I cherish the reviews I read in The Post, and though I am partial to fiction reviews, I’ve admired Jonathan Yardley’s reviews of nonfiction works. I was surprised and saddened to read the following sentence in his Sept. 7 review of Karen Abbott’s book, “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” [“Wily women risking all for a cause,” Book World]: “At its best her prose is vivid, especially when she writes about battles and the terrible costs they exact, while at its less-than-best it seems (dare I say it?) to have been borrowed from the pages of a woman’s magazine.”
I really wished he hadn’t dared to say it because it reflected an outdated and sexist view of women’s magazines. Arguing the merits of Abbott’s work is Yardley’s job, and one that he excels at, but this jab at women’s issues told us more about him and his prejudices than it did her work, which is the point of a review.
Aline Ohanesian, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
I was enjoying Jonathan Yardley’s review of my book, “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy,” until I came to the following line: “. . . at its less-than-best [her prose] seems (dare I say it?) to have been borrowed from the pages of a woman’s magazine.”
I was perplexed; I had, after all, written a 500-page nonfiction book about the Civil War. Did I accidentally include tips on cellulite reduction? A quick flip-through reassured me I had not.
In the passage Yardley quoted, I describe a female spy’s ride into enemy territory. Apparently this paragraph also demonstrates my inferior research skills, since it leaves “unanswered the question of sources.” Yardley somehow missed the 24 endnotes I provide that support every detail of that scene. Indeed, he overlooked a combined 60 pages of endnotes and bibliography that draw from more than 200 sources and that far exceed the guidelines in the Chicago Manual of Style.
Still, thinking I might have something to learn about proper nonfiction scholarship, I read Yardley’s biography of author Frederick Exley — and was shocked to discover not one endnote, which he dismissed as “clutter.” Passages about Exley’s mother’s dieting habits and dinner menus are presented as fact, with no documentation. For himself — dare I say — Yardley sets the lowest standards of all.
Karen Abbott, New York