- Sunday Book Review cover: Garrison Keillor on the Autobiography of Mark Twain: "The book turns out to be a wonderful fraud on the order of the Duke and the Dauphin in their Shakespearean romp, and bravo to Samuel Clemens, still able to catch the public's attention a century after he expired. He speaks from the grave, he writes, so that he can speak freely "” 'as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter' "” but there's precious little frankness and freedom here and plenty of proof that Mark Twain, in the hands of academics, can be just as tedious as anybody else when he is under the burden of his own reputation."
- Michael Kinsley on Decision Points by George W. Bush: "I would take George W. Bush's schoolboy petulance and solipsism, which at least seem authentic and human, over George H. W.'s grandee-with-a-switchblade any day. There is something very modern, almost New Agey, and endearingly insecure, about the tone and posture the son adopts in 'Decision Points.' Even as he's bombing Baghdad back to the Stone Age, he's very much in touch with his feelings."
- Maslin on The Sherlockian by Graham Moore: "[C]onsider 'The Sherlockian,' a new novel predicated entirely on Holmes worship, Holmes mimicry, Holmes artifacts and assorted other forms of Holmesiana. Its smart young author, Graham Moore, has done much more than fall into the fancy of Holmes's existence. He has fallen down a Holmes well. He's going to take a lot of readers with him too. Thanks to the sly self-awareness that keeps 'The Sherlockian' smart and agile, it's possible to enjoy this book's laughable affectations and still be seduced by them."
- Peter Campion on Canti by Giacomo Leopardi, translated by Jonathan Galassi: "The 41 poems in Leopardi's collected 'Canti' are distinct, and beautiful, for dwelling on a threshold between feeling and thought, between the sensuous world and the mind, between presence and absence. Like no other poet, Leopardi captures the subtlest sensations, just before they vanish.... The publication, at last, of a definitive English version of the 'Canti' should constitute an event in itself. But this book does something even greater.... Now, he may become as important to our own literature as, say, Baudelaire or Rilke, poets of comparable genius, whose work has long been available in fine translations."
- James Rosen on Outside Looking In by Garry Wills: "Such a mind can hardly be uninteresting. Yet Wills, now 76, proceeds here as though he believes it is, allotting little space in this slender memoir to self-examination. His subtitle, 'Adventures of an Observer,' neatly captures the author's view of himself, Zelig at the ramparts ('I have been able to meet many interesting people and observe fascinating events, partly by being unobtrusive'), while the main title defines the volume's readers, who are at all points barred admission to Wills's complex interior. Instead, 'Outside Looking In' functions like an erudite jukebox, summoning amusing, tragic and telling anecdotes at a rapid clip, each well told, all enriching our understanding of postwar America's politics, passions and pieties."
- Dirda on Leopardi's Canti: "What finally makes Leopardi so appealing a poet is his combination of a classical intelligence coupled with a hypersensitivity to his own inner self and a sometimes enraptured, sometimes acerbic style.... Over the past half-century American readers have embraced the translated poetry of Rilke, Cavafy, Neruda and Akhmatova. Thanks to Jonathan Galassi's edition of the 'Canti,' it's Leopardi's turn now."
Los Angeles Times:
- Susan Salter Reynolds on The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt: "It is easy to forget, reading this memoir, that Judt is reconstructing his past even as he lies immobilized in a hospital bed. All the pieces move: glittering, tingling chapters are rich in smells and sights and sounds and movement.... It's enough to renew a reader's faith in a writer's ability to cut a path to immortality."
- John Lippman on Prejudices: The Complete Series by H.L. Mencken: "Reading one or two of Menken's reviews and essays is the kind of thing that you want to take, like a restorative, before bedtime, to counter the ill writing and easy thinking that daily passes before our eyes.... [W]hen it comes to cutting down just about any saint of American literature with his type keys, be it Robert Frost or Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mencken is the father of the modern literary exercise known as the 'hatchet job.'"
