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In the Book Review

In which we have a look at this week's New York Times Book Review, even though we're on vacation.

A fizzy issue this week, higher on buzz than lit-ra-ture. John Wranovics's review of Short Dog spends far too much time talking about the author's father's career. The book about Tiptree/Sheldon (on the cover, of course!) seems to be of interest because a woman posed as a male writer. Maybe there are too many books in my pile at the moment, but the idea of reading almost anything covered in this week's Review is insupportable wearying.

Fiction & Poetry

Perennial Fall, by Maggie Dietz. "Dietz's lippy candor is invigorating in a wish-I'd-thought-of-that way, and it's a pleasure to be led through her world as she looks at familiar objects with fresh eyes." - David Kirby.

The Brambles, by Eliza Minot. "If Minot had less command over her prose, this might have been fatal. As it is, however, she delivers such consistently perceptive, even stunning sentences that it's easy to overlook the less than cohesive story and just recline inside the characters' minds and listen to them think. This novel is imperfect in a way that leaves you marveling at the many things it does right and looking forward to the artist's next move." - Meghan Daum.

The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas (translated by Richard Pevear). "No novelist since Dumas has been more irreverent of the conventions of well-made fiction or any more determined to tell stories without identifiable centers. There is, finally, something moving about his helpless, logorheic outpourings of narrative." - Terrence Rafferty.

  Soul Kitchen, by Poppy Z Brite. "But Brite's gritty affection for her kitchen hands - the feeders of New Orleans's lavish belly - shines through. In the acknowledgments, Brite says she completed Soul Kitchen the night before Hurricane Katrina hit. The book is most eloquent as a postcard of New Orleans before the flood - of everyday life as it was before that didn't exist anymore." - Field Maloney.

The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, by Irvine Welsh. "Although it fails at every imaginable level - metaphysical, ethical, technical, thematic - it is at the stylistic level, the level of the sentence, that Welsh's novel is most wanting. ... Nor is this what George Orwell fondly called good bad writing. This is bad bad writing." - Robert MacFarlane.

Short Dog: Cab Driver Stories from the LA Streets, by Dan Fante. "Dan Fante's world is unremittingly ugly, but like Ishmael he has lived to tell the tale. In his father's novel The Road to Los Angeles, Bandini's Filipino co-workers command him to 'go home and write book about puke.' Dan Fante has. Luckily, this writer has the telemarketer's skill for keeping the mooch on the line: readers who don't hang up right away very likely won't be able to stop listening." - John Wranovics,

¶ Fiction Chronicle. - Andrew Santella.

A Tale of Two Sisters, by Anne Maxted. "But Maxted succeeds in capturing the ways people can talk past each other and miss connections with even those they need most in the world."

The Seducer, by Jan Kjaerstad (Translated by Barbara J Haveland). "Veering from the broadly comic to the beautifully sad, with detours for deadpan meditations on the "Norwegian national character," this book is not just big (606 pages) but big-hearted."

Nightwatch, by Sergei Lukyanenko (Translated by Andrew Bromfield. "The pervasive atmosphere of gloom ends up choking the life out of this novel. You know you're in trouble when even the talking owl has nothing of interest to say."

Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers. "If none of that makes complete sense, be warned that matters might not be much clearer after you've finished this novel. It's not that Powers's endlessly inventive tale doesn't hold together, it's just that you might enjoy it more if you don't sweat all the details."

You're Not You, by Michelle Wildgen. "This closely observed novel illuminates some of the ways debilitating illness transforms not only those stricken but also the people who care for them."


James Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B Sheldon, by Julie Phillips. "But in Julie Phillips' engrossing and endlessly revelatory biography, the woman behind the alias is at last allowed to step into the spotlight, emerging as neither a malicious prankster nor a defiant contrarian, but simply as a writer for whom science fiction proved to be the ideal genre to tell her own story [in?]." - Dave Itzkoff.

Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon, by James Sullivan. "This archetypal American garmet owes its fortunes to a heady combination of celebrity and big business. And it is commerce that Sullivan devotes most of his attention, focusing in exhaustive, sometimes exhausting, detail on the history of the denim industry, beginning with the grandaddy of all jeans moguls, Levi Strauss." - Caroline Weber.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron. "But lately Ephron has learned that there is one betrayer upon whom no woman (with the possible exception of Cher) can exact vengeance or impose a fairy-tale finish: the body, with its dazzling flurry of early gifts, and its misleading air of permanence." - Liesl Schillinger.

LBJ: Architect of American Ambition, by Randall B Woods. "But in writing [this book], Woods has produced an excellent biography that fully deserves a place alongside the best of the Johnson studies yet to appear. He is more sympathetic and nuanced than Caro, more fluid and (despite the significant length of his book) more concise than Dallek - and equally scrupulous in his use of archives and existing scholarship." - Alan Brinkley.

Malory: The knight Who Became King Arthur's Chronicler, by Christina Hardyment. "Faced with the regular invisibility of her central character, Hardyment fills the vacuum with blizzards of diversionary details  the serpentine genealogies of nearly every English family she mentions, a description of how ink was made from lampblack or the caustic gall of an oak tree, an overview of several centuries' worth of English law on the subject of rape." - Paul Gray.

Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, by Thomas H Kean and Lee H Hamilton with Benjamin Rhodes. "Told in a dry, colorless style, like the report itself, the book offers little new information on the actual attacks, but provides a keyhole view of the commission's bureaucratic war with a White House obsessed with secrecy and control." - James Bamford.

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death, by Deborah Blum. "Blum tells her literally wondrous tale very well. But apart from the vague suggestion that it answered a need created by the encroachment of science on religious belief, she offers very little reflection on the question of why spiritualism suddenly became so popular." - Anthony Gottlieb.

Rachel Donadio's Essay, "What I did at Summer Writers' Camp" is a yummy compare-and-contrast of the nation's two most celebrated writers' colonies, Yaddo and MacDowell. Read it and dream.


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