A great puzzlement a few days back.
Looking at the New York Times’ web site, I ran across a review of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Pepys, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Charles McGrath, who’s credited as being the Editor of the Times’ Book Review.
Why is this puzzling? Take this opening paragraph:
“Who remembers Samuel Pepys anymore? Of all the dead white males who used to throng the anthologies and the English lit syllabus, Pepys (1633-1703) is now among the deadest, relegated to footnotes and to trivia questions about the correct pronunciation of his name. (It rhymes with cheeps.) In today’s literary climate, there are lots of reasons for benching Pepys — he was a political chameleon, nasty to the servants, and a serial groper and philanderer — but the most compelling may be that he’s such an anomaly. He comes out of nowhere — writing only for himself, in a form of his own invention — and he doesn’t lead anywhere either. By the time his work was discovered, a century later, he was a curiosity but not an “influence.” Yet the decline in Pepys’s reputation only makes Claire Tomalin’s engaging new biography all the more remarkable: she not only brings him back to vibrant life, but makes a powerful case that he’s more central, more “relevant,” than we ever imagined.”
Fair enough, in its way… Except, from this observer’s viewpoint, Pepys has been all over the place lately. There’s been a sumptuous trade paper reissue of the complete diaries. Kenneth Branagh just did an abridged but still substantial recording of the diaries. And, of course, there’s been the whole surge in web diaries and web logs and all the other Pepysian writing that’s been exploding these past few years — so much so, that the diary was just launched as a web log itself, with even more Pepysian coverage from NPR and the BBC.
On top of that… Well, the Times is a daily newspaper, right? So it should be on top of things, with the “news from the front” as it were, right?
So… Why is it Tomalin’s book has been out so long that even The Atlantic had a review of it two issues ago, for god’s sake? You know — a monthly magazine? Which means the review must’ve been written in September or so, at best?
If Mr. McGrath wants to see an irrelevant figure — or at least an untimely one — I’d suggest his use of a mirror.