Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Geoffrey C. Ward on This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust: "'The work of death was Civil War America’s most fundamental and most demanding undertaking,' [Gilpin writes]. Her account of how that work was done, much of it gleaned from the letters of those who found themselves forced to do it, is too richly detailed and covers too much ground to be summarized easily. She overlooks nothing — from the unsettling enthusiasm some men showed for killing to the near-universal struggle for an answer to the question posed by the Confederate poet Sidney Lanier: 'How does God have the heart to allow it?'"
  • Ken Kalfus on All Shall Be Well; All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka: "Although Wodicka turns up a provocative thought here and there, this musing, typical of Burt’s grief-laden vaporousness, serves also to illustrate the artless, wordy and underarticulated writing that makes 'All Shall Be Well' such a Black Death of a chore to read. Wodicka has chosen a narrative voice too depressive and portentous to manifest his ingenuity." On Thursday, though, Maslin called ASBWASBWAMTSBW "this tender, oddball book, one that performs a deft balancing act as it hides love, yearning and regret behind the mouthful of medieval incantation in its title."
  • Kakutani on The Reserve by Russell Banks: "The plot of 'The Reserve,' which takes place in the Adirondacks in the summer of 1936, moves not with the swift, sharklike momentum of his best fiction but in a hokey, herky-jerky fashion that never lets the reader forget that Mr. Banks is standing there behind the proscenium, pulling the characters’ strings. Even the language he uses is weirdly secondhand: a bizarre mélange of Hemingwayesque action prose and romance-novel clichés that manages to feel faux macho and sickly sweet at the same time."
  • Maslin on The Appeal by John Grisham: "Building a remarkable degree of suspense into the all too familiar ploys described here, Mr. Grisham delivers his savviest book in years. His extended vacation from hard-hitting fiction is over.... It barely matters that the characters in 'The Appeal' are essentially stick figures. What works for Mr. Grisham is his patient, lawyerly, inexorable way of dramatizing urgent moral issues."

Washington Post:

  • Mindy Aloff on The Mitfords: Letters Between Six SIsters, edited by Charlotte Mosley: "The Mitfords could have been an operatic group biography on an epic scale: Instead, thanks to its editor's taste and discretion, it is chamber music with symphonic longings. Ironically, as the sororal voices drop away owing to irreparable feuds or lost letters or death, the surviving sisters become more serious and open. Tragedy and aging lead them to wisdom, or something very like it."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Sven Birkerts on Banks's The Reserve: "Banks works with a vast palette and a sure stylistic command. 'The Reserve' gratifies page by page. But when the pages are gathered together, held in retrospect, there is the sense of an echo still awaited, some deeper gratification promised in the meditative pose of the mysterious, beautiful woman on the first page."
  • Richard Schickel on An Ordinary Spy by Joseph Weisberg: "At a certain point, the reader begins to wonder whether 'An Ordinary Spy' might possibly be an extraordinary act of disinformation. Might its author still be a CIA employee, charged with portraying the agency in a benign light -- not exactly bumbling, but incapable of, say, water-boarding or extraordinary rendition? To hear Weisberg tell it, an American secret agent's chief concern seems to be defending his retirement package."

Globe & Mail:

  • Catherine Bush on How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet: "It's hard, in fact, to convey how invigorating Millet's fiction is, how intelligent and thematically rich, how processes of thought are themselves made urgent and lively through the specificity of her observations and sentences that offer startlement, small and large. This isn't fiction that tells us how to live. Instead, it dramatizes the power of attentiveness to an expanded, if terribly flawed and potentially dying, world, attentiveness being a kind of tenderness, which is a kind of love."

The Guardian:

  • Christopher Taylor on The Second Plane by Martin Amis: "'If September 11 had to happen,' he says in the introduction to The Second Plane, 'then I am not at all sorry that it happened in my lifetime.' His fans might not feel the same way. To some extent, the heavily self-parodic aspects of the enterprise - at one point he reports on treating Tony Blair to a disquisition on the Shia, whom he compared to 'nut-rissole artists' - make the crazy-uncle outbursts less alarming."

The New Yorker:

  • Joan Acocella on God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis: "The Muslims came to Europe, he writes, as 'the forward wave of civilization that was, by comparison with that of its enemies, an organic marvel of coordinated kingdoms, cultures, and technologies in service of a politico-cultural agenda incomparably superior' to that of the primitive people they encountered there. They did Europe a favor by invading. This is not a new idea, but Lewis takes it further: he clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe. The halting of their advance was instrumental, he writes, in creating 'an economically retarded, balkanized, and fratricidal Europe that . . . made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war.' It was 'one of the most significant losses in world history and certainly the most consequential since the fall of the Roman Empire.' This is a bold hypothesis."


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