- Sunday Book Review cover: David Leavitt on The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings: "As I read Hastings's biography (and I read it in great gulps), I could
not help wondering if Maugham might deserve the 'flaying alive' to
which she subjects him.... Hastings makes a strong case against Maugham the man. Where she runs
into trouble is in her halfÂhearted attempt to make a case for Maugham
the writer.... If so much of Maugham's fiction comes across today as brittle, arch,
world-weary and heartless, it may be precisely because he devoted more
energy to maintaining his own double standard than he did to
interrogating the double standards of others. He tried to have it both
ways, and as his stories so amply demonstrate, those who try to have it
both ways rarely come to a happy end."
- Also on the Sunday cover: Colm Toibin on The Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster by Wendy Moffat: "There is a strange moment in Moffat's book when she refers to 'Maurice'
as Forster's 'only truly honest novel.' But 'Maurice' is, while
fascinating in its own way, also his worst. Perhaps there is a
connection between its badness and its 'honesty,' because novels should
not be honest. They are a pack of lies that are also a set of
metaphors; because the lies and metaphors are chosen and offered shape
and structure, they may indeed represent the self, or the play between
the unconscious mind and the conscious will, but they are not forms of
self-expression, or true confession."
- Daniel Gilbert on Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz: "Schulz tells us early on that her goal is 'to foster an intimacy with
our own fallibility' and to 'linger for a while inside the normally
elusive and ephemeral experience of being wrong.' These goals she
accomplishes with aplomb. For most of us, errors are like cockroaches:
we stomp them the moment we see them and then flush the corpse as fast
as we can, never pausing to contemplate the intricate design of
nature's great survivor, never asking what it might reveal beyond
itself. But Schulz is the patient naturalist who carefully examines the
nasty little miracles the rest of us so eagerly discard."
- Rebecca Barry on Termite Parade by Joshua Mohr: "In lesser hands, this would be another in a long line of feel-bad books
examining the human underbelly, in which reprehensible characters do
reprehensible things until you just want them to get over themselves
and grow up..... But as Mohr demonstrated in his
previous novel, 'Some Things That Meant the World to Me,' he has a
generous understanding of his characters, whom he describes with an
intelligence and sensitivity that pulls you in.... These people are marginalized and angry, but for good reasons, and Mohr
captures them with haunting acuity. His characters are tortured and
reckless but still feel familiar."
- Jerome Charyn on Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds by Lyndall Gordon: "'Lives Like Loaded Guns,' Lyndall Gordon's book about Emily Dickinson and the fury that surrounded the publication of her poems,
reads like a fabulous detective story, replete with hidden treasure,
diabolical adversaries and a curse from one generation to the next.... Gordon is not frightened of the pits and traps and the thousand masks
that Emily wears. She takes us into that undiscovered territory of the
poet's favorite motif -- the dash. 'Dickinson's dashes push the
language apart to open up the space where we live without language.'
And it's into this void that Dickinson's very best readers have to go."
- Charles on Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman: "Waldman sometimes seems engaged in an act of emotional masochism. It's
hard to look away, even when you can smell the burning rubber of such
expert manipulation.... Until that point [a "car wreck" of an ending], though, Waldman keeps her eyes on the road, carrying
us into dark territory with wisdom and grace. As usual, she offers
something to admire and something to annoy -- something borrowed,
- Dirda on The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard DeVot "Today, it reads very much as a period piece, directed at male readers,
arguing fiercely that there are really only two adult beverages worth
caring about: straight whiskey (rye, bourbon or scotch) and martinis made with gin and dry vermouth. Fans of the television show 'Mad Men' will feel right at home.... 'The Hour' isn't an important book, but it is almost a cocktail in itself, being
at once soothing and refreshing. And perhaps that's all we require from
a book in July."
