Category Archives: Features & Reviews

Pussy & More

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Howard Jacobson (Pussy): “’I wanted to get over Trump’s moral bankruptcy but also the sheer bankruptcy of a culture that could produce him.’ In particular, he wanted to convey the damage done to political discourse by the social networking site Twitter, which Trump has used to bypass traditional media.”

“A timely work on the vociferous sides taken over the Spanish-American War of 1898—and how that history relates to the ongoing debate regarding American imperialism.” Here’s a review of The True Flag.

The sugar industry and its defenders argue that the evidence is ambiguous; therefore we should continue to believe that sugar is no more than empty calories at the very worst. What I would like them to do is suggest tests that could exonerate sugar, if it’s really harmless. It’s not enough just to say the evidence is ambiguous. And I think the industry now has an obligation to fund those tests.” Here’s Gary Taubes (The Case Against Sugar).

“How the engagement by a group of Transcendentalists with Darwin’s newly published On the Origin of Species deepened their commitment to the antislavery movement.” Here’s a review of The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation.

The Age of Folly & More

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I don’t know what you do with a president who tweets? What do you with it in the media? Do you tweet back? I mean, shit…it is really scary. It’s to where — who knows or who cares what the truth is, is the point. And we will maybe not care until we find ourselves impoverished or in jail or conscripted. I mean, I don’t know how many times you got to get poked in the stomach before you get it.” Here’s Lewis H. Lapham (Age of Folly: America Abandons Democracy)

“In her new collection of short stories, Ottessa Moshfegh reverses our modern expectations of genre by connecting the estranged ethos of the existentialists with the horror of ordinary life in our time. Homesick for Another World is a compendium of 14 compulsive little tales, each powered by the sense of distance implied in the book’s title.”

How wonderful it is that Rumi, the 13th-century Muslim versifier, has become the best-selling poet in the United States! He might enjoy knowing that Trump’s America is snapping up translations of his homoerotically tinged work even as the country toys with banning Muslims and rolling back gay rights.” Here’s a review of Rumi’s Secret.

“All crime fiction boils down to ‘Why do we keep doing these terrible things? Why do human beings keep doing these terrible things to each other?’” Here’s Ian Rankin (Rather Be the Devil).

Flying Lessons & More

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For middle school readers! “A young man spends his summer being shut out of basketball games and learns a valuable lesson about persistence. Choctaw storytelling traditions keep a family in stitches, in between eye rolls. A girl’s anger when her father allows an injustice to stand shifts as she realizes he’s gently changing the world on her behalf. These stories and more fill Flying Lessons & Other Stories, and each unique journey reinforces the notion that diversity in publishing is not just welcome but vital.”

He very much wanted to tell his entire story. I worked on the book at different times. For 10 years. The book Barney envisioned was nothing like it is.” The story behind Barney Rosset’s memoir, My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship.

On Signals: New and Selected Stories: “[Tim] Gautreaux channels Flannery O’Connor with a soupçon of Elmore Leonard in this collection of stories, many set in Louisiana, most featuring people of Cajun descent sliding down the socioeconomic scale, chasing dreams in a last-ditch effort to escape the nightmare of defeat.”

He’s remembered today for his short stories, but, throughout his writing career from 1907 until shortly before his death in 1933 at the age of 48, [Ring] Lardner was a journalist whose work, often syndicated throughout the nation, attracted a huge audience. His output, too, was huge. For instance, during his career with the Chicago Tribune, he wrote more than 1,600 columns and other stories, most often about sports but also such other topics as politics, Prohibition and World War I.” Here’s a review of The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner.

The Case Against Sugar & More

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“[Gary] Taubes. . . argues that sugars are bad in and of themselves, that they have ‘a unique physiological, metabolic and endocrinological (hormonal) effect on our bodies.’ Sugars are what an evolutionary biologist might call the environmental or dietary switch that triggers a genetic predisposition to obesity and turn an otherwise healthy diet into a harmful one. They are, says Taubes, the most likely triggers of ‘insulin resistance,’ the condition that leads to obesity, diabetes and a number of other diseases, from gout and varicose veins to irritable bowel syndrome and asthma.” Here’s a review of The Case Against Sugar.

On A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life: “Novelist and essayist [Ayelet] Waldman (Bad Mother)—mother of four, married to another high-profile writer (Michael Chabon)—worked as a federal public defender and taught at prestigious law schools. After struggling with mood swings and bouts of depression, Waldman becomes a ‘self-study psychedelic researcher,’ taking small doses of LSD on repeating three-day cycles and discovers plenty to exonerate the illicit substance.”

They are called ‘this generation’s Agent Orange’ — the open fire pits operated on over 230 U.S. military bases across Iraq and Afghanistan during our wars there. Every kind of waste — plastics; batteries; old ordnance; asbestos; pesticide containers; tires; biomedical, chemical and nuclear waste; dead animals; human feces; body parts; and corpses — was incinerated in them.” Here’s a review of The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers.

“How did Italian Americans end up identifying themselves, and being identified, with such conservative values and reactionary political forces? Why did their political consciousness diverge so markedly from their Italian counterparts?” Here’s a review of The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism: Politics, Labor, and Culture.

