February 8, 2016

The Contents of His Head: On A.O. Scott’s ‘Better Living Through Criticism’ 0


This is a rather defensive and sometimes irritable book, an act of muffled aggression by a man besieged and yet conscious of occupying a privileged position in the world.

February 4, 2016

Good News! China Miéville Has Written a Bad Book 12


What is news, as Tim Parks points out, is that the ascendancy of economic considerations over artistic ones in the publishing industry has led to “a growing resistance at every level to taking risks in novel writing.”

February 3, 2016

The Big Book I Was Waiting For: Alexander Chee’s ‘Queen of the Night’ 0


You feel, as you read, that you are being swept away by this delicious plot and voice, and that the novel wants to be read slowly — is actually smarter and deeper and more intricately constructed than can be appreciated at its decidedly propulsive pace.

January 27, 2016

Moral Courage Matters: On John Hersey’s ‘A Bell for Adano’ 4


We raided a lot of mock houses, shot a lot of balloons and silhouettes, and read true stories of valor and bravery. I value all of that, still, because it contributed to my men coming home, to me coming home. But we didn’t study or talk much about moral courage. And that mattered a lot over there, and it’s what Hersey focuses his novel on, at the expense of more standard war tropes.

January 14, 2016

ISO the Next Great Gay Novel: On Garth Greenwell’s ‘What Belongs to You’ 10


It heartens me to think that in 100 years, a young gay reader may no longer recognize the experience in this book as his own, as I don’t quite recognize mine in Giovanni’s Room.

January 13, 2016

Love and Work: Anthony Powell’s ‘O, How the Wheel Becomes It!’ and ‘Venusberg’ 0


In this era of YouTube, cell phones, and Snapchat, the possibility of real strangeness or feelings of isolation in foreign travel are almost impossible to recover.

January 8, 2016

The Failed Mechanics of Masculinity: On B.H. Fairchild’s ‘The Blue Buick’ 5


Fairchild was a quiet kid who liked beauty in towns riddled with homophobia, misogyny, and strict yet unspoken notions of masculinity. Fairchild, as a poet, fights against these ideas, yet how many of the people he knew and loved will go with them?

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.