On Sunday mornings in Maine, my husband drives to the island’s general store around 7:30 and comes back with two egg sandwiches, a hazelnut coffee for me, and the New York Times. He hands me the Book Review section and the Magazine (read: crossword puzzle). I settle into the glider chair in front of the harbor-view picture window (swoon) and start with the Book Review. This past Sunday I made notes on the pages as I worked through the review, so that I could share with you the sorts of things I focus on. You cannot call me scientific about it.
Page 1: I always read the front page book review(s), whether I care about the topic or not. These are getting special attention for a reason, I figure, and will probably be bestsellers, so I should know about them. This Sunday’s front-page review was written by Jennifer Egan (author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I loved). Her review was on Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. I’ve been seeing the book a lot—it has a catchy cover (not that the NYT Book Review stoops to showing covers, unless it’s in paid advertising by the publishers). Egan’s review is generally positive, calling the book “rich” and “comic.” She emphasizes that the “novel is equally a tribute to the cinematic style of Quentin Tarantino …,” upon which I sort of stop reading. But that’s just me. (So, even though I just said “I always read the front page book review(s),” I have already stretched the truth.)
Pages 2–5: These are ads by publishers, the table of contents, a lead-in by “The Editors,” and letters from prior-review readers. I scan all that. This Sunday I am caught by the page 4 ad for Jonathan Evison’s The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. I’ve been seeing that cover a lot, too, so I read the ad’s blurbs and learn that according to the Boston Globe the book is “Little Miss Sunshine meets Rain Man … Big-hearted, and very funny, and full of hope.” What I don’t learn for another eight pages is that there is a NYT review of the book on page 12 in today’s issue. It is a pleasant surprise when I find it, since I have just been intrigued by the ad. (It is overall a positive review, by the way.)