Chill out and Dumb Down: Should I Throw out Georgette Heyer?

Vintage woman reading.

Chill out and dumb down.  We’re Americans in the summer of 2018.

I’m sitting in a hammock reading Balzac’s underrated classic,The Vicar of Tours, one of three stunning novellas in The Celibates, and at the same time wondering if an ice pack on my head would cool me off.  (It’s 95 degrees.) Then the landline rings and I step inside.

It’s my cousin the librarian, who calls 10 times a day from the reference desk.  “Look at The New York Times Book Review.”


“The summer reading issue,” she hissed.

I open my tablet.  And there it is.  In “73 Books to Read While the Sun Is Out and the Days Are Long,” there are no reviews of literary fiction.   None.  There are thrillers, true crime, cookbooks, and eight review-ettes of romance novels.  And, as you can imagine, it’s the latter that annoys me.  Should you want to read Wicked and the Wildflower, The Kiss Quotient, or Too Wilde to Wed, The New York Times is now the place for you.

“Who did this?” I ask.  Then we say in unison, “Pamela Paul!”

Since 2013 Pamela Paul has been the editor of The New York Times Book Review, and in 2016 she also became editor of the three daily book critics, who used to be in another department.   We don’t know what Paul’s credentials are (a book on parenthood? being a mom?) but things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. The Times now has a romance columnist, has published two interviews with the best-selling Danielle Steel, and two of the daily critics have been “disappeared” (is this Argentina?).  No,  not really, but Michiko Kakutani and Jennifer Senior left last year.  Of the daily threesome, only the tough, incisive critic Dwight Garner remains, and he is almost warm and fuzzy now. There are two new critics who haven’t made much of an impression on me yet.

Is there a dumbness pollution in the newsroom?  Something’s amiss.

It kind of makes me want to throw out my Georgette Heyers.

SPECIAL ROMANTIC TREAT.  Here is the opening of one of the romances  reviewed, Eloisa James’s TOO WILDE TO WED.  It kills me that the NYT reviews this shit! It’s just not as good as Heyer.

Lord Roland Northbridge Wilde—known to his friends and family as North—had been taught at his governess’s knee that a gentleman defines himself by his respectful and decorous manner toward the fair sex. He did not ask indelicate questions, nor engage in boorish behavior.

Even, or perhaps especially, if the lady was his fiancée.

It never occurred to North that he might be tempted to behave otherwise. As a future duke, he confided it beneath his dignity to kneel while asking Miss Diana Belgrade for the honor of her hand in marriage, but he donned a coat that had been praised by the king himself. The ring he slid on his finger had belonged to his grandmother, the late duchess of Lindow.


8 thoughts on “Chill out and Dumb Down: Should I Throw out Georgette Heyer?

  1. Can you really blame Georgette Heyer for this phenomenon? She was so much more intelligent than so many of her imitators … I wish they would do their research and learn to write actual witty dialogue rather than this clunky garbage. Then I might be willing to read and be entertained by them, for there is a place for such light fare. But as it is, what I’ve read of “Regency romance” (other than Heyer) just turns my stomach.


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