So Many Titles, So Little Space

You would think that any author who has labored so mightily as to bring forth a book ought to noticed by The Washington Post. Alas, that's impossible: Book World receives hundreds of books and bound galleys (the rough, junior versions of the ultimate products) per week, and we have a mere 16 pages to work with each Sunday, along with the five reviews we hand over to Style to run in their pages Monday through Friday. Of necessity only a small fraction of published books will get a yea, nay or shrug in these pages -- a harsh truth that bothers us editors to no end. Here are a few examples of worthy summer 2008 books that, through no fault of their own, didn't get assigned for review:

The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head, by Louis Begley (Atlas, $22).
Not only does this biographical essay on Franz Kafka look engaging, but Begley is a star novelist and occasional contributor to these pages, so in neglecting a likely winner we may have also offended a valued reviewer.

White Guard, by Mikhail Bulgakov (Yale Univ., $27).
Heralded as "the first complete and accurate translation of the definitive original text," this is the great Russian surrealist's first novel, worthy of widespread attention. Sometimes, however, the call of brand-new voices (aka the novelists writing today) drowns out the old ones.

The Line Upon a Wind: The Great War at Sea, 1793-1815, by Noel Mostert (Norton, $35).
This chronicle of the oceanic phase of Britain's struggle with revolutionary France is by a veteran of nautical sagas, including Supership. We covered several other closer-to-home works of history coming out in the summer and fall, but The Line Upon a Wind eluded us.

The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English, by Henry Hitchings (Farrar Straus Giroux, $27).
A perennially fascinating topic -- which may have been the problem. One of our regular reviewers considered this book for a while but ultimately put it back on the shelf because so many books on the same subject have appeared in the last decade.

So there you have them, four prepossessing titles for whose absence from the pages of Book World we can only say, "We're sorry."

-- Dennis Drabelle

By Ron Charles |  September 24, 2008; 7:15 AM ET Dennis Drabelle
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