Thursday, June 17th, 2010

A Bedtime Story

Reviewed: The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra
In this slender but enchanting novella, a man tries to coax his stepdaughter to sleep while they wait for her mother to return—if she’s going to return—from an art class. READ MORE >

Friday, June 11th, 2010

A Moveable Feast

Reviewed: The Passage by Justin Cronin
Riding in on a wave of hype, Cronin’s sprawling epic is set in a futuristic America overrun by vampires. It starts with promise, but devolves into a confusing and bloated series of chases and chants. READ MORE >

Friday, June 4th, 2010

The Invented Self

Reviewed: Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden
With echoes of Virginia Woolf, Madden’s affecting novel, about a woman house-sitting in Dublin for an actress friend, explores memory, friendship, and identity. READ MORE >

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Punk, Past Tense

Reviewed: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Egan’s fourth novel finds a group of former punk rockers struggling with middle-age disenchantment. The chapters consistently provide the pleasures of good short stories, but do they satisfyingly cohere as a novel? READ MORE >

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

A Pointed History

Reviewed: The Finger by Angus Trumble
The latest (and perhaps the best) in a long line of anatomical “microhistories,” this rich study of the human finger travels everywhere from common figures of speech to works by Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Picasso. READ MORE >

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

The King’s Legacy

Reviewed: Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible by Robert Alter
A renowned Biblical scholar looks at the influence of the King James Version on the style of American writers from Melville and Hemingway to Marilynne Robinson and Cormac McCarthy. READ MORE >

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Where the Boys and Girls Are

Reviewed: The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis
Set against the height of the sexual revolution, The Pregnant Widow follows three college friends over the course of a summer in Italy. As he often does, Amis makes up for a lack of plot with stylistic acrobatics. READ MORE >

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Half a Great Novel

Reviewed: Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey
The Australian Carey’s new novel follows an aristocrat (modeled on de Tocqueville) on his travels around America. So far, so good. The other half, involving the Frenchman’s mismatched servant, dilutes the novel’s power. READ MORE >

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

The Ballad of Miss July

Reviewed: The Long Song by Andrea Levy
In Levy’s latest, July, a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation in the 1830s, tells the story of her life. Her spirited, irreverent voice is an expert creation, and the novel subtly asks larger questions about the possibility of ultimate truth in any tale well told. READ MORE >

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

The Grim Jester

Reviewed: The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Lipsyte returns with another hard-to-like character and consistent, loud laughs that make up for a baggy plot. This time, a failed painter approaching 40 tries to save his job (a job he hates) by extracting money from a former college friend. READ MORE >

Friday, March 19th, 2010

When Batty Met Flaky

Reviewed: Eight White Nights by André Aciman
In Aciman’s second novel, two New Yorkers—the beautiful Clara and an unnamed, wordy narrator—meet, hit it off, and spend the next week trying to overcome their neuroses about romantic relationships. READ MORE >

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Fun For Its Own Sake

An interview with the author of a new biography that tells the story of how a young political satirist named Ted went on to become one of the world’s most famous and beloved authors for children. READ MORE >

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

The Living Dead

Reviewed: Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom
Forget everything you know about taxidermy. Well, forget that you don’t really know anything about taxidermy. This guided tour of the subculture will bring you up to speed. READ MORE >

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Shredding the X-Files

Reviewed: Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch
In this debunking of conspiracy theories, readers will have their common sense satisfied. What they may miss is what any conspiracy theory worth its salt provides: a good story. READ MORE >

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Kingdom of the Sick

Reviewed: The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives by Brian Dillon
This uneven study of nine famous worriers, like its subjects, spends too much time on what-ifs, and not enough on what—if anything—is actually wrong. READ MORE >

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

A Small Picture

Reviewed: Point Omega by Don DeLillo
In his last few novels, DeLillo’s storytelling ambitions have shrunk along with his page count. Point Omega, in which a filmmaker travels to the desert to interview one of the architects of the Iraq War, continues the troubling trend. READ MORE >

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Life in the Bubble

Reviewed: The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
Dee’s fifth novel follows the rise of the Moreys, a fantastically rich, philanthropic, overleveraged family. By novel’s end, they are parodies of fortune, a timely example of obsessive achievers in denial. READ MORE >

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Steady As She Goes

Reviewed: Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler
In this story of 60-year-old Liam Pennywell, who’s trying to remember the details of a break-in at his home, Anne Tyler does what she’s been doing for more than 45 years—producing deep insight from the investigation of ordinary lives. READ MORE >

Monday, January 11th, 2010

An Aimless Walk

Reviewed: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
A self-consciously serious follow-up to Then We Came to the End, Ferris’ sophomore novel, about a man with a rare disease that forces him to walk great distances, takes far too long to gather steam. READ MORE >

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

The Mathematician Subtracts Himself

Reviewed: Perfect Rigor by Masha Gessen
In 2002, Grigori Perelman unveiled the solution to one of the world’s most difficult math problems. He spent the next few years disappearing from the math world—and the world in general. This gripping book tells the story of a reclusive genius. READ MORE >

