‘Our Book Review Section Always Features An Interview With A Literary Figure Or Book-Loving Celebrity, But We Couldn’t Find One This Week, So We Used A Semi-Literate Celebrity Who Obviously Hardly Reads At All’

Because we’re the New York Times, and we can get away with anything.

One of my goals in life is to leave a legacy of indisputable evidence that America’s self-declared “paper of record” has devolved into an irresponsible hack publication that makes its readers biased and misinformed, while dragging down all of American journalism in the process.

This week’s Times Book Review interview was with the Coal Miner’s Daughter herself, Loretta Lynn. She is a great artist and an iconic figure in her field, but she has as much business holding forth on literature as I have talking about curling. The interview is like a Bob and Ray routine:

What books are on your nightstand? “My family Bible.”

What’s the last great book you read? “I am loving those audiobooks. The older you get, the worse your eyesight becomes…”

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time? “Doesn’t the Bible count here?”

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of? “Johnny Cash’s ‘Man in White.’”

Have any books influenced your development as a writer or musician? (She ducks the question.)

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid? (She ducks the question.)

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain? “I really don’t have one.”

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite? “I wouldn’t….”

…and so on in that pattern. It’s cruel of the Times, it’s embarrassing to Lynn, and she shouldn’t be placed in that position. I don’t care that Lynn, who was married before high school, isn’t a reader, but representing her as a book-lover in the Times Book Review is as misleading as it is foolish.

What a great newspaper.

13 thoughts on “‘Our Book Review Section Always Features An Interview With A Literary Figure Or Book-Loving Celebrity, But We Couldn’t Find One This Week, So We Used A Semi-Literate Celebrity Who Obviously Hardly Reads At All’

  1. That really is a cruel thing, to let them and their readers laugh at the ignorant conservative. And it shows that she is really past the age and capacity to do interviews. A canny interviewee could have used answers from the Bible or related books. Being unable to name a book on tape she heard makes me suspect it’s a book she’s not proud of reading, like Harlequin or horror.

  2. Slight error, she was 15 when she married, having met her future husband at a pie social only a month earlier. Even for 1947 that’s nuts.

    Hell, I think this reads more like a survey than an interview, and her answers are a joke. Anyone else want to take it? I’ll try.

    What books are on your nightstand? A purple, leather-bound “Lives of the Saints” that belonged to my grandmother, but I keep it there more in her memory than for actual reading in bed.

    What’s the last great book you read? Depends on what you mean by great. I read mostly history books, and one that shines a very interesting light on an unknown area of history is “First Crusader” by Geoffrey Regan. I tried to read the proto-20th century fantasy novel “The King of Elfland’s Daughter” by Lord Dunsany, unfortunately the prose was very thick and the pace plodding.

    Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time? “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne, Walter James Miller translation. The 19th century translators sucked.

    What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of? H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” It’s a pity he didn’t write more stuff like that, and is now known mostly for the creation of an octopus-headed, bloated, insane ancient deity and his flying fungus servants.

    Have any books influenced your development as a writer or musician? I thought I wanted to be like Tolkien, then I thought I wanted to be like Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, I definitely don’t want to be like George R.R. Martin, and I think I have finally settled on steering a course between Martin and C.S. Lewis.

    Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid? Lots of history, fantasy, sometimes fun to go back into mythology, also spy-type fiction. Not into romantic novels, but most men aren’t.

    Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain? Favorite fictional hero is probably Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. For a while I liked the anti-hero Elric of Melnibone’, who was groundbreaking as a fantasy anti-hero. Not so much into villains, but if I had to pick one a good choice would probably be Javert from Les Misérables, a warning about what justice without mercy can become.

    You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite? I hate wish questions like this, since they never could happen, BUT, if I could do it, maybe bring C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lord Dunsany back, and have an Inklings/fantasy roundtable. Sorry, gentlemen, no smoking allowed.

    • And they always ask the same questions. If you were going to be interviewed by that publication, wouldn’t you look at their typical questions?

