I’m old enough to remember a time when the New York Times Book Review was a highly respected publication. I happily paid extra for it before meeting friends at a coffee shop, where we would read it from cover to cover, discussing each article and jotting down titles of the books we planned to read next. Back then, I believed that the opinions put forth about the literature of the day were educated and witty, and that reviewers valued literary excellence over politics. Hey, I said I was old, I didn’t say I was wise. There was also a time, even further back, when I hadn’t yet realized that Ayn Rand was a paid propagandist for capitalism, either.
The days of my respecting the New York Times Book Review are long gone. Here’s an example of why. This is the lame review of Dave Egger’s important book Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? It was written by a competitor for the National Book Award that year. Here’s the review for Phil Klay’s Redeployment, the winner of the award, written by Dexter Filkins, who earns a living as a New York Times war correspondent. What?!
Klay seems to be a war propagandist hired by the military and the owners of The New York Times for the purpose of humanizing poverty-driven killers for hire to reduce the amount of social disgust towards them. Further, it also seems that this humanization is being offered as their only reward for ensuring society’s continued global privilege based entirely on military supremacy. All those wounded veterans, whether their wounds are physical, emotional, or psychological, who return to a lack of adequate health care and psychiatric treatment, need some kind of reward, even if it’s just empty words of support and understanding, right?
One of the saddest things about this literary “win” is that the book will likely now be used in schools under the guise of teaching literature to propagandize the next generation of cannon fodder. It glamorizes the honor and heroism of fighting for “freedom” in the form of stealing by force the raw materials needed for oil and pharmaceutical industry to manufacture their products. Cheerleading from the sidelines is something all citizens who enjoy the benefits their services provide can do with very little effort, and more importantly, no money. Since they can buy the book on Amazon, being able to sound more sincere when posting your support of the troops on social media doesn’t even cost them the slightest inconvenience.
I miss the days when literature that exposed inconvenient social truths, so important for intelligent public discourse, was rewarded with genuine literary praise. The New York Times Book Review has played no small role in reducing public discourse to the almost sub-human level we see today. In the past, literature served to illustrate that intelligence was superior to brute force in solving problems and achieving greatness. A literary publication that deems stories which seek to justify the use of brute force and morally elevate those who perpetrate it “great literature” is as corrupt as the society that seeks that justification.
Egger’s book points to some disturbing truths. He points to a society in which children of divorce are raised in poverty by addicts. New scientific research points to the fact that addiction is actually caused by the social isolation and indignity of poverty. The U.S. has one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world, despite its role in making sure that other countries never get developed enough to challenge it’s military supremacy.
The book also points out the extent to which insurance companies have removed all the risk—and all the joy inherent in the element of surprise—from our lives in order to ensure their own profits. We are completely safe, our survival guaranteed– so long as we are chained to our predictable routines and continue paying our protectors. It is also a story about what happens to those unable to pay that protection money and a reminder that their numbers are growing fast.
Any society posing as civilized, even while perpetually poised on the brink of nuclear annihilation, must support authors with the courage to tell the truth and offer alternatives if it hopes to survive. Instead, today I learned that Donald Trump Jr. is currently working on a literary tome that will be published by Center Street Books later this year. If you question the extent to which publishers participate in promoting political propaganda via so-called literature, consider this: Center Street Books is a subsidiary of Hatchette Livre, a French company, which is a subsidiary of Lagardere Publishing, which owns publishing concerns in nearly every country in the world. But wait, they are just the publishing arm of the Lagardere Group, the owner of which was also the CEO of a military aerospace manufacturing company.
Is it starting to make sense to you now?