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Carver and the Captain

Reviewed: Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life by Carol Sklenicka
In addition to parsing the famous literary soap opera that was Carver’s relationship with editor Gordon Lish (“Captain Fiction”), this biography examines the influential writer’s other tumultuous and nourishing relationships. READ MORE >

Monday, November 30th, 2009

All Hail Snail Mail

Reviewed: Yours Ever: People and Their Letters by Thomas Mallon
There are those too young to remember, but people once communicated with each other at length, on paper. This smart and charming tour of the craft introduces us to great letter-writers through the ages. READ MORE >

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Trouble on the Set

Reviewed: Rose Alley by Jeremy M. Davies
In this inventive novel, which unfolds against the backdrop of the 1968 student riots in Paris, a cast and crew struggle (and fail) to complete a film set in the 17th century. READ MORE >

Monday, November 16th, 2009

The Oy of Cooking

Reviewed: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
The formerly precocious author of fiction tries his hand at polemic in this lament about our reliance on factory farming. Foer’s tone and sometimes facile arguments undermine his stronger moments, which are unsettling but not groundbreaking. READ MORE >

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Thomas, Jimmy, and Noam, Oh My

Reviewed: Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet
In these brief, daring stories, humans (many of them famous; Edison, Carter, Chomsky, etc.) search the animal world for a fundamental communion. READ MORE >

Friday, November 6th, 2009

No Other Gods Before Her

Reviewed: Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller
A new biography tells the captivating story of how the most famous defender of selfishness, an avowed atheist, wrote novels that were treated as bibles and became a mercurial god to her own disciples. READ MORE >

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Father Knows Best?

Reviewed: A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
In this unsettling novel, a father tries to keep his son and a young woman with a troubled past apart — with terrible consequences. READ MORE >

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

The Great Comedy Lab

Reviewed: The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved
Focusing mostly on the show’s groundbreaking and beloved early years, this oral history makes up for a certain lack of access with nerdy fervor. READ MORE >

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

How Joyce Can Change Your Life

Reviewed: Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece by Declan Kiberd
If you think that James Joyce’s epic novel was written for academics or that it’s impenetrable or that it has nothing to say to the average reader, Declan Kiberd asks you to think again. READ MORE >

Monday, October 12th, 2009

A Curious Force

Reviewed: Love and Summer by William Trevor
William Trevor should be on any short list of the greatest living writers. In his latest, an amateur photographer and the wife of a farmer conduct a gentle affair in mid-century Ireland. READ MORE >

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Trust in Princes

Reviewed: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Mantel’s latest novel, winner of the Booker Prize, is a masterpiece, a rich and nuanced portrait of Thomas Cromwell, the adviser to Henry VIII whose natural political abilities allowed him (for a time) to navigate the treacherous waters of royal favor. READ MORE >

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Losing Their Sting

Reviewed: Cheerful Money by Tad Friend
A staff writer for The New Yorker has produced a winning memoir — with a few frustrating omissions — about the social decline of his family’s people: The WASPs. READ MORE >

Monday, September 21st, 2009

From Science to Sideshow

Reviewed: Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius by Colin Dickey
In the 19th century, phrenology, the theory that personality and talent could be discerned from the shape of one’s skull, gained prominence. After that, no celebrity’s skull, no matter how long buried, was safe. READ MORE >

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

The Lay of the Land

Reviewed: Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle
In eight stories ranging from very good to timelessly great, Lydia Peelle writes with big heart and subtle humor about the lives of rural and just-this-side-of-rural Americans. READ MORE >

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

The Politics of Opposition

Reviewed: Bite the Hand That Feeds You by Henry Fairlie
Henry Fairlie believed that “politics does not exist apart from opposition.” His own beliefs were hard to pin down — a self-described conservative, he loathed Reagan and admired FDR. This collection affirms his status as one of the very best political essayists. READ MORE >

Friday, August 14th, 2009

The Daily Grind of Wizardry

Reviewed: The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Quentin Coldwater, the protagonist of a novel that will be called “Harry Potter for grown-ups” approximately a billion times, learns that becoming a wizard is intellectually taxing, sometimes traumatic work. But reading his story is an enchanting breeze. READ MORE >

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Vows and Ashes

Reviewed: That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
That Old Cape Magic follows Jack Griffin, who is trying to bury (or at least make peace with) his past and salvage his present. It isn’t Russo’s best, but it still provides a dose of his confident voice and his contemplative, tender worldview. READ MORE >

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Conspiracy in a Different Key

Reviewed: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
When literary heavyweights turn to the crime genre, the results aren’t often pretty. But Thomas Pynchon, one of the heaviest of all, manages to finish this charming, goofy tale with his trademarks intact. READ MORE >

Monday, July 27th, 2009

The Habit of Verticality

Reviewed: It’s Beginning to Hurt by James Lasdun
In these stories, united by their author’s elegant and incisive prose, characters grapple with crises of every sort, from failing marriages to failed careers to faulty health.

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Losing His Way

Reviewed: The Way Home by George Pelecanos
For the better part of two decades, George Pelecanos has written terrific crime novels. In the latest, his urge to critique and moralize takes away from his portrait of the human beings at the center of the story. READ MORE >