Among my many bad habits is reading old magazines, and one recent weekend I went through a year's worth of the London Review of Books, an instructive experience. They publish some very good poems and intelligent reviews. Their personals are state-of-the-art: one London-dwelling Bach-to-Buxtehude sophisticate caught my attention when she said she is looking for either a Pete Cambell or a Roger Sterling, two Mad Men characters who are so unlike one another that one has to wonder. . .
They also have a writer named Jenny Diski, who, whatever the subject, manages to make any review a celebration of the first-person point-of-view. Once you notice this, even her most self-absorbed pieces acquire a certain interest. Waiting for the first "I" to turn up is like noticing the bead of perspiration form at the top of an orator's nose and watching it ski slowly down the slope.
What surprised me more than perhaps it should is that you are likelier to get an even shake in the London Review of Books if you're the notorious spy Kim Philby than if you're Winston Churchill.
Unsurprisingly the English are as perplexed with Putin as we are.
Reviews of classic films, such as To Be or Not to Be, with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, are a delight. A very astute movie critic with excellent taste startled me when, toward the end of an appreciative piece on Kathryn Bigelow's movie Zero Dark Thirty -- which I felt was by far the best movie of its year -- he wrote that he personally disapproved of the hunt for Bin Laden. He characterized the search and "certainly" the execution of Bin Laden as "an atrocity."
Presumably a critic writing about Waterloo would not feel a need to clarify that his sympathies were with Napoleon, if that were the case. We can go back and check this, but I doubt that anyone reviewing Doctor Zhivago felt it either pertinent or compelling to let us know how he or she felt about the course of the Russian Revolution.
Yet here were these sentences -- designed, one had to suppose, to protect the reviewer from any charge of political unorthodoxy. The gesture bothered me and I wasn't sure why until last week when the media made much of Michael Lewis's charge that the New York Stock Exchange is rigged. I understand the argument and I know that there have always been and always will be traders who figure out a way to skim an extra penny a share on any retail investor's trade. At the same time some recent weekends move me to say that the New York Stock Exchange is less rigged than the New York Review of Books or the London version of same. -- DL