Emma Gilbey Keller's new book "The Comeback" is, in part, about emerging from under the shadow of her husband, Times editor Bill Keller. Good luck with that. In the insular world of publishing, the Times Book Review still reigns supreme, and the positive Sunday notice on Emma Keller's title has already arched some eyebrows. Sure, the Keller family connection is disclosed. But people are already wondering about self-dealing at the Times after recent gushing praise for a book by a New York Times Co. executive and four separate plugs for a book by the husband of a company director — whose book-writing son also got notice in the paper. Then there's the efficient praise theTimes had for Emma's last book. Newspaper gossips will remember it from the author.
It was Bill Keller who in 1995 wrote, "the childhood of [Winnie Mandela], according to Emma Gilbey's meticulous 1993 biography, 'The Lady: The Life and Times of Winnie Mandela,' was 'a blistering inferno of racial hatred.'" (Emphasis added.)
This time around, the Observer seems to wonder about the qualifications of the reviewer on the basis of her limited journalistic output over the past 11 yeas.
It's worth reviewing how things turned out the last time the Times was accused of favoritism. By mid July, the paper had published a positive early review, editor's choice recommendation, blog write up and page A4 plug for a book by Edward Dolnick, husband to Lynn Dolnick, a Times board member and cousin to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. It had published nothing on a contemporaneous book on the exact same topic (an art forger who copied Johannes Vermeer) by historian Jonathan Lopez and published by Harcourt.
Both the Chicago Tribune and New York Sun reviewed Dolnick and Lopez's books side by side, and seemed to find the Lopez title more comprehensive and, for some readers at least, engaging. The Tribune wrote:
At least this time around there's disclosure, unlike in the Dolnick case. That openness, and the fact that her notice is in the ostensibly independent Book Review, gives Emma Keller at least a slightly better shot at emerging from her husband's shadow — once her press tour is over and she's done talking about that shadow.