- Sunday Book Review cover: A feature on "Why Criticism Matters," featuring six critics justifying their jobs in the age of, among other things, the Amazon customer review. In part, it's a reminder to me that critics are often better when they have a specific object to write about, rather than a general topic like this. But unsurprisingly I found the most to like in Sam Anderson's piece, especially this bit, which helps explain both the fiction and the criticism that I too am drawn to: "My favorite work is always that which allows itself to imaginatively intermingle with its source text — to somehow match or channel or negate the energy of the text that inspired it. It can be imitative, competitive or collaborative; it can mimic or mock or scramble or counterbalance the tone of the source. It can be subtle or overt. But it will always have this doubled-over, creative quality: one memorable writer responding, in memorable writing, to another.... Balzac’s 'Sarrasine' is a new book, or set of books, now that Barthes has written 'S/Z.' 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' is radically redefined by Hugh Kenner’s 'Dublin’s Joyce.' Updike’s career is a different thing in the wake of Nicholson Baker’s 'U and I.' Catullus is a different poet after Anne Carson’s 'Nox.' In the grand game of intertextuality — which is, after all, the dominant and defining game of the Internet era — critics are not just referees: they’re equal players."
- I also liked this from Elif Batuman: "Negative criticism is particularly exciting, not only because of schadenfreude, but because once limitations are identified, we glimpse how to transcend them. Learning the shortcomings of today’s neuronovel, we catch sight of the psychological novel of the future: a novel expressive of the problems we have now, including the encroachment of cognitive science into the concept of the self. When this novel appears, it will be because some people wrote neuronovels and books like 'Proust Was a Neuroscientist' and others identified the ways in which these works captivated us but failed to describe human existence."
- There were also regular old book reviews, like Geoff Dyer on The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt: "With its vivid haze of detail, 'The Memory Chalet' is the work of a historian forced to do without many of the tools on which he had placed the greatest reliance. It used to be said — maybe still is — that in the instant of death, your life flashes before your eyes. By prolonging Judt’s life the miracles of medical technology effectively extended the process of his dying over several grueling years. So what we have is that instant of compressed recollection expanded and expounded upon. It is the furthest cry imaginable — not a cry at all — from 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich.' You can almost sense the soul of the historian leaving his body, leaving the still-living body of work behind."
- Matthew Sharpe on The Radleys by Matt Haig: "The vampire novel is a crowded genre these days. To distinguish itself, a book will need inventiveness, wit, beauty, truth and a narrative within which these attributes can flourish. 'The Radleys,' by Matt Haig, has got them, if sometimes in alloyed form.... With its striking visuals, snappy dialogue and high-energy plot, the story should make an appealing movie. But while the plot propels us forward, the novel’s big themes tend to get repeated rather than developed."
- Wendy Smith on The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards: "Edwards aspires to delineate the complex bonds of family and the tangled web of history in her tale of 'beauty and loss surfacing in every generation,' but her insights aren't always up to the level of her ambitions.... But some lovely descriptive passages display a more deft touch, prompting the hope that this talented writer will try to do less and execute more thoughtfully next time around."
Los Angeles Times:
- Judith Lewis Mernit on Poser by Claire Dederer: "[G]oodness as it turns out is elusive and not terribly interesting for the same reason most books about yoga are unreadable: No one wants to hear about how good you are. We want to hear about how you tried to be good and fell short. And by doing just that, 'Poser' achieves something rare: It's a contemporary book about yoga that doesn't leave you squirming, suspect or bored."
- Wendy Smith (again) on American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott: "Abbott ... needn't have bothered with these sensationally dubious tidbits; they don't add anything essential to the riveting narrative she's fashioned from more reliable material to tell an all-American story of triumphant self-invention shadowed by an inescapable past.... Abbott's empathetic understanding of a stripper whose greatest gift was concealment is her biography's principal strength.... At its core, 'American Rose' is a haunting portrait of a woman 'giving what she has to, keeping all she can,' offering her audiences a sassy, confident self while making sure they would never know the damaged soul who created her."