Here are a few of the lead sentences to reviews found in this morning's New York Times Book Review:
* "It's a familiar exchange: I step up to the counter at a convenience store and order my daily ration of Camel cigarettes, which I have been smoking since the Reagan administration and, as it happens, as I type this."
* "It's odd the books people get asked to review. Take this one, a carefree history of our long love affair with drinking. I have no training as a historian, just some slight experience on both sides of bars."
* "A few years back, when my son was in college, he had to mail a letter."
* "Until I received the assignment to review Everett True's Nirvana, I hadn't listened to the band much in recent years."
That's when I gave up, tossed the section aside, and went back to working on the crossword puzzle in the magazine. I am greatly interested in the band Nirvana, and fairly interested in Everett True's book on them, but it is impossible to understate my interest in the amount of time Benjamin Kunkel (who wrote that last quoted sentence) has spent listening to Nirvana. (Hey, Kunkel: They're still great.) Wait, maybe you can understate it, because I am even less interested in the circumstances under which he received an assignment to write about Everett True's Nirvana for the New York Times Book Review. (Tom Carson, who is a true pro, by contrast manages to make it through a review of the new Warren Zevon book without writing about himself at all.)
At least with Dave Barry, who wrote the third sentence quoted up there, I was reading the review because I was more interested in Dave Barry than in the book under review, so I suppose he's entitled to write about himself. But Benjamin Kunkel? Robert R. Harris? Jonathan Miles? I couldn't give a rip about any of those guys, and if Sam Tanenhaus continues to let them write about themselves rather than the books of the moment, I won't give much of a rip about the New York Times Book Review either.