A weekly roundup of noteworthy reviews from other sources.
Dwight Garner says that Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books, which recounts the author’s time as a prison librarian in Boston, “gets off to an obnoxious start,” reading mostly like a “hopped-up” gimmick. But according to Garner, the gimmick deepens into something much more: “Mr. Steinberg’s sentences start to pop out at you, at first because they’re funny and then because they’re acidly funny. The book slows down. It blossoms. Mr. Steinberg proves to be a keen observer, and a morally serious one. His memoir is wriggling and alive — as involving, and as layered, as a good coming-of-age novel.” . . . Maile Meloy makes Thomas McGuane’s latest sound like a lot of fun, even if it’s a bit sloppy in squaring all the facts of its fictional world: “As with McGuane’s earlier novels, the rambling plot is sustained because the individual episodes are a pleasure, often farcical and always acutely observed, and because the hero is sympathetic in his dissociated journey.” . . . Patrick Marnham reviews Pedigree, the “lengthy but little-read autobiographical novel” by Georges Simenon, “a Dickensian portrait, with poverty, crime, lunacy, wealth, corruption, and mockery, but a complete absence of Dickensian sentimentality.” . . . Jay Parini has written novels about Tolstoy, Walter Benjamin, and now, Herman Melville. Christopher Benfey admits he dreaded reading this latest, but he comes away mostly impressed. . . . John Self considers a new edition of a 1950s novel in which UK and U.S. astronomers simultaneously discover the “existence of a black cloud in the outer regions of the solar system” that is moving toward Earth. “Gentlemanly panic, tempered by scientific curiosity, ensues.”