      On the age thing, Lynn always said she married at 13, then documents surfaced showing she was 15, and Lynn has never addressed the disparity. Many sources still say she was 13. Meanwhile, I can’t find anywhere that says she attended high school at all.

    • I can’t just leave Steve-O hanging. Perhaps this will jumpstart the Ethics Alarms book club.

      What books are on your nightstand?

      A Protestant 66-book abridged Bible (it was a gift, I swear; the Douay-Rheims and Vulgate leather-bound side-by-side is by the couch!) and an edition of 48 Laws of Power my brother lent me 15 years ago which I never finished or returned both out of disinterest. Yes, he has asked for it back several times. He may have bought himself another copy five years ago, and now I have a book neither of us wants.

      What’s the last great book you read?

      The Divine Comedy, but I’m only half finished. It’s so episodic it’s easy to put down for long stretches.

      Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

      I read The Idiot last summer. All the Dostoevsky snobs say it’s his most difficult novel and that it should be read last. I always do the opposite of advice like that. To date, it’s the only Dostoevsky I’ve read.

      What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

      The Ball and the Cross, but I’m cheating because I actually haven’t read it yet. It’s still lost in the mail. I’m ashamed of how non-obscure my reading has been.

      Have any books influenced your development as a writer or musician?

      I’m not either of these things, but G.K. Chesterton has a wonderful roundabout style to his composition one can’t help but find infectious.

      Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

      I like anything dripping with meaning. It has to have a strong foundation in classical thought. In contrast and only apparent contradiction I can’t stand propaganda pieces. It’s hard to draw a general line, but I think I could do a case-by-case thing.

      Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

      I don’t read much fiction. Prince Myshkin is pretty great, but I can’t resist listing a noble pulp swashbuckler like John Carter. I do like my villains to have a certain principled rigidity about them, but I can’t for the life of me think of one literary example right now.

      You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

      This one is dumb. Why did I agree to this again? I don’t care if you already took him, I want Tolkien. After that, it might be John Keats and Lord Byron so Tolkien and I can watch them fight. We’d root against Byron of course.

      • In 1977 a Best Seller called “The Book of Lists” launched a lot of parlor games. One set of lists was celebrities naming their perfect dinner party. Steve Allen ripped off the idea the same year for a PBS series called Meeting of the Minds, where famous people from the past, played by actors about 40% as smart as the people they were playing, having scripted discussions with Allen moderating. It was a fun idea, but always disappointing. Still, it had four seasons of six episodes each.

        My authors dinner party? 3 isn’t enough: Jacques Barzun, Jane Austen, Phillip Roth, Ambrose Bierce, and Douglas Adams

        I’d include Shakespeare, of course, if I could be sure who he (or she) was.

        • I had to look up a couple of those names. Ambrose Bierce not only writes mysterious things but is the subject of his very own mysterious disappearance. I’ve made a note of him. I think your dinner party would be even more interesting than my Romantic poet slapfight.

          This concept may have some untapped potential which I’ve overlooked.

          • Most important, Bierce wrote The Devil’s Dictionary, which includes such definitions as,

            Admiration, n. Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves

            Back, n. That part of your friend which it is your privilege to contemplate in your adversity.

            Childhood, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth—two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age.

            Christian, n.
            One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

            Handkerchief, n. A small square of silk or linen, used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears.

            And so on. I probably should have Oscar Wilde at any dinner party Bierce attends.

  3. For a real comparison, just look at the interview a week earlier with Joseph Stiglitz. One interview looks like it was an ambush conducted after a long concert, the other as if the questions were provided in advance allowing time for well-researched replies. That’s the appearances, don’t know how they actually are done. Lynn just turned 88 and suffered a stroke a few years ago, while Stiglitz is a mere 77, so that could be a factor as well. But, it is an embarrassment to both the Times and to Lynn.

  4. It seems to me that the pertinent question to ask the Times was why did they feel Lynn would be a insightful interview as a book lover. Did they ever do any pre-interview evaluation to see if interviewing her would benefit the Times’ readers and, if so what criteria did they use to evaluate her to be beneficial to their readers? And then, don’t let them gas light you.

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