Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times:

  • Tom Carson on Just Kids by Patti Smith: "All this is the subject of 'Just Kids,' Smith’s terrifically evocative and splendidly titled new memoir. At one level, the book’s interest is a given; to devotees of downtown Manhattan’s last momentous period of 20th-century artistic ferment, Patti Smith on Robert Mapplethorpe is like Molly Pitcher on Paul Revere. The surprise is that it’s never cryptic or scattershot. In her rocker incarnation, Smith’s genius for ecstatic racket has generally defined coherence as the rhythm section’s job. The revelation that she might have made an ace journalist had she felt so inclined isn’t much different from the way the lucidity of 'The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas' upended everything Stein was renowned for."
  • Kakutani on Point Omega by Don DeLillo: "Although Mr. DeLillo extracts considerable suspense from his story, while building a Pinteresque sense of dread, there is something suffocating and airless about this entire production. Unlike the people in his most memorable novels, the three characters here do not live in a recognizable America or recognizable reality — rather, they feel like roles written for a stylized and highly contrived theater piece.... They are roles desperately in need of actors to flesh them out and give them life."
  • Maslin on The Politician by Andrew Young: "The Young-Edwards version of the Faust story defies reductive theorizing. It’s just too bizarre for that. Mr. Young describes how he; his wife, Cheri; his children; and Mr. Edwards’s pregnant girlfriend, Rielle Hunter, all moved in together ('the kids awakened to find a strange lady in the house') while Mr. Young allowed himself to be falsely named as the baby’s father-to-be. The Youngs’ 'unnervingly surreal misadventure' is as strange as science fiction. The people in this uneasy household gathered each week to watch 'American Idol' together without noticing that their own drama could out-soap anything television had to offer."
  • Antonya Nelson on Fun with Problems by Robert Stone: "If you thought that Raymond Carver's men would be happier if only they had a little help — if they’d been educated, cultured, programmed, employed in white-collar rather than blue-collar jobs, sent to talk therapy and prescribed antidepressants — well, Robert Stone is here to tell you that none of that guarantees anything. Which feels awfully true. Readers don’t exactly want to know this, but once they do, they can never not know it. Reading a Robert Stone story might ruin you for the likes of Raymond Carver.... 'Fun With Problems' is a book for grown-ups, for people prepared to absorb the news of the world that it announces, for people both grateful and a little uneasy in finding a writer brave enough to be the bearer."
  • Ben McIntyre on Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 by Christopher Andrew: "Twenty years ago, the subject of this vast and fascinating book did not, officially speaking, exist at all.... Marking the 100th anniversary of the service, 'Defend the Realm' shines a penetrating light into some of the darkest corners of a secret world. It is not only a work of meticulous scholarship but also a series of riveting and true spy stories. At 1,032 pages, it is slightly too short.... Andrew may not silence the conspiracy theorists, but he performs the inestimably valuable job of making their theories a great deal harder to sustain."

Washington Post:

Los Angeles Times:

  • Matthew Sharpe on DeLillo's Point Omega: "'Point Omega' is a splendid, fierce novel by a deep practitioner of the form. No nuclear explosions or life-changing home runs, as in 'Underworld,' occur here; no assassinations of major political figures, as in 'Libra,' are anatomized; no airborne toxic events, as in 'White Noise,' fill the skies. Mostly there are just two people, and then a third, sitting and talking and drinking and thinking in a little house in the middle of a desert.... Let's not insist DeLillo keep writing 'Underworld.' He may be at his desk now, chewing a hangnail, working on a novel I can't imagine and will be keen to read. Meanwhile, it has been enlivening, challenging, harrowing and beautiful to imagine 'Point Omega,' an experience I heartily recommend."
  • Richard Reyner on The Temptation of Eileen Hughes by Brian Moore: "The plot of this novel unfolds elegantly but at breakneck pace, like a thriller dealing in emotion and obsession rather than action. It poses questions as well as answering them, and two of those uncomfortable questions are: Who was the real Jesus here? And why does Jesus seem so shabby? Moore wrote fiction that is indeed lasting, maybe because it's tough to put down while still vibrating with a sense of life's uncertainty and danger. It's great to check him out again -- and more reissues are on the way."
  • Susan Salter Reynolds on Little Boy Blues by Malcolm Jones: "'Little Boy Blues,' Malcolm Jones' quiet memoir of growing up in North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s with his beloved, controlling mother, reinvigorates the form and helps us to remember why we bother to read other people's faulty memories in the first place.... With all the hype, marketing and lying that the genre's been subjected to in recent years, I had forgotten that it is also the most vulnerable, intimate form a writer can employ. Often, this gets covered over in support-speak: the way a writer's memories turn into a way to help alleviate the pain of others suffering from similar memories. Jones is far too good a writer to indulge in messianic messages: We see his full emptiness. We don't know him, but he gives us a key to imagine the shape of his consciousness -- the parts that were numbed, the parts that cannot engage the world out of fear of unpredictability and unreliability."

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Comments (2)

You, Tom, are not reviewing anything, you are simply quoting.
"Old Media"? How smug. You are being paid to simply browse around and bring us the gold nuggets you plundered...

Posted by: Nomen Nescio | Tuesday February 2, 2010 at 8:08 AM

Thank you Tom, you browse so we don't have to find and read all the sites.

Posted by: Bookfestival | Tuesday February 2, 2010 at 10:34 AM

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