New York Times:
- Sunday Book Review cover: Gregory Cowles on Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem: "'The Fortress of Solitude' was a great novel, but also a chaotic sprawl
"” it addressed gentrification and race relations and comic books and
disco and the prison system and more, on and endlessly on. 'Chronic
City' is more contained, less greedy in its grasp, and it is even
better. It limits itself to a single big theme "” but then, it's the
biggest there is: the pursuit of truth....
Even in an alternate reality "” even in a fiction "” passion and
significance are everywhere if you know where to look."
- Kakutani on Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving: "'Last Night in Twisted River' showcases all of John Irving's
biggest liabilities as a writer: a tricked-up, gimmicky plot; cartoony
characters; absurd contrivances; cheesy sentimentality; and a
thoroughly preposterous ending. And yet, at the same time, it evolves
into a deeply felt and often moving story "” a story that with some
diligent editing might have ranked right up there with 'The World
According to Garp' (1978) and 'A Widow for One Year' (1998) as one of
Mr. Irving's more powerful works."
- Josh Emmons on The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell: "If I said that 'The Interrogative Mood,' the fifth novel by Padgett
Powell, was ... a captivating and often glorious
reading experience, and if you believed me, would you get a copy soon,
or would you decide that even though captivating, often glorious books
don't come along Âevery day, you aren't ready for something as
open-Âended and seemingly uncertain as this? If, then, I assured you
that embedded in its all-question format are ideas and images and
emotions uniquely and powerfully expressed, and that it is a
great-hearted assault on ambivalence, would you realize that you are
- David Hajdu on The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb: "For all its narrative potency and raw beauty, Crumb's 'Book of Genesis'
is missing something that just does not interest its illustrator: a
sense of the sacred. What Genesis demonstrates in dramatic terms are
beliefs in an orderly universe and the godlike nature of man. Crumb, a
fearless anarchist and proud cynic, clearly believes in other things,
and to hold those beliefs "” they are kinds of beliefs, too "” is his
prerogative. Crumb, brilliantly, shows us the man in God, but not the
God in man."
- Jane Smiley on The Book of Fathers by Miklos Vamos: "'The Book of Fathers' is a serious novel that, while sometimes agonizing
or even shocking, is never somber. Inevitably, its theme is that life
goes on, and that every son is no less interesting than every father,
that each generation's search for wisdom is different but no less
important or dramatic than the previous generation's. Miklos Vamos's
literary skills are such that he can sustain the reader's interest in
each doomed generation (doomed by nature, if nothing else). His
virtuoso portraits of his idiosyncratic characters are fully backed by
his evocative portrayal of the world they live in and the history they
live through. Note to Vamos's publisher: More, please!"
- Charles on A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein: "There's nothing polemic or didactic about Grodstein's story, but she's
written such an incisive diagnosis of aspirational America that someone
should hand out copies at Little League games and ballet recitals... Grodstein is such a perceptive and knowing critic of suburbia that I
kept expecting to see her driving slowly up and down my street peering
in the windows. She captures 'the vague but persistent smell of
striving, of other people's koi ponds.'"
- Marie Arana on The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk: "As familiar as the subject of love might seem, 'The Museum of
Innocence' is a startling original. Every turn in the story seems
fresh, disquieting, utterly unexpected.... 'The Museum of Innocence' is a deeply human and humane story.
Masterfully translated, spellbindingly told, it is resounding
confirmation that Orhan Pamuk is one of the great novelists of his
Los Angeles Times:
- Tim Rutten on Pamuk's Museum of Innocence: "Kemal, the protagonist and first-person narrator of Pamuk's latest, 'The Museum of Innocence' may be naive and sentimental -- as well as
willful and self-absorbed -- but the author of this mesmerizing,
brilliantly realized new novel is anything but.... 'The Museum of Innocence' deeply and compellingly explores the
interplay between erotic obsession and sentimentality -- and never once
slips into the sentimental. There is a master at work in this book."
