- Sunday Book Review cover: Scott Turow on Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross: "'Mr. Peanut' requires considerable decoding. This can be annoying, a
little like going to a dinner party where all the guests seem bright
and amiable but insist on speaking another language. Yet over all, the
novel is an enormous success "” forceful and involving, often deeply
stirring and always impressively original.... In many ways it would have taken less courage to present a sympathetic portrait of Osama bin Laden than it did to write this novel, which flouts the treasured conceptions
of love and marriage many of us depend on to make it through the day. 'Mr. Peanut' is most harrowing in its bleakly convincing portrayal of
the eternal contest that often passes for a marriage, with each partner
holding the other responsible for his or her deepest unhappiness."
- Kakutani on The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell: "He's meticulously reconstructed the lost world of Edo-era Japan, and in
doing so he's created his most conventional but most emotionally
engaging novel yet: it's as if an acrobatic but show-offy performance
artist, adept at mimicry, ventriloquism and cerebral literary
gymnastics, had decided to do an old-fashioned play and, in the
process, proved his chops as an actor."
- Garner on Denial: A Memoir of Terror by Jessica Stern: "Reading 'Denial' is like ingesting a novel from a particularly damaged Joyce Carol Oates protagonist come to life; Ms. Stern can seem like a potent distillate of every Oates character ever put to paper.... It is possible to take Ms. Stern very seriously indeed, though, and to
consider 'Denial' a profound human document without considering it a
profound literary one. It lacks allusiveness and distance. It is hot to
the touch in ways that are both memorable and disturbing."
- Chrystia Freeland on More Money Than God by Sebastian Mallaby: "Today's populist mood has not deterred Sebastian Mallaby. In 'More
Money Than God,' his smart history of the hedge fund business, Mallaby
does more than explain how finance's richest moguls made their loot. He
argues that the obsessive, charismatic oddballs of the hedge fund world
are Wall Street's future "” and possibly its salvation. Mallaby's contrarian argument is sure to delight his subjects, and not only because he is so openly on their side."
- Jess Walter on The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern: "As a metaphor for the modern incongruity of ancient religious
tradition, a frozen rabbi could be embarrassingly heavy-handed, but an actual frozen rabbi?
That's just funny. Page after page, Stern embraces every outrageous
possibility, in lush, cartwheeling sentences that layer deep mystery
atop page-turning action atop Borscht Belt humor."
- Juliet Eilperin on Shell Games by Craig Welch: "Craig Welch's 'Shell Games' has the most unlikely of central characters: the massive geoduck clam.... Pronounced 'gooey-duck,' the valuable shellfish and the humans who cannot resist
plundering it make for a compelling tale that is at once ridiculous and
tragic.... Welch has clearly done his homework, which has allowed him to write an
engrossing tale of both human excesses and the attempts of a few brave
souls to curb them. Everyone, not just the denizens of Puget Sound,
has a stake in this battle's outcome."
Los Angeles Times:
- Caitlin Roper on Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky and The Shallows by Nicholas Carr: "Be wary of the Internet's effects, Carr warns us. He makes a convincing
case that we are altering our brains with every ping and click-though.
Shirky, on the other hand, celebrates the possibilities the Internet
affords, for civic engagement, for collaboration, for emotional
support, for innovation. Who is right? I'd suggest that both of them
- Sara Lippincott on 101 Theory Drive by Terry McDermott: "In '101 Theory Drive,' Terry McDermott gets us a lot closer to the
problem of how the brain records experience. The intrepid McDermott, a
former national reporter for The Times with no background in
neuroscience, does this by embedding himself in the lab of Gary Lynch,
a leading memory researcher and one of the field's most radical
practitioners.... Hard-drinking, cigar-chomping and potty-mouthed, Lynch "” described by
one colleague as 'the hippie of neurobiology' "” is nothing if not good
- Tim Rutten on The Overton Window by Glenn Beck: "Suffice to say that, the subtitle notwithstanding, there is nothing
even remotely thrilling about this didactic, discursive "” sporadically
incoherent "” novel. The image of a train wreck comes quickly to mind,
though this book actually has more the character "” and all of the
excitement "” of a lurching, low-speed derailment halfway out of the
Globe and Mail:
- Sarah Barmak on Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis: "Imperial Bedrooms reads like a rehash of Ellis's whole career,
without the spark of his earlier efforts.... If Less Than Zero had a documentary rawness, Imperial Bedrooms
is a banal Hollywood thriller, complete with a whodunit and predictable
plot twists "“ something Clay might have written. Appropriately
self-referential as that may be, when the book turns violent, one's
reaction is to glaze over."
