Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times:

  • Bill Keller on The Publisher by Alan Brinkley: "His Luce is a complicated figure, more tragic than malign. That is not to say this is a particularly flattering profile. The book does full justice to Luce’s outsider insecurity, his blind affinity for men of power and his defects as a family man. But it is a humanizing portrayal, and it credits the role his magazines, Time and Life especially, played in a country growing uneasily into the dominant geopolitical force in the world. Luce’s publications served as a kind of cultural adhesive that bound the middle class to a shared understanding of the world and ushered it through periods of war and economic hardship. It’s hard to imagine any outlet playing such a role in today’s dis­aggregated media environment."
  • Maslin on Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides: "Not many documentaries have the lean, unsparing urgency that can be found in Mr. Sides’s streamlined version. Remarkably, he has embroidered the facts without losing a sense of veracity. He augments the truth, but he does it responsibly. He skirts certain issues, like the question of whether or not Ray acted alone, without losing his sharp focus. And he brings to life the story of Dr. King’s last days without bogging it down in too many small particulars. Both Dr. King and Ray come to life in these remarkable pages, generating great suspense without surprise, thanks to readers’ terrible foreknowledge of what will happen when these two cross paths."
  • George Gene Gustines on Market Day by James Sturm: "The splendid artwork in 'Market Day' manages to evoke — depending on the scene — wonder or sadness, though the color palette mostly stays muted.... Mr. Sturm, with Michelle Ollie, founded the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. That he is overseeing the next generation of graphic novelists posits an exciting future for the medium, particularly if he can impart his mastery at codas. The ending of 'Market Day' is superb in its uncertainty."
  • Kakutani on The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller: "The result is her most nuanced and unsentimental novel to date. This is a book that does not depend on big, noisy plot developments, topical issues or deliberately withheld secrets to create suspense. Rather, its power grows from Ms. Miller’s intimate understanding of her characters (for once, the men are as keenly and sympathetically portrayed as the women) and from her Chekhovian understanding of missed connections, lost opportunities, and closely held memories that mutate slowly over time."

Washington Post:

  • Charles on Miller's Lake Shore Limited: "Miller's exquisite new novel, 'The Lake Shore Limited,' is so sophisticated and thoughtful that it should either help redeem the term 'women's literature' or free her from it once and for all. Several times in these pages someone refers to the relentless psychological analysis found in Henry James's novels, which seems a far more relevant influence than TV soap operas. In fact, 'The Lake Shore Limited' may be the closest thing we'll get to a James response to 9/11: no drama, no crisis, barely any action at all -- just a deeply affecting examination of the thoughts and feelings of four people still moving in the shadow of that tragedy."
  • Brigitte Weeks on The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas: "Tsiolkas navigates through his story with uncanny skill. One minute he's an aging Greek grandfather; the next he's an adolescent taking an overdose; he is young and old, man and woman, drunk and sober. He gets so close to his characters that the reader almost pleads with him to treat them more kindly.... [F]inally the novel transcends both suburban Melbourne and the Australian continent, leaving us exhausted but gasping with admiration."
  • Dirda on Poetry in Person, edited by Andrew Neubauer: "Pearl London died in 2003, and 'Works in Progress,' like most college courses, would have then simply passed into the memory of its participants. But London's seminars had been recorded, though the cassettes were then packed away and half forgotten -- until Alexander Neubauer transcribed and edited them into 'Poetry in Person: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations With America's Poets.' ... [T]he end result is one of the best books you will ever read on how poems are actually made."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Art Winslow on Sides's Hellhound on My Trail: "Sides has managed to frame a grim cutout of the 1960s within a few weeks of springtime 1968 by following the paths of King and Ray in a deadly pas de deux.... The result is a taut, vibrant account that shows the synchronicity of movements as King and his colleagues plot political strategy and follow his speaking itinerary, while Ray draws ever closer in what would seem an erratic path if we didn't know, as in myth, that a tragedy foreordained lay on the road ahead."
  • Marisa Silver on The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg: "This description does for Francie what Eisenberg does for all the characters in her extraordinary stories: It frames an indelible moment that simultaneously reveals a character and shows us how a thought can expose the ephemeral and inscrutable nature of love. That's a tall order, but there is not a scene in 'The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg' that does not deliver on this intention. These stories are marvels, in which a character's predicament is informed not only by present circumstance but also by personal and political history as well as Eisenberg's abiding engagement with the sometimes-hilarious, often-heartbreaking existential dilemma."
  • Richard Rayner on The Friends of Eddie Coyle (newly reissued) by George V. Higgins: "Higgins allows himself the riffs about cheese sandwiches, or mayonnaise, or trust, or Jehovah's Witnesses, or whatever, because his plot, while casually revealed, is weighed and calibrated like the barrel of a pistol. The fact that he's writing about crooks is crucial in some ways, incidental in others. The real subjects here are life's futility and its bleak humor.... Higgins took the tough-guy novel into areas of demented anthropology and re-created a genre."
  • John Freeman on The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan: "Contemporary poetry is a bit like visual art. Much of it makes you grab your chin and nod in stumped appreciation — but you wouldn't want to live with it. Kay Ryan's work, however, hangs well no matter where it goes. Clouds, calendars, time, birds, jackrabbits. Everything her eye falls upon takes on a brisk, beautifully complete clarity. Her tidy lines disguise an enormous intelligence and tonal warmth: a ferocious capacity for finding the essence of things."

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Comments (1)

As usual, the reviews are more about the reviewers than the crappy books they're reviewing!
Thank g-d for Amazon reviewers, not always in sync w/me, but a whole more trustworthy than this gaggle of self important geese!

Posted by: MikeD | Tuesday April 27, 2010 at 8:34 PM

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