New York Times:
- Stephen King on Raymond Carver by Carol Sklenicka and Carver's Collected Stories: King is pro-Maryann Carver (with a fellow AAer's disdain for Carver's drunken treatment of his first wife) and acidly anti-Gordon Lish: "Any writer might wonder what he'd do in such a case [as Lish's demand that Carver let him rewrite his work]. Certainly I did;
in 1973, when my first novel was accepted for publication, I was in
similar straits: young, endlessly drunk, trying to support a wife and
two children, writing at night, hoping for a break. The break came, but
until reading Sklenicka's book, I thought it was the $2,500 advance
Doubleday paid for 'Carrie.' Now I realize it may have been not winding
up with Gordon Lish as my editor."
- Kakutani on Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout: "He draws on Armstrong's wonderfully vivid writings and hours of tapes
in which the musician recorded his thoughts and conversations with
friends, and in doing so, creates an emotionally detailed portrait of
Satchmo as a quick, funny, generous, observant and sometimes
surprisingly acerbic man: a charismatic musician who, like a Method
actor, channeled his vast life experience into his work, displaying a
stunning, almost Shakespearean range that encompassed the jubilant and
the melancholy, the playful and the sorrowful."
- Liesl Schillinger on There Once Was a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya: "Timeless and troubling, these 'scary fairy tales' grapple with
accidents of fate and weaknesses of human nature that exact a heavy
penance.... Short, highly concentrated, inventive and disturbing, her tales inhabit
a borderÂline between this world and the next, a place where vengeance
and grace may be achieved only in dreams.... Again and again, in surprisingly few words, her witchy magic foments an unsettling brew of conscience and consequences."
- Sean Wilentz on A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of a Continent by Robert W. Merry: "Sometimes reviving the old arguments of Polk's political foes,
contemporary historians describe the war as a shameful act of
imperialist plunder, ginned up by the president himself, with the
not-so-hidden intention of spreading slavery into new lands.... Robert W. Merry's book is a refreshing challenge to the new conventional wisdom."
- Charles on Family Album by Penelope Lively: "Penelope Lively's new novel comes wrapped as a celebration of
old-fashioned domestic joy, with its heartwarming title, 'Family
Album,' elegantly embroidered on the dust jacket. But be careful; she's
left her needle in the cloth. It's a typical move for this old master,
who frequently writes about sharp objects buried in our sepia-toned
past. Although this little book can't compete with her Booker-winning 'Moon Tiger' or her fictionalized anti-memoir 'Consequences,' it's
another winning demonstration of her wit; every wry laugh is the sound
of a little hope being strangled."
Los Angeles Times:
- Ella Taylor on Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith: "Taken together, they reflect a lively, unselfconscious, rigorous,
erudite and earnestly open mind that's busy refining its view of life,
literature and a great deal in between.... Returning more than once -- as she does
in her novels -- to a fractious but formative relationship with a much
older father, whose ashes she once kept in a sandwich bag, Smith shows
herself in more ways than one to be a very old, empathetic head on
ridiculously young shoulders.... It's in her impassioned, compulsively dialectical and endearingly wonkish inquiry into literature that Smith really takes off."
- Regina Marler on As God Commands by Niccolo Ammaniti: "Although the shocks escalate, gore-spattered readers who persevere into
the next few chapters will probably be won over by Ammaniti's immense
gifts for pacing, psychological clarity and singular detail. His
steely, quick-moving prose (translated from the Italian by Jonathan
Hunt) suits his unsavory material -- he's in and out like a knife
The Globe & Mail:
- Guy Gavriel Kay onThe Humbling by Philip Roth: "There is matter to admire in The Humbling, and more than a
little to think about, but there is also a sense that this material has
been covered before by Roth with greater force and subtlety. The book
is of interest to those tracking the palette and preoccupations of the
man who may be the United States' finest living writer. It is not,
however, a good starting place for encountering his art, nor for
deepening a response to it."
- Roger Morris on The Clinton Tapes by Taylor Branch: "Yet the seductions of proximity are lethal. Branch is far more
sympathizer and intellectual co-dependent than an even mildly neutral
oral historian. The empathetic but critical, thoroughly informed
perspectives he brought to his multivolume portrait of Rev. King sadly
desert him "“ or are jettisoned "“ in one of the most extraordinary
opportunities ever given a historian. The result does little service to
either the author or his subject."