- Claudia Dey on The Lovers by Vendela Vida: "Utterly compelling, The Lovers is never without humour and
intrigue. Vida's Yvonne is sensuous, wily and as vulnerable as a child.
Unhinged by sorrow, she is independent in her actions and courageous in
her admissions. Vida's prose is spare, fluid and urgent, a dark and
graceful reportage of the heart. There is no excess here; the text is
nearly bereft of adjectives."
- Christine Fischer Guy on Annabel by Kathleen Winter: "Annabel is less about chromosomal anomaly than it is about human
potential, for cruelty and neglect and ignorance as much as for
tolerance and generosity and strength. What Winter has achieved here is
no less a miracle than the fact of Wayne's birth. Read it because it's
a story told with sensitivity to language that compels to the last
page, and read it because it asks the most existential of questions.
Stripped of the trappings of gender, Winter asks, what are we?"
- William Skidelsky on The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit: "One of the delights of Segnit's book is the way it combines an air of
empirical exactitude with something more loose-limbed and poetic. Here
she is on chocolate and cardamom: 'Like a puppeteer's black velvet
curtain, dark chocolate is the perfect smooth background for cardamom
to show off its colours.' No doubt there are more rigorous ways to
explain the compatibility of these ingredients, but I doubt they'd be
half as satisfying. Ultimately, discussions of flavour (as opposed to
taste, which is a much narrower thing) have to rely on metaphor, since
the main way we identify flavours is by comparing them with other
- Veronica Horwell on The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal: "De Waal has a mystical ability to so inhabit the long-gone moment as to seem to suspend inexorable history, personal and impersonal.... This story compels telling; but it is such
a bald summary of a work that succeeds in several known genres: as
family memoir, travel literature (De Waal's Japan is the nearest thing
to being there, and over decades), essays on migration and exile, on
cultural misperceptions, and on De Waal's attempt to define his
relationship with his own kaolin creations. His book is also a new
genre, unnamed and maybe unnameable. A thing-book, perhaps, or a Wunderkammer "“ cabinet of marvels.... Oh, and this is a beautiful and unusual book, as a physical object. Somebody really cared."
The New Yorker:
- James Wood on Mitchell's Jacob de Zoet: "He may be self-conscious, but he is not knowing, in the familiar,
fatal, contemporary way; his naturalness as a storyteller has to do not
only with his vitality but also with a kind of warmth, a charming
earnestness. This is why he can so speedily get a fiction up and
running, involve the reader in an invented world. One would be hard
pressed to separate the quality of his sentences from the quality of
the human presence.... Yet it is because Mitchell's dialogue is so brilliant and vital that the captious critic wants something . . . more.... Had Mitchell chosen to set his new novel in fifteenth-century Spain or
eighth-century Britain, he doubtless could have done so with equal
facility and success. But the result would be, essentially, fantasy"”and
his new novel, though closer to the present day, is a kind of fantasy,
too. Or, rather, it is a brilliant fairy tale; and even nightingales,
as a Russian proverb has it, can't live off fairy tales."
Harper's (subscription only):
- Joshua Cohen on An American Type by Henry Roth: "Just off Manhattan's Union Square is the Center for Jewish History, which houses the Roth Papers. Box 25 is the tomb for this tome. To rummage through its pages is to realize that what's being marketed to us as inviolable literature is, in the state Roth left it, more like an open-source document, a memory cache or, to speak in terms appropriately paleotechnic, a genizah, that Hebrew word for a burial place for sacred texts no longer fit for use.... It is not my belief that these pages should have been published without intervention; rather, it is my belief that these pages should not have been published at all."
- J. Hoberman on Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber: "A movie, for Farber, wasn't a window onto another world; it was more like a chunk of this one. There's an epistomological undercurrent to his enterprise. Farber's singularity as a critic was not predicated on his telling us what to think about movies. He showed us how to think about movies--how he thought about movies--and how pleasurable that lesson could be."