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Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: David Leavitt on Henry James: The Mature Master by Sheldon Novick: "Like its predecessor, 'Henry James: The Mature Master' strives to supplant the common view of James as 'a passive, fearful man, a detached observer of the life around him' with one of the writer as a gregarious, sometimes heroic, often troubled citizen of the world. Far from a sniffy celibate living comfortably on independent means or a 'little boy with his nose pressed against the glass of a shop window,' Novick’s James was an authentic cosmopolite who led a life as emotionally, sexually and financially complex as those of the characters in his fiction."
  • Matt Weiland on Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place by Will Self and Ralph Steadman: "As with Self’s novels, the ideas behind his long walks can be more engaging than the walks themselves. This may be because on the page Self is a sprinter, not a distance man; certainly he is at his most perceptive and convincing when writing short and focused little pieces. Which is to say: Self is a natural and excellent columnist. So skip the introduction and proceed directly to the short pieces, all of which originally appeared as the Psychogeography column in the London newspaper The Independent."
  • William Grimes on Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson: "The book is a savagely funny act of revenge for years spent servicing the travel fantasies of gullible readers.... A cloud of guilt envelops Mr. Thompson as he writes, conscious that he and his travel-porn colleagues have strip mined the earth of its most precious resource: pleasant, undiscovered destinations. 'We venerate what we destroy,' he writes. 'But first we destroy.'"
  • Kakutani on Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg: "the wonder of this memoir is that the author survived her traumatic childhood and found a way of turning her memories into a fiercely observed, fluently written book that captures the chaos and confusions of her youth, the daughter of an unpredictable pill-and-coke addicted mother and a brilliant, self-absorbed father, neither of whom had the faintest idea of how to be a parent."

Washington Post:

  • Jason Roberts on Stanley by Tim Jeal: "Jeal's biography is an unalloyed triumph, not only because it is painstakingly researched and eminently readable, but because it never loses sight of the abandoned child in the man, driving him forward, 'able to frighten, able to suffer, but also able to command love and obedience.' Such a personality, Jeal notes, is 'an extinct species, and all the more remarkable for that.'"
  • Jonah Lehrer on The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker: "The Stuff of Thought concludes with an optimistic gloss on the power of language to lead us out of the Platonic cave, so that we can 'transcend our cognitive and emotional limitations.' It's a nice try at a happy ending, but I don't buy it. The Stuff of Thought, after all, is really about the limits of language, the way our prose and poetry are bound by innate constraints we can't even comprehend."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Matthew Sharpe on It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature by Diane Williams: "What, then, is good about depicting egregious feelings and behavior in language that is resolutely strange? Couldn't one, a reader might ask, be coaxed from one's habits of perception by stories written in more quotidian language and depicting more kindness and politeness? Perhaps, but the extremity that Williams depicts and the extremity of the depiction evoke something akin to the pity and fear that the great writers of antiquity considered central to literature. Her stories, by removing you from ordinary literary experience, place you more deeply in ordinary life. 'Isn't ordinary life strange?' they ask, and in so asking, they revivify and console."

Globe & Mail:

  • Greg Buium on Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff: "Ratliff ... could easily have written something persnickety and parochial; music writers too often adore the equivalent of inside baseball. Instead, he's turned a real jazz book into an immediate declaration of relevance. Coltrane is about artistic influence and American culture, and Ratliff uses perhaps the toughest matter at a critic's disposal to tell this story: a musician's sound."
  • Claire Berlinski on Other Colors by Orhan Pamuk: "For page upon page, Pamuk stresses in these self-enamoured tones that he is a man who really likes to read books. Good ones, too, by famous writers like Dostoyevsky and Borges - not, you know, easy ones. He's different from other Turks, you see. But he's not like the Europeans, either. He's an outsider, eternally apart, rejected by all, accepted by no one (the Nobel committee aside)."

The Guardian:

  • Tibor Fischer on The White King by Gyorgy Dragoman: "The novel won awards in Hungary, and it's easy to see why. It's the Just William books teamed up with Nineteen Eighty-Four; a superb novel about childhood, schooldays and gang fights, but one that manages to put the world of the adults firmly into focus as well. The first few chapters struggle in a sort of Joycean-Beckettian straitjacket (as an indication of his intellectual weight, Dragomán translated Watt into Hungarian for fun), but then Dragomán forgets all that and lets the narrative rip, shifting the characters around like he's Stephen King or Elmore Leonard."

The New Yorker:

  • No new issue this week, so go back and read more of the Fiction issue.

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