- Donna Scanlon on Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: "The middle book of a trilogy is always dicey territory. Since it is a
bridge between the first book and the third book, the potential for
suspense can be limited. In most trilogies, the reader expects the
protagonist to survive at least until the third book, and that
expectation can put pressure on the author and a strain on the plot. Happily, this is not the case for Suzanne Collins. Catching Fire is every bit as suspenseful as The Hunger Games. The numerous plot twists leave the reader breathless and giddy, and the characterizations are razor sharp."
- James Lasdun on Your Face Tomorrow III: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell by Javier Marias: "A little patience, in other words, is required of the reader, but it is
amply rewarded. By the second volume all cylinders in its large and
powerful engines are purring smoothly. And with this triumphant finale
"“ the longest and best of all three "“ it becomes impossible to resist
the thought that this deeply strange creation, with its utterly sui
generis methods, its brilliant disquisitions on love and loss, its dark
playfulness, may very well be the first authentic literary masterpiece
of the 21st century."
- Geraldine Bedell on A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration by Jenny Uglow: "Contemporary readers are quite comfortable with the idea that there
is no essentialist, non-performative self, that individuals are made up
of the roles they play. And in this case the roles are endlessly
fascinating because, to survive, Charles could never stop being the
king. There was no such thing as private space. This masterly, wide-ranging biography resists the temptation to take sides on Charles (who has variously been
depicted in the past as the 'merrie monarch' and a libertine let-down),
though it is impossible not to find him appealing."
- Michel Faber on The Book of Genesis, illustrated by R. Crumb: "If the book does not intend to ridicule, what exactly is its intent?
Hard to imagine. Crumb's lack of religious fervour means the images
lack the weird mystery that suffuses the visions of, say, William Blake
or David Tibet. But, with his gifts for satire and grotesque
playfulness locked away, Crumb merely manages to depict the soap-opera
antics of primitive Israelites in a manner that neither illuminates nor
- Andrew Motion on Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters: "Van Gogh's
letters are the best written by any artist. Engrossing, moving,
energetic and compelling, they dramatise individual genius while
illuminating the creative process in general.... There are, of course, harrowing stretches in which he frets about
insanity, about poverty and about how others perceive him. But the
great majority of them are impressive "“ even lovable "“ because, no
matter how distressing their surrounding circumstances, they show an
extraordinarily calm-sounding good sense and a beautiful directness in
their account of complicated emotional states.... The new book (or rather the new books "“ there are five large volumes of
correspondence and a sixth of associated material) is one of the major
publishing achievements of our time."
The New Yorker:
- James Wood lowers the boom on Paul Auster, including the new Invisible: "ClichÃ©s, borrowed language, bourgeois bÃªtises are intricately
bound up with modern and postmodern literature. For Flaubert, the
clichÃ© and the received idea are beasts to be toyed with and then
Auster is probably America's best-known postmodern novelist; his 'New
York Trilogy' must have been read by thousands who do not usually read
avant-garde fiction. Auster clearly shares this engagement with
mediation and borrowedness"”hence, his cinematic plots and rather bogus
dialogue"”and yet he does nothing with clichÃ© except use it."
New York Review of Books:
- Paula Fox on A Meaningful Life by L.J. Davis: "L.J. Davis isn't a satirist. There are no Houyhnhnms in A Meaningful Life.
Swift is savage, but the Houyhnhnms offer a standard that one may also
call an ideal. Satire has to have such an ideal, without which it is
something else. Davis's novel is something else. It is a comic novel of
existential loathing, written with a fine spontaneity that reflection
and rewriting might have tempered"”tempered the existential suggestion
right out of it."
- Claire Messud on My Prison, My Home: One Woman's Story of Captivity in Iran by Haleh Esfandiari: "Esfandiari has written a memoir of considerable delicacy and sophistication. My Prison, My Home is, primarily, an account of her annus horribilis,
from the initial staged 'robbery' when she was on her way to Tehran
airport on December 30, 2006, that left her conveniently without a
passport and unable to leave the country, through her lockup and
eventual liberation almost eight months later. But Esfandiari also
provides us with a lucid, concise history of Iran through the twentieth
century and into the first years of the twenty-first, and with it an
outline of her own remarkable life across continents and cultures. She
is restrained in her telling"”the book is filled with vivid details and
facts, rather than emotional outpouring"”a decision for which her
narrative is only the more powerful; but her position as someone who
fully understands both America and Iran affords her the opportunity to
elucidate, for American readers, some of the apparent mysteries of her