Monday, May 30, 2011

Literally Walking Off the Page

The first three "industry" reviews for The Memory Of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy Of Infidelities have come in. They are positive, selling reviews, to be sure, but two of them are the kind of reviews the publisher is happier about than is the author. Here's why:

Publishers Weekly called the book "a wry and engaging portrait of a powerful, talented, but troubled family." It summarizes certain elements of the story, concluding with this: "The most touching passages describe the impact of unavailable adults on Weber (she was left alone for five days on a film set) and Weber's relationship with Swift, who took her to Broadway shows, Central Park, and Schrafft's soda fountain." No characterizing final conclusion, no context with regard to my novels, and not a word about the actual writing. A strangely incomplete review. Not to be ungrateful for the coverage, but, hey, PW reviewer, what did you think of the book?

Kirkus had a more knowing reviewer on the case, I suspect, though that review was also muted and a bit ungenerous. After some useful summarizing and quoting, the review concludes: "The book is strongest in its rich details of a dazzling but painful family past fraught with betrayals, infidelities and other assorted dysfunctions, including-in the figure of art historian Aby Warburg-mental illness. However, Weber is overly reliant on historical narrative to convey a very personal recollection, which creates an unintentionally brittle objectivity that makes it difficult for readers to connect with either Weber or her account, except at a distance. Illuminating but often dry." I don't agree with this last opinion at all! But I certainly welcome a review that has something to say.

Booklist gets The Memory Of All That best of these three. Here is the whole review: "Novelist Weber (True Confections, 2010; Triangle, 2006) mines her rich family history, hitting the mother lode of pedigreed romances and remembrances. While it may be a stretch to call the infidelities of several generations love stories, many of the eccentric characters on Weber’s family tree are more than a touch quixotic, imbuing their often sordid relationships with an intriguing aura of romance. With a novelist’s light, sure touch, Weber propels this fascinating family memoir with stories and recollections of the prominent relatives who informed her life. Grandmother Kay Swift, the first female Broadway composer and George Gershwin’s longtime lover; grandpa James Paul Warburg, FDR’s economic adviser; and daddy Sidney Kaufman, serial womanizer, unconventional filmmaker, and producer of the first feature film that literally smelled, thanks to a process called Aromarama, literally walk off the pages of this captivating multigenerational saga."

THANK YOU, thank you! Booklist reviewer, for your appreciation, and for recognizing that I am a novelist (it is likely that the PW and Kirkus reviewers had little or no awareness of my five novels), and for suggesting that the memoir is actually a literary work. The unintentionally hilarious "literally walk off the pages" is entirely forgiven. (Book critics no doubt have staircase thoughts of their own.)


  1. I will keep my fingers crossed for many more reviews of the Booklist sort, Katharine. I cannot remember the last time I was so anxious for a publication date.

    Also, I am going to borrow "being underappreciated" as a label for my blog.

  2. I hate to be cruel, as I just generally hate to be cruel, but I think book critics are poor in spirit and are struggling to find an art of their own, which they have! And, somehow are necessary for the argument. But, my god, that subtext that they create is just a little manipulative, to say it draws attention to themselves as typists and clerks of continually unfolding need, God help us, but, they, in my opinion do not understand art and what it means: They have sunk their hungry teeth into a business. I might be a little naive, yet, I would rather be that. So, as always, as I love a truthful spirit, thanks, again. I have much more to write, but, well, I have much more to write. Thank you again, Katharine.