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Media Monday

 

The New York Times

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  • The New York Times describes Jeanette Winterson's new memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? as "unconventional and winning," and a book that "wrings humor from adversity." The book is primarily about Winterson's relationship with her adoptive mother (who first uttered the title of this memoir), a woman whose size, fundamentalism, and derangement make her seem like a character out of fiction. Kathryn Harrison of the Times writes, "It’s a testament to Winterson’s innate generosity, as well as her talent, that she can showcase the outsize humor her mother’s equally capacious craziness provides even as she reveals the cruelties Mrs. Winterson imposed on her in the name of rearing a God-fearing Christian. 'The one good thing about being shut in a coal hole is that it prompts reflection,' Winterson observes."

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  • One could argue that Sylvie Brownrigg buries the lede in her review of Carol Anshaw's novel Carry the One. The last sentence of the review compares the novel to the work of Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Shields, stating that both authors "give readers the reward of paying close, forgiving attention to ordinary people as they illuminate flawed, likable characters with sympathy and truth." That's heavy praise. In Carry the One a group of friends at a wedding leaves together at 3am, only to have the driver of their vehicle strike and kill a ten-year-old girl. Then we follow these characters, Shields-like, through the rises and falls of their lives. But even if Anshaw treats her story with humor and humanism, can it really be as good as Shields? Brownrigg seeks to answer that question in the opening sentence of the review (so maybe she doesn't bury the lede) when she writes, "A very good book is not only more satisfying, memorable and coherent than its lesser neighbors on the shelves. It’s also more relaxing to read." True. And then a little later: "This writer knows exactly what she’s doing. She won’t let you down."

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    Peter Behrens took on a tough task when he decided to write The O'Briens, "a family saga spanning roughly 70 years," which "follows four generations of an Irish family from the wilds of Quebec at the turn of the 20th century through British Columbia, California, New York, Montreal, Europe and finally to Maine in the 1960s." Reviewer John Vernon points out that such novels do best to set their characters' actions against the greater backdrop of history. "The best family sagas follow the slow-motion explosion of genes into successive generations but also set their stories against historical change, revealing its power to erode even the strongest characters." In this case, it's World War II, which "hovers in this novel’s path like flak and rips the lives of the novel’s characters to shreds. The last hundred pages are a powerful evocation of that war’s effect." For this alone, Vernon writes, The O'Briens is "a major accomplishment."

 

The Washington Post

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  • I'm not sure that reviewer Maureen Corrigan actually liked this book. In fact, I'm pretty sure she didn't. Lines like, "Give me a good bang-bang, shoot-shoot car chase any day" have helped me to draw this conclusion. Regardless, she does point out that The Thief is Fuminora Nakamura's first novel to be translated into English, and that "Nakamura’s knees surely must be buckling already under the weight of the awards conferred upon him, including Japan’s shiniest literary trophy, the Oe Prize." I admire Corrigan for her honesty in this review-- she dutifully notes how she likes books with more plot and that The Thief made her feel "awfully slow and big-limbed and literal-minded." She continues: "I hankered for the meat-and-potatoes home cookin’ of Mickey Spillane, even as Nakamura was furiously serving up his own fusion of Kafka and Dostoevsky." Whether or not you like book like The Thief, Corrigan does a good job of describing the book and its main themes. And she doesn't say it's bad; she just says it's not her cup of tea (seems like she's prefer iced tea to green tea). Here's the full review. Amazon liked it. It was an Amazon Best Book of the Month for March.

     

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  • Dina Temple-Ralston's review of Tim Weiner's Enemies: A History of the FBI shoots down some major, long-lived politico-tabloid gold with her opening paragraph. "Last year’s film about J. Edgar Hoover," she writes, "spent about 2 1/2 hours dancing around the issue of whether the former FBI director was an uncompromising crime fighter or a cross-dressing closet homosexual. In his new book, Enemies, New York Times reporter Tim Weiner dismisses half a century of innuendo about Hoover in slightly more than half a page. Spoiler alert: The dishiest story ever to come out of the bureau probably isn’t true." What? But what of his longtime companion, Clyde Tolson? Weiner himself writes, "Not a shred of evidence supports the notion that Hoover ever had sex with Tolson or any other human being.” Temple-Ralston adds, "Hoover had no time for intimacy, Weiner suggests, because he was married to the FBI." Ok, so why should we read this book? The review does a good job summing up why: "Weiner makes clear that the FBI has come perilously close to becoming an Eastern European-style secret police force on more than one occasion. But the book also gives ample evidence that the bureau broke the law for decades out of a genuine desire to keep the nation safe. Enemies is more than a definitive history of the FBI. Weiner, who won a National Book Award for his history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, is really writing about the basic tension between civil liberties and national security in this country. By carefully laying out how FBI directors, presidents and attorneys general have used and abused their power in the past, he seems to suggest how we might prevent them from doing so in the future." That sounds a lot more important, and ultimately more fulfilling, than cross-dressing.

 

The A.V. Club

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  • The Onion's A.V. Club reviews The One: The Life and Music of James Brown. And James Brown gets an "A." Or rather his biographer does. The review reads in part, "James Brown was a lot of things, even beyond the many stage nicknames he bestowed upon himself: The Hardest-Working Man In Show Business, Soul Brother No. 1, Minister Of The New New Super Heavy Funk, etc. In the late ’60s, he called himself '75 percent businessman and 25 percent entertainer,' right before several long-term investments not related to music went belly-up. He spoke out loudly and frequently against drugs, only to become addicted to PCP—a major contributing factor to his infamous 1988 arrest, and the high-speed car chase that preceded it." It goes on to say that "no one has written a more complete overview of this most monumental of American artists.

 

Flavorwire

 

Johns Hopkins Magazine

  • Lorin Stein, editor of the Paris Review, lives the fantasy of having his alma mater's magazine write a feature about him. And it's a good one. In examining the importance of his publication, Stein says, "The real question is not whether journals can survive in some imagined future, but what we ourselves want and need. And when have we needed a great print journal more? Most of us spend our days in an enforced state of distraction, with nothing allowed to sink in. This Review is designed to sink in.”

 

January Magazine

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NPR

  • Harriet Lerner of National Public Radio takes a look at three books to help build relationships, stating that "when couples stay together over time — throughout all of the seasons — we're reminded that real life is messy and complicated. Even the best relationships will get stuck in anger and distance. In short, couples need all the help they can get."

 

The Guardian

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  • The Guardian talks to Andrew M Butler, chair of the judges for the Arthur C. Clarke Awards. The piece revolves around the fact that the author China Miéville, whose novel Embassytown is up for this year's award, has already won three times. Butler says there's no reason why the prize shouldn't be awarded to Miéville again. "'There's no rules against it,' he said, adding that Miéville is the only author to have won the prize more than twice. Embassytown is a great book, it's getting great reviews. If the judges say it's the best book, it's the best book. We're not judging on track records, we're not judging on whether it's someone's turn, we're judging the best book." And later: "He laughed off the suggestion that the prize would have to be renamed the 'C Miéville award' in the event of a fourth win, and paid tribute to the strength of the other books on the shortlist."

  • Here's a video depicting the birth of a book:

 

New York Magazine

  • Finally, New York Magazine has an excerpt from Commando, Johnny Ramone's new posthumous autobiography.

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