Deja Reviews: Florence King All Over Again
USI Books, 345 pages, $24.95
This is the most presumptuous thing I've ever done. I'm actually reviewing a book of book reviews by Florence King, the master of reviewing. (OK, your objection is noted. But "mistress of reviewing" just sounds odd. And she's tougher than any male reviewer I can think of.)
The designations "unique" and "one of a kind" are overworked here in what Miss King refers to as "The Republic of Nice." They're promiscuously applied to people with modest talents or only mildly diverting personalities. But Florence King is the real deal. Not only is there no one else like her, there's no one else even remotely like her. (As much as I like her work, perhaps this is for the best. How would the rest of us cope with more than one of her?)
A fan of the grand old game, Miss King calls herself a baseball spinster rather than a soccer mom and prefers her Baltimore Orioles warm-up jacket to designer duds. Appropriate. She really knows how to work inside.
Sticking with the baseball comparison, Florence King is a five-tool writer, and every one of those tools is razor sharp, as readers will see when going through these essays. (And as regular readers of TAS know -- these reviews and columns all appeared in The American Spectator and National Review.) In them you always get the gospel according to FK, a take on the world that is intellectually penetrating and often savagely funny. While making her own points in her unfailingly entertaining way, she always does what a good book reviewer should, to wit: tell potential buyers what a book is about and how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do. In other words, is it any good?
In the foreword to Deja, Paul Greenberg makes the point that Miss King's work is beyond polemical. Just so. Florence King gets in her licks from the right side of the culture war, though she's hardly an off-the-rack conservative, calling herself a royalist in politics. She parses the truly idiotic from the merely foolish or the downright pathetic. (She dubbed oh-so-sensitive Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen "Butterfly Dundee."). But regular readers will see that there is also much of the universal in her writing. This is high-protein stuff.
Strategically, Florence King prefers the frontal assault. No pussy-footing around with literary stool softeners (La King's term for euphemisms). She eviscerates fools and foolish ideas. Sacred cows, watch your udder. She's not only willing to say that the emperor is wearing no clothes, but that he and the whole pack of suck-up courtiers around him are bloody fools and capons into the bargain. She's at her best reviewing bad books, or competently written books whooping up bad ideas. She has great fun at the expense of geek-branch feminists, anti-smoking health Nazis, wussifed men, enviro-wackos, and other cultural ear mites and toxicities. She goes through humbuggery like Sherman went through Georgia.
A Deja sampler:
* A review of a shallow and whiney book by Kelly Flinn, the Air Force's first woman B-52 pilot who was cashiered for boffing an enlisted man, begins: "Most of Kelly Flinn's book reads like an adolescent adventure series, 'The Cosmo Girls Go to War.'" Later, "She's the type America turns out in droves: the 'natural leader,' student council junkies who lead where everyone else is going, bowing to every cultural ukase along the way while cherishing a fantasy of independence instilled in them by half-baked teachers who hate original thinkers."
* On a book of Cato's letters. "The letters are bracingly masculine, free of the equivocations of today's tepid op-eds. Cato 'feels' not, he thinks; neither does he 'tend.' The febrile primness of American 'values' is alien to him."
* On a book by Michael Kinsley, "If Michael Kinsley were a Dickens character his name would be Barnaby Sneerly."
* On a book on the "men's movement" humbug Robert Bly, she says his mummery calls for ..."campfires, animal skins, reverence for the tribal elder (Bly), and enough spears for round-the-clock performance of Aida in the major opera houses of the world."
* In a review of a book on John Quincy Adams, she refers to feminist icon Abigail Adams as "America's founding scold," and says, "Her specialty was long distance nagging."
* On a memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin we read, "Like many aging Democrats, Goodwin tends to wax nostalgic about the things that liberalism has ruined."
* On a political book there's this aside, "The growing feminization of America has turned journalism into a cat fight. The media's favorite buzzword, 'mean-spirited,' has a definite hiss to it and cannot be uttered without an accompanying sniff. Girlish double emphasis flies as reporters demand to know what the President really said and what he really meant. The ubiquitous figure of our time, 'a highly placed administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity,' suggest a beldame in britches hanging over the back fences of government whispering, 'Don't you dare tell a soul.'"
* On a political novel, "Powertown is being hyped as another Bonfire of the Vanities, but in fact it's a cast of thousands looking for a novel. If they ever find it, they can call it a gas leak of the incongruities."
* On a book about the Spanish-American War, "Anyone who is disgusted with Pat Schroeder's politically correct navy will get a thrill up the spine and a lump in the throat reading these descriptions of a time when America's sailing men were wind-whipped, not pussy-whipped, and morale was in the stratosphere."
* On a ghosted book about a former Congressperson's career, "Susan Molinari is so bereft of self-knowledge and introspective power that one is tempted to read this book through spread fingers like a queasy juror looks at autopsy photos."
If these examples don't make you eager for the book, then you delight not in man (nor woman neither), and surely your sense of humor was shot off in the war.
Buy the book. (Click here to order.) You'll have fun reading it. And when you're done it will sit nicely on your book shelf next to the well-thumbed copy of STET Damnit!, King's collection of "The Misanthrope's Corner" columns written for National Review. You do have that one, don't you?
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