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Our Man on The Front takes Judith Shulevits of Slate Magazine to task over the New Puritans. Is it coincidence -- or psychic phenomenon?
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Dear Ms. Shulevits
by Stephen Smith

Have you ever looked in a mirror and not seen yourself?

Instead of your own features there's a familiar aspect to a pair of hazel eyes
that are not quite the right shade of green and brown or a sloping chin that
does not go in the right direction; and that bulby nose that comes straight from
your grandfather, it does not exactly reflect as his. Something like that
happens when you see some work that is almost exactly the same as yours but not
quite.

On March 11th, I think, Judith Shulevits published a piece in the New York Times
about The New Puritans. A few days later someone left the link in a familiar
in-box and a few days after that (when that link actually got checked) something
sadly familiar showed up. Only it was not right.

Ms Shulevitz is the New York editor for MSN's Slate Magazine (she writes a
something called Culturebox. It's about culture). She's also a very good book
reviewer; the New York Times takes her work and, well, it's the Times. It gets a
lot of respect and affection, even from those who don't like it for making the
historical record. On election day last year one of the tv reporters called it
"the old gray lady of journalism." He said it in a deep and sincere voice. That
was cute and it's hard to be cute about the paper.

Ms. Shulevits has also written about Stanley Fish, I wrote about Mr. Fish
sometime last year but between us, there is probably piles of pages to sort out
and there's going to be a few coincidences. Coincidences happen. Somewhere
there's a link to a site that describes her as "well connected." My connections
put her article in my inbox. Does that make me well connected too?

Is that the aspect of grandpa's nose in the mirror again? Maybe its just his
silhouette showing up again and disappearing. It's creepy to see something so
familiar that you can not call your own. Usher falls, and does it mean any more
to be sincere or to speak plainly in a voice that gets dropped for a simpler
aspect. There's still more important things to be done.

The Readers Digest likes lists, and a whole bunch of Americans like The Reader's
Digest. It's got a huge circulation, it prints some fine new fiction and even
has a publishing wing for books that its editors deem so worthy. Maybe now is a
good time to start making lists. Maybe editors will take notice.

Points about a little British Book made in The Puritan Ethic
  • examines the stories in relation to the rules and find the relationship lacking
  • offers some quick plot summaries
  • and a quick list of the most important rules set into the prose
  • there's also a refusal to quickly trash the anthology because of the manifesto because it would be easy to do (Some of the British reviewers apparently went at it that way)
  • because it has to be contemporary, all of the stories have to be dated
  • that The New Puritans choose to "blow the dinosaurs out of the water" seems to be important
  • even if it's only for promotional reasons
  • because all writers need promoted, no matter how famous they are
  • and no matter what sex they are
  • but it is a mixed review anyway

    Points about an imported paperback made in The New Puritains & Other British Disasters
  • the rules get listed
  • and so does some information about the stories
  • then the two are examined together
  • there a conclusion that rules don't make for good stories
  • because good new stories are being written right now, or maybe a couple of weeks ago
  • and nobody understands why older writers need to keep on with their tricks
  • but maybe there just isn't much coming out by the older writers that matters anymore
  • but talking about weather or not they're good makes for some decent news
  • no matter how old you are or what's on your CV
  • some of the stories are good but some are not

    Publication date of The Puritan Ethic: March 11, 2001
    Posting of The British & Other British Disasters: Sometime before that.

    Those lists weren't very good.

    That the phrase "The New Puritans" comes from a The Fall song seems less than
    important or that any mention of Lars von Trier or Dogma 95 takes space away
    from writing about the book but that might be redundant because writing about
    spontaneous human combustion can be irrelevant. And there isn't even a slick
    scan of the book cover or an illustration of what a New Puritan might look like
    as a line drawing in shades of blue and orange.

    Lev Grossman is also a very good book reviewer. On November 2, 2000 Man, oh
    manifesto! showed up in Salon magazine. Shortly after reading that, a package
    containing a small paper-back showed up at my house. It was sent from Britain
    and had an invoice from amazon.co.uk in it. Thank you Lev Grossman.

    Aside #1:
    There's an odd spot that shows up between the Salon review and the Times review,
    they both recognize Skunk as the best story in the collection. Is there
    something wrong with having a different opinion?

    To Be fair: The New York Times, because it is a big and important newspaper so
    it gets to sit on its stories until they feel sufficiently comfortable
    publishing a review of a book that was
    a. published months ago
    b. never published in America
    c. gets enough press to make it worth their space.
    But people who work for the Times and Slate also have easy access to the Lexis
    databases.

    I didn't mean for this to get personal. I think it just did.

    And the scariest bit about all of it, is that both pieces are probably original.
    It's not that the New Puritans were looking for a specific set of conclusions to
    come out of their project; it isn't a game for cause and effect; it doesn't work
    like that and it's too cynical to say that similar pieces come out of the same
    training, that is just random. But they are still too close.

    And what are you going to do about it?
    Nothing.

    What gets reflected in a convex mirror?

    _

    And those connections that are a bunch of lines above (and the gracious filler
    of my inbox) that was Ms. Sullivan. Please read her piece now. It's good.

    The author asks forgiveness for writing a most apologetic criticism of another
    reviewer.





    The Vain Apple by Miss Sullivan
    http://www.beekiller.net/content/47/index.html

    My Story
    http://www.beekiller.net/content/136/index.html

    The Puritan Ethic by Ms. Shuletvits
    http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/03/11/bookend/bookend.html

    And Lev Grossman's link to Oh man, oh manifesto
    http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2000/11/02/puritans/index.html


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