Wall Street Journal:
- Lionel Shriver on Selected Stories by William Trevor: "Mr. Trevor's stories are sad but rarely depressing. They leave one marveling at the astonishing variety of other people's private, singular disappointments.... Mr. Trevor's craft is now so refined that the writing itself vanishes, as if his stories were composed in disappearing ink. Line after translucent line gives way to the characters that the words describe, and he never seems to invite his reader to admire the artistry of the text. Mr. Trevor is masterly: secretly so, shyly so, generously so. He's like a host who leaves a groaning board for his guests and then slips quietly out the door of his own party."
- Edward Kosner on Reading Jackie by William Kuhn and Jackie as Editor by Greg Lawrence: "William Kuhn's 'Reading Jackie' and Greg Lawrence's 'Jackie as Editor' are seemingly the same book"”chronological accounts of her 19-year career at the publishers Viking and Doubleday"”but they are actually very different. Mr. Kuhn's is heavy on hagiography and analysis, Mr. Lawrence's is an energetically reported and crisply written story of a whip-smart, middle-age working woman who marshaled wits, charm, steely will and, of course, unmatched connections to make a new life for herself."
Globe and Mail:
- Brad Mackay on X'ed Out by Charles Burns: "In a culture that thrives on immediacy (including illegal torrents of comics), perhaps he's forcing his readers to reconnect with the unknowable "“ to not only confront it, but to embrace it as an integral part of the reading experience. Sure, it's a leap of faith. But we're talking about a master of modern horror comics here. If we were once more than willing to wait a few years to read the follow-up to The Secret of the Unicorn, why can't we cool our collective jets to see what Burns has up his trusty sleeves? It's the least we can do."
- Charlotte Gray on Atlantic by Simon Winchester: "Fascinating information, but how could the acclaimed British author integrate these disparate details into a coherent narrative? The challenge would have defeated a less accomplished writer. But this is Winchester's 20th book, and in previous works such as Krakatoa, A Crack in the Edge of the World and The Professor and the Madman, he has honed his skills as a writer who makes science accessible and brings long-forgotten people back to life. A born storyteller, he wears his erudition lightly and knows how to link past and present."
- Michael Faber on Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer: "[T]he book's lack of a tough shell makes it seem all the more vulnerable to mutilation. Just one rake of the fingers would destroy it. Those booksellers brave enough to stock it will no doubt be chewing their lower lips in stress whenever a customer leafs through its delicate web of pages. Yet, knowing Bruno Schulz's life story, there is poignancy in this. His oeuvre, which should have been large, was hacked down to modest size by tragic misfortune: his murder by the Nazis, followed by the loss of hundreds of his paintings, drawings and manuscripts. The idea of The Street of Crocodiles surviving in disguise, chopped to within an inch of its life but still clinging to its soul, strikes me as a bittersweet irony, an oddly fitting homage. It has also given rise to the most potent work of art that Jonathan Safran Foer has yet produced."
- Alison Flood on 1222 by Anne Holt (available from Amazon.co.uk): "The latest in the swarm of Scandinavian thrillers to hit our shores in the wake of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell, it is distinctly less grisly than its predecessors, preferring to focus on the puzzle rather than the murders, and leading up to a wonderfully Poirot-esque I've-figured-it-all-out speech from Hanne.... It might lack the myriad twists and turns of Christie at her best, but 1222 is a splendidly chilling read this icy December."
The New Yorker:
- Still working through last week's "World Changers" double issue, which includes, among other things, a vintage George Saunders story, "Escape from Spiderhead": "I mean, I had been on some crazy-ass Project Teams in my time, such as one where the drip had something in it that made hearing music exquisite, and hence when some Shostakovich was piped in actual bats seemed to circle my Domain, or the one where my legs became totally numb and yet I found I could still stand fifteen straight hours at a fake cash register, miraculously suddenly able to do extremely hard long-division problems in my mind. But of all my crazy-ass Project Teams this was by far the most crazy-assed."