New York Times (sorry for all the clips here: lots to link to this week):
- Sunday Book Review cover: Toni Bentley on Ballet's Magic Kingdom by Akim Volynsky: "This is a fantastic book.... The book is a must for anyone claiming a love of ballet, but it is also the perfect antidote for anyone â€” I know youâ€™re out there â€” who still thinks ballet is merely a pretty spectacle with pretty girls (not that it also isnâ€™t). If you can wade through Volynskyâ€™s sometimes dense but always hugely entertaining and surprising text, you will never look at a toeshoe, a tiara or a tendu, not to mention an entire ballerina sporting all of the above, in the same way again. You will realize that you are looking, according to Volynsky, at a being truly not of this world, but here, for now, in this world, who can show you a kind of beauty and truth you will not find anywhere else â€” not in a book or painting, not in science, not in meditation, prayer or jogging, not in organic hibiscus juice and not even in death, should you survive it."
- Kakutani on The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci: "'The Yankee Years' does a nimble, if at times cursory, job of reanimating the long highlight reel of the Torre era.... What this book does do and does very persuasively is chart the rise and fall of one of baseballâ€™s great dynasties, while showing the care and feeding it took to bring the city of New York four championships in five years."
- Maslin onThe Associate by John Grisham: "With the help of a well-used cookie cutter he delivers one more hard-charging book about the hellish demands of corporate law.... Soapbox fiction can be stupefying. But Mr. Grisham owes a very long winning streak to his stealth gift for making preachiness thrilling.... Mr. Grisham so often writes similar books that the same things must be said of them. 'The Associate' is true to form: it grabs the reader quickly, becomes impossible to put down, stays that way through most of its story, and then escalates into plotting so crazily far-fetched that it defies resolution."
- Garner on Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin: "There is a good deal of rehashing of material from her previous book, and she leans more here on the ideas of others than she did before. But to remark that 'Animals Make Us Human' is a slightly lesser book than 'Animals in Translation' is like saying Randy Newman's 'Good Old Boys' is a slightly lesser album than 'Sail Away.' If you liked the first one, youâ€™re going to like the second."
- Kakutani on The Women by T.C. Boyle: "T.C. Boyle's dreary new novel, 'The Women,' isnâ€™t a rewrite of Clare Boothe Luceâ€™s wicked 1936 play 'The Women.' Itâ€™s a rewrite of the life of Frank Lloyd Wright that somehow manages to turn the gripping, operatic saga of Americaâ€™s premier architect and the women in his life into a tedious, predictable melodrama."
- Timothy Egan onFifty Miles from Tomorrow by William L. Iggiagruk Hensley: "Hensley offers a coming-of-age story for a state and a people, both still young and in the making. And while there are familiar notes in the Dickensian telling of this tale, Hensley manages to make fresh an old narrative of people who arise just as their culture is being erased â€” be they 'Braveheart' Scotsmen or outback Aborigines. His book is also bright and detailed, moving along at a clip most sled dogs would have trouble keeping up with."
- Anthony Doerr, who did our Books of the States post for Oregon, implicitly nominates Water Dogs by Lewis Robinson for Maine: "'Water Dogs' is not a dizzying, hugely ambitious novel. Robinson does not appear interested in punching holes in the hull of American literature. What he has created, though, is a quietly commanding book, one that exists mostly within itself.... In its rendering of the complicated, rich, mostly unspoken relationship between a young man and the place he lives, 'Water Dogs' is a lovely novel. Robinson may not evoke the snow falling faintly through the universe, but he certainly evokes it as it falls over Maine."
- Our own Jeff VanderMeer on The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes: "Nothing -- not the promise of its opening nor the lurching
complications of its middle -- can prepare the reader for the shock of The Domino Men's resolution. It's one of the most perplexing endings in recent memory....The jaded reader may doubt that Barnes intended this fusion of
hysterical hilarity and frenetic nihilism, suspecting, instead, that
the author simply surrendered to his material. Does he really mean to
combine gonzo science fiction with detailed sadism? If he does, it's
because he let the Domino Men -- more than Dedlock, Lamb or even
Leviathan -- take control of this novel.
Otherwise, all is chaos."
