A brief look at WaPo's latest book reviews

A few weeks ago, much to the wife's dismay, the Washington Post, in another apparent cost-cutting move, outsourced its daily crossword to the LA Times.  A few years ago, with the same goal, the paper dropped its Sunday book review supplement, instead cramming three or four reviews a week into the Outlook section.  That makes it tough on the editors, who must come up with a suitably interesting and diverse assortment of books to cover within a limited framework.

This week, they did a bang-up job.  Let's examine it – see what they were thinking.

First, a selection of Russian Revolution tomes in honor of the centennial.  Second, the autobiography of a hermaphrodite who refers to herself/himself as s/he and h/er, and the reviewer does, too.  Third, a biography of the paper's favorite bête noire, Richard Nixon.  And lastly, the memoirs of Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who pretended to be black.

Can you guess how the reviews pan out?

Russian Revolution – ambivalent.  If you thought thumbs up, don't forget that while Lenin got the imperial treatment with some first-rate embalming and a massive tomb, Trotsky got an axe to the head.  Even Russian communists couldn't decide, and the Kremlin today is on the fence on how to treat the august occasion.

Hermaphrodite autobiography – big thumbs up!  No surprise there.

Nixon biography – big thumbs down!  How could it be otherwise?

Rachel Dolezal memoirs – wait for it...big thumbs down!  You have to remember that identity politics has its own rules.  Rachel girl wants to be Rachel boy?  She's a hero.  Rachel white girl wants to be Rachel black girl, and you run into the fact that, as the reviewer puts it, "the complexity of identity involves intersectionality," whatever that means.  More to the point, Dolezal's memoir is full of "jaw dropping myopia" regarding the reality of blackness and displays an "acute dose of white privilege ideology[.]"  Take that, girlfriend!

So a diverse array of topics, with reviewer assessments that are not totally predictable.  What, then, ties the reviews together?  What is the animating idea?  Suffocating patriarchy?  The evils of capitalism?  Global warming?  C'mon, you know.  Three out of the four directly reference him: Donald Trump.

What has Trump got to do with the Russian Revolution?  Let our reviewer help you out.  Stephen Bannon "reportedly described himself not as a nationalist or a populist but as a Leninist."  Bet you didn't know that, and doesn't it help you understand the events of 1917 a bit better?

What's Trump's relation to the hermaphrodite g/irl g/uy?  None.  This one made it on the merits. "[T]he way s/he uses sex and sexuality to comprehend h/erself is rare in memoirs of this type."  So is the use of slashes.

Trump's relation to Nixon?  The reviewer helpfully tells us that "Nixon's shadow looms longer and darker than ever. As the current occupant of the White House demonizes the political and intellectual establishment, he harvests the grievances planted by his disgraced predecessor."  This guy is not talking about Obama, though – seems to me he's Trump's predecessor.

And finally, Trump's connection to poor Rachel Dolezal?  Well, the reviewer, one Baz Dreisinger almost turned down the gig.  Why?  "Expending intellectual energy on one woman's racial hoax seems a luxury of the pre-Trump era," Dreisinger intones.  Note to Mr./Ms. Dreisinger: no worries.  You didn't expend much.  

Do Post editors recommend to their reviewers that Trump be referenced in some negative way, or do the reviewers just assume it's a prerequisite?  That is, unless your subject is promoting fluid sexual identity, in which case you get published automatically.

The Post's new masthead slogan, plainly referencing the Trump era, is "Democracy Dies in Darkness."  So does wit.

A few weeks ago, much to the wife's dismay, the Washington Post, in another apparent cost-cutting move, outsourced its daily crossword to the LA Times.  A few years ago, with the same goal, the paper dropped its Sunday book review supplement, instead cramming three or four reviews a week into the Outlook section.  That makes it tough on the editors, who must come up with a suitably interesting and diverse assortment of books to cover within a limited framework.

This week, they did a bang-up job.  Let's examine it – see what they were thinking.

First, a selection of Russian Revolution tomes in honor of the centennial.  Second, the autobiography of a hermaphrodite who refers to herself/himself as s/he and h/er, and the reviewer does, too.  Third, a biography of the paper's favorite bête noire, Richard Nixon.  And lastly, the memoirs of Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who pretended to be black.

Can you guess how the reviews pan out?

Russian Revolution – ambivalent.  If you thought thumbs up, don't forget that while Lenin got the imperial treatment with some first-rate embalming and a massive tomb, Trotsky got an axe to the head.  Even Russian communists couldn't decide, and the Kremlin today is on the fence on how to treat the august occasion.

Hermaphrodite autobiography – big thumbs up!  No surprise there.

Nixon biography – big thumbs down!  How could it be otherwise?

Rachel Dolezal memoirs – wait for it...big thumbs down!  You have to remember that identity politics has its own rules.  Rachel girl wants to be Rachel boy?  She's a hero.  Rachel white girl wants to be Rachel black girl, and you run into the fact that, as the reviewer puts it, "the complexity of identity involves intersectionality," whatever that means.  More to the point, Dolezal's memoir is full of "jaw dropping myopia" regarding the reality of blackness and displays an "acute dose of white privilege ideology[.]"  Take that, girlfriend!

So a diverse array of topics, with reviewer assessments that are not totally predictable.  What, then, ties the reviews together?  What is the animating idea?  Suffocating patriarchy?  The evils of capitalism?  Global warming?  C'mon, you know.  Three out of the four directly reference him: Donald Trump.

What has Trump got to do with the Russian Revolution?  Let our reviewer help you out.  Stephen Bannon "reportedly described himself not as a nationalist or a populist but as a Leninist."  Bet you didn't know that, and doesn't it help you understand the events of 1917 a bit better?

What's Trump's relation to the hermaphrodite g/irl g/uy?  None.  This one made it on the merits. "[T]he way s/he uses sex and sexuality to comprehend h/erself is rare in memoirs of this type."  So is the use of slashes.

Trump's relation to Nixon?  The reviewer helpfully tells us that "Nixon's shadow looms longer and darker than ever. As the current occupant of the White House demonizes the political and intellectual establishment, he harvests the grievances planted by his disgraced predecessor."  This guy is not talking about Obama, though – seems to me he's Trump's predecessor.

And finally, Trump's connection to poor Rachel Dolezal?  Well, the reviewer, one Baz Dreisinger almost turned down the gig.  Why?  "Expending intellectual energy on one woman's racial hoax seems a luxury of the pre-Trump era," Dreisinger intones.  Note to Mr./Ms. Dreisinger: no worries.  You didn't expend much.  

Do Post editors recommend to their reviewers that Trump be referenced in some negative way, or do the reviewers just assume it's a prerequisite?  That is, unless your subject is promoting fluid sexual identity, in which case you get published automatically.

The Post's new masthead slogan, plainly referencing the Trump era, is "Democracy Dies in Darkness."  So does wit.