- Sunday Book Review cover: Toni Bentley on Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans: "It has never been done, what Jennifer Homans has done in 'Apollo's Angels.' She has written the only truly definitive history of the most impossibly fantastic art form, ballet.... Homans's accomplishment is akin to setting the most delicate and beautiful of all the imperial FabergÃ© eggs into a fissure high on Mount Rushmore and tracking its unlikely survival. And the question of ballet's survival lies at the core of Homans's moving story.... So what is one to do now, having seen, having known, a thing of such beauty that is facing imminent extinction? Jennifer Homans has put her mourning into action and has written its history, an eloquent and lasting elegy to an unlasting art. It is, alas, a eulogy."
- Adam Langer on In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut: "[T]he further you delve into 'In a Strange Room,' Damon Galgut's taut, mesmerizing novel, a finalist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, the more you realize that the shocks of recognition do not arise so much from any particular artwork you may have encountered but from the uncanny relevance that the novel ultimately seems to have for your own life. Or perhaps more impressively, from how deftly Mr. Galgut uses rhetorical devices to intermingle his narrator's thoughts with your own, even if you have little in common with his narrator, a tragically isolated South African traveler named Damon."
- Alexandra Jacobs on An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin: "The text is as useful an idiosyncratic art-history primer as it is a piece of fiction.... As fiction, though, it is thoroughly delightful, evoking a vanished gilded age with impertinence but never contempt." And Maslin: "The knowingly nuanced descriptions of this behavior are at the book's real heart.... Although 'An Object of Beauty' is made extremely entertaining by Mr. Martin's cool, caustic insights and fearless willingness to puncture vanity, Lacey eventually becomes more of an obstacle than an asset."
- Geoffrey Wheatcroft on And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alan Riding: "Thirty years ago, while reporting on Latin America for The New York Times, Alan Riding began wondering how artists and writers responded to brutal dictatorships. He then went to live in Paris and realized that not so long before, the French intellectual and cultural elite had provided an answer, in often unlovely ways. 'And the Show Went On' describes this history in gripping and painful detail."
- Charles McGrath on Selected Stories by William Trevor: "[T]hey are more than ample proof that Trevor is one of the two greatest short-story writers working in English right now. The other is Alice Munro, and no one else is even close.... Trevor's is a style that could be called old-fashioned or even Edwardian except that he has stripped it of mustiness and excess decoration. He is a master at leaving things out, even more than of putting them in, and an eloquent evoker of silences. He is not a clever or metaphorical writer. Nothing in a Trevor story is 'like' something else; things are what they are."
- Charles on Martin's Object of Beauty: "Martin's portrayal of Lacey's conscience is sensitive and moving, and works well on a small scale, but he has trouble keeping the element of corruption in focus across the whole novel.... But those flaws are not likely to trouble you as you move through this graceful novel. If Martin isn't a talented art critic himself, he does a convincing imitation of one.... Given Martin's capacity for zaniness, the subtlety of his fiction is always something of a surprise, particularly in this case when the claptrap of so much contemporary art makes a ripe subject for comedy."
- Troy Jollimore on Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li: "[T]he smallness of these lives is in part a matter of perspective, and there is considerable drama hidden beneath the placid surfaces they present to the world.... To see the bleakness in other people's lives can be, as 'Kindness' suggests, a terrible thing. But in the hands of a storyteller as gifted as Li, it can also be a moving and unforgettable experience."
- Art Taylor on Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane: "In the decade between the last Kenzie-Gennaro book and this one, Lehane has made quantum leaps as a craftsman.... In returning to his old private eye series now, Lehane has narrowed his scope a little: The social commentary is less nuanced, more direct, and plot twists are more prominent than deep moral predicaments. Still, 'Moonlight Mile' should hardly be considered a step back. Instead, Lehane is a writer bringing new confidence and an easy prowess to a new chapter in an epic story - the Kenzie-Gennaro saga."
Los Angeles Times:
- Charles McNulty on Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim: "The essential qualities of Stephen Sondheim's artistic temperament "” the peppery precision, the refusal to traffic in received wisdom and the commitment to truth over sentimentality "” help turn what could have been a perfunctory curatorial service into the most valuable theater book of the year. 'Finishing the Hat,' the first of a two-volume set of Sondheim's collected lyrics, springs to life with sharp-eyed annotations, zingy anecdotes and frank appraisals of his most illustrious lyric-writing predecessors."
