouraged the day-hits of My Life by breaking with the standard procedure in which publishers provide advance review copies to publications but request that no review run until the official publishing date—or until the book appears in bookstores. If Knopf—or Clinton—desire reviews benefiting from longer deadlines, they know how to make that system work. If they want to treat the book as a news event, there's no reason why reviewers shouldn't do the same.

But what really convinced me of the value of blitz reviews was the Washington Post review by Walter Isaacson. The Post gave Isaacson days rather than hours to write the piece, posting it to the Web on June 28 at 5:41 a.m. (The newspaper will print it in the July 4 edition.)

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