Ilan Mochari
Ilan Mochari Blog
FictionBlogNewsConsultingAbout IlanLinksContact IlanHome  

BlogFebruary-March, 2009
Tedious reviews of Philip Roth; NFL draft + recession (Matthew Stafford + Mark Sanchez are not first-round worthy; Chase Coffman + Zac Robinson are)

Bind me to this pledge, if I ever get a job reviewing books: 

“I, the critic, do solemnly swear to report in the first paragraph whether the book is worth your time and money.”

It seems simple, right? But too many reviewers fail to deliver what ought to be their primary deliverable. 

Specifically, I’m pissed about James Wolcott’s review of Philip Roth’s Indignation, which appeared in The New Republic (TNR) in October. Wolcott’s piece, at some length, summarized the plot and provided sociocultural context for the themes. Unfortunately, Wolcott didn’t announce his verdict – is Indignation worth my time and money? – until the twenty-third paragraph. 

Charles Simic made the same mistake in his review of Indignation in The New York Review of Books (NYRB). He opened with a high-flown epigraph from Chekhov and followed with two paragraphs about Iraq, including another Chekhov quote. Batting third was a paragraph about Roth’s oeuvre. Finally, in paragraph four, Simic came around to Indignation.

The rest of Simic’s article was plot summary, though “summary” is putting it kindly, since Simic’s recap of a 236-page novel lasted from paragraph four to paragraph twenty-three. Only in his final paragraph (the twenty-sixth) did Simic proclaim Roth “a master” who writes “credibly about the time we live in.” Thanks, Chuck – so I guess Indignation is worth my time and money? 

My suggestion to TNR and the NYRB:  Preface your reviews with a gimmick that’s worked marvelously for Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. It’s a little thing called grading. You know: Four or five stars, thumbs up or thumbs down, A, B, C, D, or F. And if you eschew grading as juvenile, then keep the reviews brief (it works for The New Yorker) or tell me in the first paragraph: is this book worth my time and money?

That’s all I ask. 

***

In the midst of a recession, why would any NFL team dole out first-round money to a quarterback? If I were a general manager, I would draft anyone except a quarterback, if only to avoid negotiating rookie bonuses against the steepest comparables. 

But that’s not the only reason I’d steer clear of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Both are overrated, and I disagree with the conventional wisdom labeling them first-round talents.

True, Stafford has the best arm in the class. But if you saw him play, you could not possibly believe he possesses the consistency to start in the NFL, let alone merit the top overall pick.

I watched Stafford closely in Georgia’s 24-12 victory in the Capital One Bowl against Michigan State. His superb stats – 20 of 31 for 351 passing yards, three touchdowns, and one interception – belied a nervous starter who handled a pass rush poorly, struggled with accuracy on short throws, and botched timing on intermediate routes. His 11 incomplete passes were ugly. He reminded me too frequently of the player who laid an egg at Florida.

Don’t get me wrong: based on his arm, size, SEC pedigree, and year-to-year improvement, Stafford is draft-worthy. But he is not a No. 1 overall pick and, in my view, he is not first-round material. He is more like a Chad Henne- or Brian Brohm-level talent: worth an investment, but no one to break the bank over. I put Sanchez in the same echelon. Not once did I see him make a play that screamed “NFL star.” He posted efficient numbers on a bully team with an awesome defense. He deserves to be drafted, but I’d fire any general manager who gave him first-round loot.

What’s especially comical about Stafford’s status is how mock upon mock upon mock projects him ahead of his teammate, running back Knowshon Moreno. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. If anyone, Moreno was the heart of the Georgia offense. And Moreno actually makes plays that scream “NFL star.” He has speed, hands, vision, wiggle, and instincts. He is easily the best running back in the class. Yet the mocks insist NFL teams would sooner invest in an iffy signal caller like Stafford than a can’t-miss runner like Moreno. It’s fucking crazy. It’s like drafting Raef LaFrentz ahead of Paul Pierce.

Two more points: (1) Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson (class of 2010) will be a better pro than either Stafford or Sanchez. (2) The steal of the draft is Missouri tight end Chase Coffman. He is a taller Dallas Clark with better hands. Coffman is potentially as dominant a pro as his teammate, scintillating wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Yet NFL.com’s Mike Mayock apparently hasn’t heard of Coffman. Someone wake him up.

***

I'll close with some terrific news: I recently received a Literature Artist Fellowship grant from the Somerville Arts Council (SAC), a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC). A press release on my news page is forthcoming. For now, I'd just like to thank the SAC and MCC. I'm grateful to live in a city and state that support the arts in an economic climate like this.  



Ilan Mochari is a novelist and journalist living in the Boston area. His fiction has appeared in Keyhole and been honored by
Glimmer Train. He is a former staff writer for Inc magazine, and he has also written for Fortune Small Business and CFO magazine. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

 
    © 2008 Ilan Mochari  
Ilan Mochari