- Tim Rutten on The Gun by C.J. Chivers: "If somebody were to tell you that the long tragedy of human warfare entered a new and deadly phase in the fourth decade of the 20th century, the historically literate mind almost certainly would jump to the invention of the atomic bomb.... C.J. Chivers makes a convincing case in 'The Gun' that a far more lethal and consequential weapon was devised at about that same time in a sprawling Soviet military design facility "” the first Avtomat (Automatic) Kalashnikov assault rifle. 'The Gun' is the author's exhaustive history of the rifle's origins, development and astonishing influence on global security."
Wall Street Journal:
- John Jeremiah Sullivan on Wicked River by Lee Sandlin: "Appreciators of what Greil Marcus calls the Old, Weird America will savor 'Wicked River.' Its many ghastly scenes, vividly rendered by Mr. Sandlin, started showing up in my dreams. To write about the Mississippi as he does, the author has first had to master the river of books about the river, most of them truly obscure. He comes back with gripping stuff.... I was surprised, on finishing 'Wicked River,' to read that this confident and swift-moving book is the author's first. It makes one eager for the next."
- Sam Sacks on The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie: "Without the human warmth that is the true stamp of Ms. Beattie's individuality, minimalist stories iced over with arch detachment and emotional fatigue.... 'You are unwilling to challenge anyone,' a character complains to his meek sister in Ms. Beattie's story 'Weekend,' and the same charge can be leveled against the thousands of Ms. Beattie's de facto disciples. In her strongest stories, she discovered fascinating, roundabout ways to address love and separation. It would be unfortunate if her modest achievements influenced another generation of writers to abandon their immodest ambitions."
- Kathleen Dalton on Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris: "Mr. Morris tells the story of TR's final decade with descriptive prose of great originality, and he achieves moments of high drama, grounding the best parts of his narrative in careful research. Like the biography's first two volumes, this one will pull readers in and hold them. Mr. Morris does vividly show that TR lived out his golden years in frequent danger. But what is the larger historical meaning of those years? Mr. Morris never answers that question."
Globe and Mail:
- Sandra Kasturi on The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan: "Here at last is a return to the old-school vampire: a grotesque, blood-sucking monster that is literally a different species, a contagion, a thing that sees humans as cattle. That in itself is a tremendous relief, and almost feels like a reinvention of the genre. While flawed and occasionally melodramatic, The Fall is still an enjoyable roller-coaster of a ride, though beginning with the first book in the trilogy is highly recommended."
- John Semley on My Year of Flops by Nathan Rabin: "My Year of Flops is less a methodical prodding of the parameters of taste, and more a handbook for a whole generation of cinephiles who have come to see the good in the warts-and-all badness of bad movies.... My Year of Flops is loaded with all kinds of snarky jibes, empurpled prose and well-barbed witticisms. But Rabin's greatest triumph is his ability fittingly to articulate our present moment of pop culture hyper-literacy.... It's no longer the ability to sniff out a rotten apple that defines the savvy pop intelligentsia, but the ability to polish it: to look at the mediocre, the devalued, and the out-and-out bad through some novel recuperative lens."
- Ruth Padel on What I Don't Know About Animals by Jenny Diski (available on Amazon.co.uk): "What I Don't Know About Animals is a socio-philosophical investigation of immense skill, erudition and subtlety, charmingly disguised as a travel book. Diski walks into an idea like no one else and here is journeying into the dark continent of our relationship with animals.... Her book is a wonderful and necessary read, sparkling, funny and warm. It is also a hard-hitting moral argument which lets nobody off the hook, not even its author."
- Giles Tremlett on Oblivion by Hector Abad (on Amazon.co.uk): "Oblivion is a memoir of filial devotion. Abad distils the bond of love between father and son in a family dominated by women to its purest essence. But the unbounded paternal love of his childhood is made cruelly poignant by the knowledge of its future loss.... The result is a shattering chronicle of Colombia's violence. But it is also an inspiring tribute to tolerance and paternal love."
The New Yorker:
- Kelefa Sanneh on Decoded by Jay-Z: "[I]t's a relief to find that 'Decoded' is much better than it needs to be; in fact, it's one of a handful of books that just about any hip-hop fan should own....
- Thomas Mallon on The Petting Zoo by Jim Carroll (subscription only): "Many readers will cherish it as the final work of a star-crossed phenom. But there is a sad, plodding anti-prodigiousness to the book, and it will damage Carroll's deserved reputation as a provider of verbal thrills.... One imagines him at the end, in Inwood, back near all the altar rails and gymnasiums and boiled Irish verities from which he had never fled very far. Friends would soon enough be telling his family that they were 'sorry for your troubles.' But in the meantime Carroll was at his desk, ransacking the exhausted imagination inside his vanishing body, surely knowing that its very real gifts had long since been spent."