- Daniel Mallory on Irving's Last Night in Twisted River: "As 'Twisted River' proves, reports of Irving's demise are greatly
exaggerated. Not since the shambolic but cruelly underrated 'A Son of
the Circus' has he delivered a novel so full-throated, hot-blooded and
clear-eyed; not since 'A Widow for One Year' has he sculpted a story
with such poise; not since Garp has he so trenchantly assessed the
writer's craft. Majestic yet intimate, shot with whimsy, dread and
molten pathos, 'Twisted River' compresses the panoramic scope of his
midcareer legacy without diluting its brio. This isn't a comeback so
much as a coming-of-age: Irving's first novel to reconfigure those
Irving-esque devices -- the doomed naif, the artist in bloom, the
sweet, bitter tug-of-war between duty and destiny -- into a tale as
introspective as it is retrospective. It's simultaneously every story
he's ever published and something altogether new."
Globe and Mail:
- Douglas Bell on Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitrou: "Logiccomix is throughout a mix of powerful ideas, ingenious
storytelling, compelling illustration, wit and even a love story or
three. (How could any narrative with [Bertrand] Russell at its core not be?) And,
more's the point, the common theme tying it all together and driving it
on is an abiding curiosity about math. No thinking person could leave
this book without recognizing the ineluctable connections between "“ in
the most mundane sense "“ arithmetic and the humanities."
- Zoe Whittall on 8x10 by Michael Turner (on Amazon.ca only): "Reading 8X10 is sort of like standing on a rooftop with the most
precise camera in the world, zooming in on moments in people's lives
where you are momentarily allowed access to their inner thoughts, and
then moving along to the next person. What surprised me most was how
fast I could become emotionally involved with these nameless people who
aren't anchored in time or place, because Turner has a gift for
touching down at the exact moment in the storyline of their lives, at
moral turning points, where moments of certainty are derailed and bombs
often literally blow up. Perhaps this is indicative of Turner's
scriptwriter's eye for economical precision and emotional acuity."
- David Runciman on SuperFreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner: "Superfreakonomics is not a bad book, but it's not a patch
on the first "“ it has very little of the charm or the originality. Yet
in their rather smug preface, the authors say that they believe the
second book 'is easily better than the first'. Can they really think
this? ...It says something that the
real puzzle this book leaves you with is wondering about the skewed
incentives that led two such talented people to write a book that does
so little justice to those talents. Maybe that should be a subject for
a third book, if there is one."
- Catherine Bennett on The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross: "The author devotes far more space to the Queen Mother's lunches, to the
decorations on her millions of hats, to her horses, to the various
inert objects he spots then solemnly itemises, as if in training for
the world championships of the tray game. Among the ornaments arranged
on a Castle of Mey desk, he doggedly reports, is 'a little corgi from
the Buckingham Palace gift shop'. It sits there now. The Queen Mother's
house, Shawcross assures us, 'is preserved as it was in her lifetime'.
He has chosen to do the same thing for her reputation."
The New Yorker:
- Elizabeth Kolbert on On Rumors by Cass Sunstein: "The most plausible explanation for this dark, post-Enlightenment turn
is unavailable to Sunstein; so hard is he trying to be nonpartisan that
he can't see the nuts for the trees. Several decades ago, a detachment
of the American right cut itself loose from reason, and it has been
drifting along happily ever since. If the birthers are more evidently
kooky than the global-warming "skeptics" or the death-panellers or the
supply-siders or the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, they are, in their
fundamental disregard for the facts, actually mainstream."
Harper's (subscription only):
- Arthur Krystal on Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Depression by Morris Dickstein: "And the news came in the form of novels and poems, posters and
paintings, speeches and plays, songs and films. Dickstein welcomes them
all, displaying an unnervingly comprehensive grasp of every genre. As a
result, Dancing in the Dark is, to risk overstatement, a
monumental work, both a prodigious feat of labor and, in some
instances, a labor of love. So wide is its net that it's practically
impossible to convey the expanse of materials or the steadiness with
which Dickstein handles them."
- Mark Kingwell on The Language of Things: Understanding the World of Desirable Objects by Deyan Sudjic: "'Sudjic claims to be engaged in 'understanding the world of desirable
objects,' and we might well expect a similarly revealing analysis, this
time on product design.... Sudjic's design
detour, however, is a rearguard maneuver. As his book proceeds on its
merry way, glossing everything from consumer durables to fashion and
the art world, what emerges is a slick appreciation for the desired
objects without any awareness of how such desire works."