Steam-cleaned opinions from novelist and columnist Quindlen (Blessings, 2002, etc.).
Light, appealing, and devoid of nutritional value, this selection of New York Times and Newsweek essays dating from the early 1990s to last year doesn’t demand that readers think much. Since the author’s opinions are never surprising, they eventually become background noise. This is a shame, because much of what Quindlen has to say is valuable, if shopworn. She fulminates against cigarettes, the death penalty, and the abuse of women—all worthy targets, though Quindlen's garden-variety critiques will change few minds. She reminds parents that child-rearing is an improvised dance in which you must trust yourself: “There is no formula, much as I once looked for one in the pages of Spock and Penelope Leach.” (It’s puzzling that she fails to mention that this is precisely Spock’s credo.) She has intelligent things to say on alcoholism, the mother myth, and, in perhaps the most valuable pages here, the work of Pulitzer-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa. She can also display a measure of elitism in an attack on racial profiling (posing the coy riddle of why a Princeton professor and a Harvard-educated attorney were pulled over by the police) and remarkable naïveté in a paean to free speech (“if there is any justification for an imperial America, it is because this is the jewel in its crown”). Occasionally, though these occasions are mercifully rare, she'll make you want to run screaming into the woods: “Then the moment itself, when the first feeble sentence, often merely a prelude to better things, appears as my fingers play word jazz on the keyboard.”
Rather than float a homily, it would be nice for Quindlen to at least occasionally offer a knot or a koan.