 

Labyrinths

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Sunday was Carl’s day off. In the morning all the church bells, Protestant and Catholic, rang out across Zurich and families put on their Sunday best to attend the services, prayer books in hand, little girls with hair done up Hedi-style, boys in matelot suits. Not the Jungs, however. Carl had vowed never to set foot in a church again, other than on unavoidable occasions such as his own wedding, and he was determined not to have any of his children confirmed, remembering the debilitating boredom and depression which overcame him during the instruction given him by his father, who was all the while denying his own religious doubts, battling with his unnamed torments.

-Catrine Clay, Labyrinths: Emma Jung, Her Marriage to Carl, and the Early Years of Psychoanalysis

Looking For The Stranger

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The life of The Stranger has gone well beyond [Albert] Camus’s own life, cut abruptly short by an auto accident in 1960, when he was only forty-six. It shows no signs of dying: seventy-four years after its first publication, and over a century after Camus’s birth, over 10.3 million copies of The Stranger have been sold in France alone. As long as people keep reading novels, The Stranger will live on: that’s more of a guarantee of an afterlife than any author, and most books, can hope for.

-Alice Kaplan, Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic

Moonglow & More

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“’Ninety percent of everything he ever told me about his life, I heard during its final ten days,’ [Michael] Chabon writes of his grandfather, a pool hustler, engineer, and maker of meticulous models for NASA whose early years as a piano mover quite literally made him larger than life. The chapters set in World War II form the heart of the novel as the skystruck young member of the Army Corps of Engineers gradually realizes his hero, von Braun, is complicit in heinous crimes against humanity.”  Here’s a review of Moonglow.

“A voraciously readable, extremely exciting, and eminently sensible book.” Here’s Whiplash.

A biography of two gifted Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, fused with a primer on the field of cognitive and mathematical psychology.” Here’s a review of The Undoing Project.

The godfather of Chicano literature. Here’s Rudolfo Anaya.

 

 

I Wish My Teacher Knew & Much More

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“Some children were struggling with poverty (‘I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework’); an absent parent (‘I wish my teacher knew that sometimes my reading log is not signed because my mom isn’t around a lot’); and a parent taken away (‘I wish my teacher knew how much I miss my dad because he got deported to Mexico when I was 3 years old and I haven’t seen him in six years’).” Here’s a story about I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything For Our Kids.

On Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World: “A learned, lively look at the various faiths lumped together as Protestant, from Martin Luther in the 16th century to today. Theologian and professor [Alec] Ryrie takes an inclusive view of the term Protestantism, encompassing mainstream Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists as well as the less-pervasive Unitarians, Seventh-day Adventists, Quakers, Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the burgeoning varieties of Pentecostal denominations whose members often speak in tongues.”

Coming soon! What We Do Now: Standing Up For Your Values in Trump’s America. The book will feature manifestos by liberal-minded political figures, famous journalists, and the heads of progressive organizations.”

Today Indian-born Americans number 2 million and they are probably the most successful minority group in the country. Compared with all other big foreign-born groups, they are younger, richer and more likely to be married and supremely well educated. On the west coast they are a mighty force in Silicon Valley; well-off Indians cluster around New York, too. The Other One Percent is the first major study of how this transformation happened. Filled with crunchy analysis, it exudes authority on a hugely neglected subject.”

On Kathleen Collins’s Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: “There were autobiographical stories that chronicled her feverish and awkward early romances, her activism in the civil rights movement, her struggles as an artist and the dissolution of her marriage to Nina Collins’s estranged father. Some were heartbreakingly personal, like ‘Interiors,’ a first-person story narrated alternately by a husband and a wife that exposes the rift between them, which revealed the crushing loneliness and isolation her mother felt as her marriage collapsed.”

 

America the Ingenious

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The contributions of immigrants stand out on every page of the long American record of invention, innovation, and achievement. But in no field is the input of new Americans and their children more conspicuous than the development of that miraculous lifesaving device, the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

-Kevin Baker, “Mapping the Body: The MRI,” in America the Ingenious: How A Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World

Algren & Much, Much More

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Here’s Algren: A Life: “It’s good to have the irascible, bohemian chronicler of the streets back via this top-notch biography.”

“For those who grew up on cowboy and Indian movies and have only a passing understanding of what happened at Little Bighorn, at Wounded Knee, and to the lives of our native people, Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary, is a crucial book. It is a rich, engrossing read that will educate, surprise and infuriate.”

‘Thousands of girls below the age of eighteen will marry legally in the United States this year,’ writes Syrett in American Child Bride—this, even as the age of first marriage for most Americans has been creeping up and up. His book makes clear that such marriages are not something new, or something uniquely foreign, but a continuation of a long American story.”

Says Otto Penzler (The Big Book of Jack the Ripper): “Every Big Book I’ve done has included stories that even experts had never read before. My favorite, oddly, is The Big Book of Adventure Stories, which, sadly, was not very successful because it may have been too broad a subject to find its readership. I read widely and deeply in numerous categories that I hadn’t touched in a half-century, so I got to relive my youth. In all humility, it’s a great book! I’ve just turned in the massive manuscript for the next one, The Big Book of Rogues & Villains, and will start reading tomorrow for the one after that, The Big Book of Female Detectives.”

Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement…offers an unforgettable look at the peculiar horrors and humiliations involved in solitary confinement.”

McDermid strikes again! “There are few other crime writers in the same league as Val McDermid. Her stories are ingeniously plotted, moody and typically quite hefty. Out of Bounds, her latest book featuring Scottish Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie, is more than 400 pages, which is standard for McDermid. Perhaps there’s just too much evil adrift in the atmosphere of Edinburgh to be contained in leaner novels.”