May 23, 2012

Across the Border: Richard Ford’s Canada 8


One comes away from Canada feeling as though a less gifted author was trying to write a knock-off of a Richard Ford novel, and has made a hash of it.

May 23, 2012

Librarian, Distressed 3


Should libraries buy scads of the hottest bestseller? Or should they break themselves upon the rocks of serious scholarship? Cheeseburger in Paradise or Paradise Lost? Perhaps, somewhere in between?

May 22, 2012

Is ‘Fear of Music’ A Book? 3


The 33 1/3 books are books in the deepest possible way, in a manner that seems to grow rarer by the year: the cheap, usable kind of book that might eventually enter circulation at used bookstores and garage sales, making themselves (and their subjects and writers) that much less likely to slip into oblivion.

May 17, 2012

Everyday Super Heroines: On Womanthology 2


Womanthology in many ways is a signpost for the ongoing evolution of comics over the past several decades. The comics world was for many years comprised of the superhero titles of DC and Marvel, two dominant, fraternal, meticulously run businesses. The key word in that sentence was “fraternal,” for the vast majority of creators working in the majors were men.

May 16, 2012

Salty Gothic: Nick Dybek’s When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man 1


Dybek isn’t just alluding to Stevenson, but also riffing on Richard II and something of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, while dropping in Japanese auteurs and Greek mythology, to weave in heavily freighted dreams and the vaguely supernatural.

May 11, 2012

Portrait of a Nation: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s The Colonel 1


Dowlatabadi’s nonlinear episodes jump in time and perspective, a puzzle as fragmented whole as when it is in pieces, an appropriate quality for a book about the shattering of individuals and national identity.

May 8, 2012

“Do Not Mention David Foster Wallace”: On Jonathan Franzen’s Farther Away 7


I had set out to review Jonathan Franzen’s newest release with only one goal in mind — “Do Not Mention David Foster Wallace.” Imagine reading an article about Eric Clapton in which the name “Jimi Hendrix” appears only for the sake of providing a sense of scale and equivalence. “Needless,” I would say. Or so I thought.

May 3, 2012

America’s Jug-Eared Achilles: Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power 2


In this five-volume biography, Caro is trying to write the epic poem of The American Century, with tall, jug-eared, foul-mouthed LBJ as his flawed tragic hero.

April 20, 2012

Angerland: Decadence and Disaffection in J. G. Ballard’s Kingdom Come 6


While the novel is able to imagine decadence turned violent, disaffection seems somehow outside its range, leaving its satire of consumerism poorer as a result.

April 19, 2012

Living Letters: On Gass’s Life Sentences and Theroux’s Estonia 1


No one has written a better introduction to Gass’s fiction than he does here, laying out why he wrote his magnum opus in one stark sentence: “I wrote The Tunnel out of the conviction that no race or nation is better than any other, and no nation or race is worse.”