- Charles onLark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips: "There are books you recommend to everybody, and then there are books
you share cautiously, even protectively. Jayne Anne Phillips's 'Lark
and Termite' is that second kind, a mysterious, affecting novel you'll
want to talk about only with others who have fallen under its spell. On
the surface, nothing about the West Virginia family in 'Lark and
Termite' seems especially noteworthy, except perhaps the consistency of
their misfortune, but the author reveals their tangled secrets in such
a profound and intimate way that these ordinary, wounded people become
both tragic and magnificent."
Los Angeles Times:
- Donna Seaman on The Sky Below by Stacey D'Erasm "In her conceptually brilliant, imaginative, brimming and suspenseful
novel, her evocations of place are ravishing; her characters are at
once richly human and magical and their confounding predicaments are
both commonplace and cosmic. Erotic and mystical, intricately made and
deeply felt, 'The Sky Below' is a vivid tale of profound dimension and
- Ed Park on The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories by Joan Aiken: "The wit is irrepressible, the invention wild: A baby is transformed
into an elephant, which Harriet and Mark then need to stuff into a
decommissioned phone booth. (Don't ask -- just read.) Secondary
characters do their inimitable turn, then disappear, or get transformed
into animals. (Even animals can't escape morphing into other animals: A
neighboring sorceress turns Walrus, the Armitage cat, into a wolf.)
Such delicious lightness, almost paradoxically, is the fiction's raison
d'Ãªtre.... 'The Serial Garden' is my happiest discovery this year."
Wall Street Journal:
- Jason L. Riley on Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell: "The thrust of Washington's message was self-improvement. His focus was
the development of the black population of the rural South. His
unwillingness to practice protest politics, however, has earned him the
scorn of many modern-day critics, who dismiss him as too meek in his
dealings with whites. In 'Up From History,' a compelling biography, Robert J. Norrell
restores the Wizard of Tuskegee to his rightful place in the black
Globe & Mail:
- Charles Wilkins on The End of the River by Brian Harvey (and The Riverbones by Andrew Westoll): The End of the River is a brilliant and instructive book, alive
with the author's seditious intelligence, his inner compulsions and
restlessness, the lot of which are wedded to his literal journey in a
way that recalls the travel writing of one of Harvey's heroes, Sir
Richard Burton, who during the mid-1800s explored the Sao Francisco
River that so obsesses Harvey today."
- Ian Sample on Remarkable Creatures by Sean Carroll: "In Remarkable Creatures, Sean Carroll tells the stories of the brave
band of men and women who made the discoveries that inspired and later
supported Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.... His account of how we got this far leaves you with an overwhelming
sense of awe and respect for the most remarkable of creatures, the men
and women who searched for the origins of species and in doing so gave
us a profound sense of place among life on Earth."
- Sarah Churchill on The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (published in the US asSomeone Knows My Name): "The first half of this book is a quite remarkable achievement, and if
the credibility begins to falter, the writing never does. Aminata's
characterisation remains vibrant and sharp, if a trifle
two-dimensional. She does not actually develop as a character, staying
as faithful, true and beloved as any 19th-century heroine of
sentimental fiction. Hill might well have tested us, himself and his
heroine beyond the "shocking" word in his title; I suspect we could all
have survived a little more imaginary suffering and emerged the
stronger for it. But for its first half, this is as gripping a novel as
I've read for a while, and its vivid central character achieves that
most elusive of goals, an afterlife beyond the pages of the book into
which she writes her life."
The New Yorker:
- John Lanchester on Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed: "Itâ€™s easy to be reminded, by all this, of more recent events. Itâ€™s also
easy to see history through the eyes of the present, and make people
look stupid for not knowing what we know. Liaquat Ahamed has the
imagination not to do that. While he makes clear the ways in which his
protagonists were wrong, he doesnâ€™t judge them anachronistically. He
shows just how hard it is to be right when one is confronted with new
facts and unfamiliar developments." I also just have to quote Lanchester's lovely description of one of Ahamed's principal characters, Montagu Norman, the "world-class flake" who governed the Bank of England in the '20s: "If he were a childrenâ€™s entertainer, you would decide not to employ him after checking out the photo on his Web site."