Spring finally arrived in the Northeast this past weekend (but only for a few days of course) and I think the Globe people were affected. That’s the only explanation I can think off for the how uneven the review section was on Sunday.
As most know, April 1 brings the start of baseball season. The first game at Fenway wasn’t until yesterday however (we beat the Yankess 8-1!) and they decided to make Katherine Powers (an otherwise great columnist) write this long, and I mean long, breakdown of 16 books on the Red Sox. I love baseball and I really love the Sox, but even I was bored to tears by this article. There were too many books! She spent the first column (because of course they devote the whole first page plus a quarter of the third page) on just a few of the books, then she must of lost heart. It becomes 2-3 line synopses. The whole thing felt sloppy and like they were doing it just because….well, I don’t know.
But the reviews got a little better after that. Page 2 started with Richard Eder’s review of The Face of the Naked Lady: An Omaha Family Mystery by Michael Rips. Eder finds the book ambiguous and puzzling. One of the other good things this week was Gail Caldwell’s review of Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro’s new book, which I loved. She sees past the sci-fi aspects as did Kakutani last week, though she finds it frustrating that the mystery of how the modern world got that way is never explained. I also found Amadan Heller’s ‘Short Takes‘ column particularly well-written this week. She managest to both let you know in a sentence or two the basic plot as well as her impressions of each. This week she covers Jonathan Lethem’s The Disappointment Artist, Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian, and Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn by Hannah Holmes.
Page 3 starts with a Sandra Shea’s review of Empire Rising by Thomas Kelly. Next to it, is David Waldstreicher’s impressions of A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America by Stacy Schiff. Frankly, I am getting a bit tired of these tomes that keep appearing which want to convince me how the dead white men responsible for founding our country are great. Got the message. This one does have a different take, since it follows Franklin to France.
The last page has only 2 columns, since the runoffs from the tedious baseball book article and the Ishiguro review are continued here. But I was really excited about Caroline Leavitt’s ‘A Reading Life‘ this week. She discusses 2 books featuring Arab heroines in America. One I have read and loved—The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber, which Leavitt found “passionate and playful, rich with memories of relatives and friends, all hungry ‘for home, for family, for the old smells and touches and tastes.'” The second book is Towelhead by Alicia Eran, a coming of age tale. The more I hear about this book, the more I want to read it. Leavitt’s column was one of the highpoints this week as she covered books that sound interesting and have not gotten as much coverage as they maybe should. The BGBR section ends this week with ‘Pop Lit‘ by Diane White, which is a monthly column about ‘new light and popular fiction’. She enjoyed Lucky Strike by Nancy Zafris and Can’t Get Enough by Connie Briscoe, but found Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik “needy” and the voice “phony”. Honestly, these books are in not my cup of tea, and I didn’t leave the review wanting to read them, but White’s coverage is well done.
So that’s it for this week. Two stars in a sea of mediocrity. The ratio was 7 fiction (2 long, 5 short) to 21 non-fiction, albeit 16 of them were, as I said before, barely covered. Still, it would be nice to see some translations or books from smaller publishers. At least Joshua Glenn, in ‘The Examined Life‘ column in the Ideas section, usually gets some of the smaller publishers. In fact, this week, he discusses a book from Johns Hopkins University Press! Here’s hoping that the BGBR gets better.