Category Archives: Features & Reviews

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.”

 

City of Dreams & Much More

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“From the Dutch to the British, featuring a concentration on the waves of Irish and German in the late 19th century, this thoroughgoing work offers a host of immigrant sagas that were integral to the creation of the New York City cauldron…An endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of American history.” Here’s a review of City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York.

“Perhaps most revealing, [Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the retired Army three-star general who is set to become White House national security adviser after President-elect Trump takes the oath of office] seems quite comfortable with the prospect of a religious war. ‘This kind of war is not at all new. It created our world,’ he writes, citing the Protestant Reformation. ‘The world badly needs an Islamic Reformation, and we should not be surprised if violence is involved. It’s normal.’” Here’s a review of The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies.

“Veteran sports journalist [Paul] Dickson (Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick) returns with another excellent remembrance of a larger-than-life persona, legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher, whom he describes as ‘cocky and flamboyant.’”Here’s a review of Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son.

“[Frances] Wilson, who wrote an award-winning biography of Dorothy Wordsworth (the poet’s sister), makes [Thomas] De Quincey a character so immediate you half expect him to materialize. The book would explode in a cloud of fluttering, perfumed pages, and the diminutive (he stood at 4 foot 11 inches) writer would step forth, shake your hand, and hit you up for a loan.” Here’s a review of Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincy.

“In his captivating new book, The Revenge of Analog, the reporter David Sax provides an insightful and entertaining account of this phenomenon, creating a powerful counternarrative to the techno-utopian belief that we would live in an ever-improving, all-digital world. Mr. Sax argues that analog isn’t going anywhere, but is experiencing a bracing revival that is not just a case of nostalgia or hipster street cred, but something more complex.”

 

Just Around Midnight & Much More

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“From Little Richard and Chuck Berry to the Dominoes, Ike Turner, and Howlin’ Wolf, rock and roll’s founding figures were African American, yet ‘rock’ as we know and hear it now is coded white. In [cultural historian Jack] Hamilton’s telling, rock’s long evolution from a raucous offshoot of black party music to a lavishly produced, aesthetically ambitious, and securely white art form ‘is a story of the forced marriage of musical and racial ideology.’” Here’s a review of Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination.

“Each of the 64 pieces collected here…is an evocative vignette of a bygone era: a soldier wounded in the first world war who now sells newspapers on the streets of Vienna, a dog riding on his back; two Gypsy girls with their skirts billowing in the winds, looking ‘like two wandering flags’; Russian émigrés, bringing with them ‘the wild aroma of their homeland, of dispossession, of blood and poverty, of their singular romantic destiny’; even the president of Albania makes an appearance. [Joseph Roth's] The Hotel Years is an instant classic.”

Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia!

Says David Oshinsky (Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital):Most physicians at Bellevue and elsewhere believed in the miasma theory — that clouds of bad air caused all kinds of disease. They had no concept that an invisible organism could cause so much damage, and that was what germ theory was about. Bellevue physicians were really on the forefront, particularly the younger physicians, in pushing germ theory forward.”

Two cybergurus offer a ‘user’s manual to the twenty-first century.’ ‘Our technologies have outpaced our ability, as a society, to understand them,’ write MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and veteran Wired writer Jeff Howe. ‘We need to catch up.’” Here’s a review of Whiplash: How to Survive Our Fast Future.

Frantumaglia & More

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On Frantumaglia: “This is a fascinating volume, as ever beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein. At times, it is as absorbing as [Elena] Ferrante’s extraordinary fictions and touches on troubling unconscious matter with the same visceral intensity. For those who can’t wait for the next Ferrante fiction to sink into, it provides a stopgap. There are perhaps one or two interviews with wordy interviewers too many. But occasional repetitions are outweighed by the insights into Ferrante’s writing process, her love of story above the fine, polished style so prized in contemporary Italian fiction.”

“Your local bookstore probably doesn’t carry [Ted] Chiang’s only story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, and the average fan of cyberpunk or Battlestar Galactica likely has no clue who he is. Yet despite his anonymity among the mainstream science-fiction crowd, Chiang has quietly dominated the genre’s highest awards for two decades: At last count, he has netted four Nebulas, four Hugos, one Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and four Locus awards, among many others — all with an oeuvre that wouldn’t even strain the covers of one mid-size book.”

“Along with George Washington’s ivory dentures, John Wilkes Booth’s derringer, FDR’s wheelchair and the cross of twisted girders from the collapsed World Trade Center towers, Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is one of American history’s most macabre relics.” Here’s a review of Twenty-Six Seconds by Alexandra Zapruder.

Here’s a review of The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power: “Blame it on the smartphone, the technology that is bringing internetlike tracking and surveillance into brick-and-mortar stores.”

Mrs. Sherlock Holmes & Much More

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Brad Ricca’s Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case that Captivated a Nation recounts thethe career of the woman born Mary Grace Winterton (1869-1948), who had two failed marriages, during which her surname became first Quackenbos and then Humiston (the name she bears through much of the text). Ricca’s focus is on her most spectacular case, that of young Ruth Cruger, a recent high school graduate who, in February 1917, disappeared after getting her ice skates sharpened at a neighborhood shop in Harlem.”

Zelda!

“Southerners imagined—and worked to build—an American republic whose foundation was slavery,” says Princeton historian Mathew Karp (This Vast Southern Empire). “In their minds, this was a powerful state, continental in scope and hemispheric in influence, which put the preservation of slaveholding property at the center of U.S. politics and U.S. foreign policy. That’s what they meant by ‘this vast Southern empire,’ and that’s the focus of the book.”

Says Booker-winning novelist Paul Beatty (The Sellout): “Sometimes I romanticise – I go back even to the Harlem renaissance, when people would say, ‘This book isn’t going to sell but I believe in you.’ I think there’s still some of that in publishing. I hope there’s still some of that.”

I lived with this manuscript for almost a dozen years, and lived with it longer than that, if I go all the way back to the time I saw the 1955 photo of Emmett Till,” says John Edgar Wideman (Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File).