Pinch-hitting for Tom this week, and foul-tipped OMM out a day. Apologies for the tardiness. - Dave
New York Times
- Sunday Book Review cover: Paul Bloom on The Evolution of God by Robert Wright: "Wright's tone is reasoned and careful, even hesitant, throughout, and it is nice to read about issues like the morality of Christ and the meaning of jihad without getting the feeling that you are being shouted at. His views, though, are provocative and controversial. There is something here to annoy almost everyone."
- Janet Maslin on Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog: "As Conquest of the Useless reveals, Mr. Herzog is as canny about the film world as he is about the natural one. And he knows that he needs both to sustain him. Still, he sounds happiest while living in self-imposed exile from those who control his film’s financial destiny. And he is scathing about any collaborators who do not share his love of risk-taking."
- David Gates on Aleksandar Hemon's Love and Obstacles: "The best Hemon’s characters can hope for is an occasional random intersection of private fictions. His readers may have no better hope in their real lives, but in Hemon’s stories they can observe the strange, lonely artistry of the individual imagination from a distance that seems like no distance at all."
- Liesl Schillinger on another collection of short stories, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards by Robert Boswell: "Boswell inlays smooth, polished judgments into unsanded models of working-class and middle-class lives, setting off aspects of the characters’ makeup that they could not or would not reveal themselves ... Like headstrong drivers who refuse to stop for directions, these characters radiate the perverse pride of the self-stranding."
- Tobias Grey on How to Win a Cosmic War by Reza Aslan: "Aslan's new book -- his second, after the bestselling No god but God, about the origins and evolution of Islam -- provides more than just historical precedent; it also offers a very persuasive argument for the best way to counter jihadism and its many splinter groups, such as al-Qaeda. 'Islamism,' Aslan says, 'can act as a foil to Jihadism. Unlike Jihadists, whose aims and aspirations rest on a cosmic plane, Islamists have material goals and legitimate ambitions that can be addressed by the state.' He defines Islamism as a 'nationalist ideology' based on religion, distinct from jihadism, which wants to 'erase all borders' and aspires to 'an idealized past of religious communalism.'"
Los Angeles Times
- Eric Banks on The Blue Hour: A Life of Jean Rhys by Lilian Pizzichini: "Rhys' novels and stories are, of course, fictions, but to a remarkable extent they are drawn from her life, picked out of the diaries and journals she kept of an exceedingly messy and difficult existence. Yet Pizzichini seems to recognize the pickle this creates for a biographer and manages to present a compelling and appreciative portrait that makes terrific use of the material Rhys, Angier and others have already laid out in full view."
Wall Street Journal
- Frances Taliaferro on Strangers by Anita Brookner: “Strangers shares with other Brookner novels a mannerly, guarded atmosphere, as of characters born middle-aged. You’d like to shake them, urge them to behave badly, but inhibition is bred in their bones; they flee from intimacy even as they long for it."
Globe & Mail
- Karen Connelly on Zoya Phan's Little Daughter: "Little Daughter is not a literary memoir; the language is mostly plain and sturdy, with flashes of grace and brightness – and a few unfortunate clichés. The lack of artifice and artfulness serves the book well. As I read, I was repeatedly struck by the fact that a good story simply and clearly told is always a testament to the essential power of The Word."
- Robert Wiersema on The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: "Despite its readability, there is nothing simple about The Angel's Game. The language is rich, and occasionally baroque, the characterizations are realistic and nuanced, and the twisting of the narrative serves to deepen the novel's thematic concerns, rather than simply existing for the sake of the storyline. The novel manages to be both high pulp and high art simultaneously, and reading it is a heady experience."
Times Literary Supplement
- Brian Schofield on The Empire Stops Here by Philip Parker: "In The Empire Stops Here, a blend of travelogue, classical history and archeology, Philip Parker has applied a wheeze Molesworth would be proud of, creating a sweeping journey around the Roman world that sticks almost entirely to the good stuff. He does this by travelling along the outer edge of the imperial project — the limites, or frontiers of Rome, that marked where the great civilisation stopped and hostile territory began. His quest through the imperial badlands of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa succeeds in throwing fresh light onto the story of Rome and its often lunatic fringes, while offering classically minded travellers a few fresh ideas for routes and discoveries of their own."