November 23, 2015

A Digital Balm for Our Angst: On Sven Birkerts’s ‘Changing the Subject’ 3


The question is not whether checking your phone at dinner is rude (it is) but what’s lost in every moment we recede from the present into the plastic.

November 19, 2015

Family Secrets: On Matthew Spender’s ‘A House in St. John’s Wood’ 0


Auden, playing the role of “kind but didactic wizard,” would teach Stephen Spender’s young son about adjectives or compose “Tolkienish poems” with him.

November 18, 2015

A Perfect Dose of Humor and Insight: On Rick Moody’s ‘Hotels of North America’ 6


I am not a seeker of funny books, nor do I look to fiction for laffs, or even laughs, but this book had me giggling so often and so loudly that I began to annoy the person with whom I dwell.

November 10, 2015

Sins in Thy Orisons: On David Mitchell’s ‘Slade House’ 12


The unifying project Mitchell has taken on is initially thrilling in its apparent scope. And though his machinations are luxurious, underneath the heavy-handed codswallop is the pungent flavor of raw voices, coming from characters we recognize from the street. As long as his books are populated by such real people, Mitchell will deserve his following, but he is in danger of a fatal shark-jumping accident.

November 9, 2015

The Unfulfilled Now: On Jean-Philippe Blondel’s ‘The 6:41 to Paris’ 0


The gift of this French contemporary voice is the way it confronts the everyday, without pandering, without fear of the quotidian. This is ultimately how Blondel evades falseness.

November 5, 2015

A Great Russian Novel for Our Time: On Ludmila Ulitskaya’s ‘The Big Green Tent’ 1


It isn’t that Russian intellectualism was a blazing flame that has recently been blown out. Rather, it has always been composed of mere embers, flickering, somehow, despite everything.

October 29, 2015

And Then We Pick: On Ed Caesar’s ‘Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon’ 0


Seconds don’t come cheap in elite racing, and the two-hour marathon, at least when Caesar was writing his book, was still 218 seconds away.

October 29, 2015

Rival Muses: on Jonathan Bate’s ‘Ted Hughes: The Unauthorized Life’ 3


With an archive of blistering personal data at his disposal, but Hughes’s very human survivors more or less at his mercy, Bate faced a crushing ethical dilemma. The work that followed seems perpetually caught between the thrill of scandal and compulsion to soften the blow by selectively presenting Hughes’s most incendiary work as “symbolic.”

October 28, 2015

A Life on the Rocks: Steve Toltz’s ‘Quicksand’ 1


There’ll always be a place for the sad sack in fiction, heroes of topsy-turvy Bildungsromans who regress or stall rather than develop.

October 15, 2015

Creating a World: On Joseph Roth’s ‘The Hotel Years’ 0


Roth is perpetually engaging, whether he is decrying the Third Reich, criticizing clichéd notions of Russia, enumerating the unpleasant realities of travel, or simply commenting on the quirks of a hotel cook.