Posts Tagged 'book reviews'

My review of William T. Vollmann’s Imperial on PopMatters

PopMatters has published my review of Imperial by William T. Vollmann.


Summer book reviews

My recent return to full time work has made it more difficult for me to continue to update this blog regularly. (For the past several months, I’ve been dedicating all of my writing time to working on material intended for publication elsewhere.) But, I’ve missed posting here terribly, and I intend to get back to it soon. In the meantime, here’s a list of the book reviews I’ve published since the last time I made a post. Check back soon for links to my reviews forthcoming in Identity Theory, ForeWord, PopMatters and other publications.

  • Review of Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson. Identity Theory, August 3, 2009.
  • Review of Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka. ForeWord, July/August 2009.
  • Review of Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda. Rain Taxi, Summer 2009 (#54). Reprinted by Powell’s Books, July 20, 2009.
  • Review of Ghosts by César Aira. Rain Taxi, Summer 2009 (#54).
  • Review of The Bridge of the Golden Horn by Emine Sevgi Özdamar. ForeWord, May/June 2009.

New review in The Quarterly Conversation

booksthumbiconThe Quarterly Conversation has just posted my review of the Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann’s novel Me and Kaminski.

My review of Stewart O’Nan’s Songs for the Missing on PopMatters

My review of Stewart O’Nan’s fine new novel Songs for the Missing runs today on PopMatters. I wrote about O’Nan’s previous book, Last Night at the Lobster, here on the blog a little while back. On O’Nan’s website, you can browse his expansive recommended reading list or read a timeline of his life as a writer

New review on PopMatters

My review of Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain by Kirsten Menger-Anderson appears today on PopMatters. It’s a story collection with an intriguing and appealing premise, though unfortunately it fails to live up to its promise.

Best 2666 review yet

The New York Review of Books is presently running critic Sarah Kerr’s “The Triumph of Roberto Bolaño,” a terrific long-form review of 2666. In the review Kerr makes many incisive observations, but I was struck by this one in particular, in which she discusses the book’s fourth section, “The Part About the Murders”:

Fascinatingly, the United States appears as a part of characters’ remembered visits; a Mexican-American sheriff from Arizona crosses over to find out what happened to a blue-collar woman from his town. But the United States’s relationship to the drug trade and the history of the assembly plants are not explored directly or at length. Instead of belaboring the obvious, Bolaño seems to have chosen the challenge of representing something pervasive.

I think Kerr’s right on here: for Bolaño, the murders in Santa Teresa are made possible in part by the failure of anyone there to see the world in front of them for what it is. The violence in the book is less individual than cultural; it’s part of the air the characters breathe. In 2666, Bolaño takes a much broader view than the individual residents of Santa Teresa possibly could, in an attempt, as Kerr puts it, to reveal and “represent” the cultural, economic, political, social, and historical forces and ideas that pervade their lives. Most readers will already know about the details—about the horrors of the drug trade and the injustices of the maquiladoras. What Bolaño wants to show us is bigger than specifics—though it also includes them. He seeks to identify the ways in which grand-scale historical and cultural circumstances shape the lives and fates of individuals, and often in ways that those individuals cannot understand or imagine.

Against effusive praise in book reviews

In the NY Times Sunday Book Review, there’s an amusing and entertaining column by Joe Queenan about his observation that book reviews often contain unduly effusive praise for works that don’t deserve it. Citing numerous examples, he takes critics to task for their routine failure to sharpen their pens and go in for the kill.

No doubt Queenan is right that many books receive undeserved plaudits, and that critics often exaggerate the significance and quality of the works under review. He’s also correct that many book critics are sloppy and lazy, and won’t hesitate to throw out a well-worn reviewing cliche (“incandescent,” “spellbinding,” etc.) or an absurd comparison to time-tested greats like Shakespeare or Joyce when doing so is easier than coming up with more original or substantive descriptions.

That said, I don’t agree with Queenan’s call for book critics to increase their focus on the negative. Of the many thousands of books that are published every year, most aren’t worthy of anyone’s notice. All the same, there’s always more than enough praiseworthy new work out there for book review pages to be filled with positive reviews at all times. Critics have a responsibility to assess books honestly and thoughtfully, but I think they should also take it upon themselves to make sure that good work reaches the attention of readers. As entertaining as negative reviews can sometimes be to read, I’d much rather hear more about the stuff that’s actually worth my time and attention.

Recent Publications

Review of J.M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature, edited by Anton Leist and Peter Singer. The Quarterly Conversation, September 2010.

Review of Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. The Region, June 2010.

Review of The Man in the Wooden Hat and Old Filth by Jane Gardam. The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 19, Spring 2010.

Review of 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About by Joshua Clover. ForeWord, November/December 2009.

Review of The Humbling by Philip Roth. Identity Theory, November 25, 2009.

Review of Imperial by William T. Vollmann. PopMatters, September 18, 2009.

Review of Wonderful World by Javier Calvo. The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 17, September 7, 2009.

Review of Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson. Identity Theory, August 3, 2009.

Review of Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka. ForeWord, July/August 2009.

Review of Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda. Rain Taxi, Summer 2009 (#54). Viewable online via Powell's Books

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