Los Angeles Times:
- Troy Jollimore on Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: "One might, I suppose, accuse 'Super Sad True Love Story' of being
nothing more than an extended expression of the paranoia that afflicts
so many contemporary intellectuals, who worry that the space for
anything resembling a 'life of the mind' (the very phrase has come to
sound somewhat quaint) is being squeezed out of existence by our
increasingly superficial, increasingly oppressive, consumer culture..... For my
part, I find the novel pretty much on target: The Eunice sections
aside, it is on the whole both frightening and devastatingly funny.
What remains to be seen is whether its depiction of the fall of the
American republic will turn out to have been frighteningly,
- Ed Park on BodyWorld by Dash Shaw: "Graphics and text overlap, the timeframes and layers of meaning there
to be teased out; in this haze, bits of one body get transferred to
another, and it's tantalizingly unclear whose thoughts are being
articulated. Most graphic novels are easily consumed at a gallop, but
these sequences slow down the speed of 'Bodyworld,' making for a rich
experience (or should that be an irony-free synaesthetic experience?)
that can't be achieved through words alone."
Globe and Mail:
- Cynthia MacDonald on The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern: "This is a novel so rich, full, funny, dense and exhausting, it feels
like there may be no more Steve Stern books left to write "“ by him, or
anyone else.... It's perhaps unusual that a comic writer should also be such an astute
historian, but Steve Stern "“ for all his doppelgangers in the literary
world "“ is truly one of a kind. If good fortune favours him more than
it does the Karps, this may finally be the book that marks him as a
known commodity. Then again, there is something so achingly sad and
funny about the non-fame he already has, and the lovely writing that
has given rise to it. Why mess with a good thing?"
- Frank Cottrell Boyce on The Cardturner by Louis Sachar: "The book feels like one long, deadpan dare, as though Sachar has made a
bet with himself that he can make the most boring setting thrilling.
The American cover even has the cheek to show a young man who has
fallen asleep reading. Sachar has Alton admit that he couldn't finish Moby-Dick
because he got bored with all the detail. The implication is that
Sachar can do what Melville couldn't do. But can he? The genius of
Sachar's prose is that it's so plain and unshowy you don't notice the
daredevil artistry of his storytelling until it's too late. You don't
know you've been cut in half until you try to walk away."
- Irvine Welsh on And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson (available on Amazon.co.uk): "And the Land Lay Still is a wonderful novel, brilliant in a very different way from its acclaimed predecessor, The Testament of Gideon Mack.
A panoramic, illuminating and compassionate portrait of a turbulent and
confused era, the book represents nothing less than a landmark for the
novel in Scotland, and underlines the author's position as one of
Britain's best contemporary novelists."
The New Yorker:
- Elizabeth Kolbert on Saved by the Sea by David Helvarg, Managed Annihilation by Dean Bavington, and Four Fish by Paul Greenberg: "The new fish stories can be read as parables about technology. What was,
once upon a time, a stable relationship between predator and prey was
transformed by new 'machinery' into a deadly mismatch. This reading
isn't so much wrong as misleading. To paraphrase the old N.R.A.
favorite, FADs don't kill fish, people do."
New York Review of Books:
- Wyatt Mason on Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky: "Lipsky's characterization of what Wallace 'specialized in' is, however,
useful: it perfectly miscasts what made Wallace a writer we have a duty
to understand. The troublesome word is 'unedited,' and though Lipsky
would use it approvingly to suggest a breadth of vision, the word also
suggests a lack of proportion that has been the most consistent,
lingering, and wrongheaded criticism of Wallace's work throughout his
- Ian Buruma on Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens: "How, then, does Christopher Hitchens think? Several times in the book
he expresses his loathing of fanaticism, especially religious
fanaticism, which in his account is a tautology. As a typical example
he cites the Japanese suicide pilots at the end of World War II..... But if modern Japanese
history must serve as a guide to our own times, Hitchens might have
mentioned a different category of misguided figures: the often Marxist
or formerly Marxist intellectuals who sincerely believed that Japan was
duty-bound to go to war to liberate Asia from wicked Western capitalism
The man who emerges from this memoir is a bit like them: clearly
intelligent, often principled, and often deeply wrongheaded, but above
all, a man of faith."