New York Times:
- Sunday Book Review cover: Jeanette Winterston on The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar: "Concealment was her game, and her way of life. Dating three women at a
time was not difficult for her. She collected snails, liking their
portable hiding place and the impossibility of telling which was male
and which was female. She traveled with snails in her luggage and kept
hundreds at home. If she was bored at dinner parties, she might get a
few snails out of her purse and let them loose on the tablecloth. As
she didn't eat much, she was often bored at dinner parties.... This is a biography of clarity and style. A model of its kind."
- Andrea Wulf on Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England by
Amanda Vickery: "Few writers have such a talent for transforming the
source into a gripping narrative, for teasing stories from account
books, inventories, ledgers and pattern books.... If until now the
Georgian home has been like a monochrome engraving,
Vickery has made it three dimensional and vibrantly colored. 'Behind
Closed Doors' demonstrates that rigorous academic work can also be
nosy, gossipy and utterly engaging."
- Suzanne Vega on Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin: "Our eyes dry in a hurry as we careen from breathless fan-boy writing
to dusty travelogue descriptions of Liverpool at the turn of the 20th
century, while Carlin describes some immigrants flooding in and others
flooding out, 'departing for the untrammeled shores of the New World.' Yawn. Why are shores always untrammeled? No one ever seems to write about how trammeled most shores actually are these days."
- Barry Gewen on In Search of My Homeland: A Memoir of a Chinese Labor Camp by Er Tai Ga "It's tempting to try to read Mr. Gao's story optimistically, as a
lesson about the strength and resilience of the human spirit, with this
book as the happy ending.... Mr. Gao is less sentimental; he understands how
little his own choices had to do with his survival. If he hadn't been a
painter at a time when the government needed painters, he probably
would have died at Jiabiangou like most of the prisoners there. At many
steps along the way he had the good fortune to find mentors who taught
him, patrons who protected him. We don't hear the stories of those
people who didn't happen to find patrons because they aren't here to
tell their tales."
- Charles on The Anarchist by John Smolens: "Have you ever cut yourself on a piece of glass without realizing it?
Just like that, Smolens slides through gruesome episodes in such muted,
unadorned prose that you barely realize what's happened until you see
the blood. The genius of this novel is the tension he creates by moving
quickly from quiet, moving scenes in the president's sickroom or
Czolgosz's prison cell to raw, startling flashes of violence during the
criminal investigation.... It's an enthralling descent into the dark byways of the criminal
mind and the vast system of canals that ran through Buffalo. Here is
the crime that launched the 20th century, the unlikely imprint of a
lonely man's delusion on the soft metal of the world."
- Seth Faison on When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques: "The result is 'When China Rules the World,' a compelling and
thought-provoking analysis of global trends that defies the common
Western assumption that, to be fully modern, a nation must become
democratic, financially transparent and legally accountable. Jacques
argues persuasively that China is on track to take over as the world's
dominant power and that, when it does, it will make the rules, on its
own terms, with little regard for what came before."
Los Angeles Times:
- James Marcus on The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam: "It is very difficult to write even a small masterpiece. But there is something harder still: writing a sequel to a masterpiece.... There are scenes of exquisite power, including a couple of encounters
with the slippery Veneering (perfect name, by the way). So why does
Betty's story pale next to that of her husband [in Gardam's Old Filth]? ... 'The Man in the Wooden Hat' retains the
feeling of a subsidiary work. And yet without it, these scenes from a
marriage would be woefully incomplete. It turns out that even a
(relatively) silent partner has something important to say."
The Globe and Mail:
- Martin Levin on Gardam's Man in the Wooden Hat: "Ultimately, despite its wry humour, despite its forgiving delight in
human infelicity, its sense of the absurd, its nuanced understanding of
just how very difficult it is to arrange things well between human
beings, this is, almost surprisingly, a very moving book. It's the
portrait of a marriage that, against the odds, against temptation,
against the contrasting characters of its pairing, against the great
disappointment of childlessness, against time itself, against the
greater attractions of another, somehow survives, perhaps even
prevails.... For its wit, its compassion, its tragicomic view of life, its deep
staccato probings of human action, Jane Gardam's Filth series will rank
as one of the great literary achievements of recent years."
- Andre Alexis on Glenn Gould by Mark Kingwell: "In the end, I want to say that this is both a brilliant book and one
that is flawed. It is a book that, intentionally, provokes thought
about the nature of biography and the relationship of biographer to
subject. And I'm grateful for the provocation, enough so that it is a
book I would recommend."
- Steven Poole on the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary: "It has, of course, long been the case that no reader or writer with a
serious interest in the English language could afford to be without the
complete OED. Now, it gives me no displeasure to say, you need the HTOED
as well. The price may look steep, but it might turn out to be one of
the last great printed reference works...: all the more reason to buy it swith,
mididone, with a siserary, and in quick sticks."
- Hermione Lee on Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith: "One line of Hepburn's, from ThePhiladelphia Story
(Smith's favourite movie), is, she says, a 'lodestar' to her when
writing anything: 'The time to make your mind up about people is
never!' That paradox "“ a very firm-minded character speaking a line,
with fierceness and conviction, about not making your mind up "“ is at
the heart of this flexible, complicated, attractively impassioned
collection of essays."
The New Yorker:
- No new reviews (last week's was a double issue), but here's a bit from Joan Acocella's subscription-only piece on The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd: "If Ackroyd thought that Chaucer was this dull, why did he bother to translate him? Readers coming to 'The Canterbury Tales' for the first time should avoid this version, and instead do one of two things. The best is to buy Vincent Hopper's interlinear translation.... This is unashamedly a pony. It places the new word directly under the original word--a device that makes the syntax feel old-fashioned but that will also quickly teach you Middle English, which is not hard.... For people who steadfastly refuse to confront Middle English, the best recent translations are those of Colin Wilcockson and Nevill Coghill (both Penguin Classics) and David Wright (Oxford World's Classics). Don't worry that Wilcockson's doesn't include all the tales. Truth to tell, some of them are boring."
Harper's (subscription only--c'mon, it's only 15 bucks):
- Francine Prose on The Americans by Robert Frank: "What made the loneliness and isolation that The Americans captured even harder for the critical and general audience to accept was the fact that, a few years before its appearance, a hugely popular exhibition and its companion volume, The Family of Man, had depicted the world, America included, as one giant inclusive, warm-hearted kinship system sharing the same joys and sorrows. Organized by Edward Steichen, and featuring several of Frank's photos, the show encouraged its audience to see photography as a merry postman delivering candy hearts. And now that very same messenger was bringing terrible news."