Category Archives: Review Reviews

As Always, Julia edited by Joan Reardon

Reading Julia Child’s letters is such a treat! I wish I had known her and we could have corresponded by letter. Her personality shines through in her letters to Avis Devoto. They wrote about everything! Politics, literature, kitchen gadgets, nothing is off topic. You learn about the creation of MTAOFC which took many years. You also get a real sense of life during the McCarthy era, the anger and frustration of Americans. Plus, I love hearing about the new innovations–dishwashers, blenders, etc. It seems like a dark era in the American kitchen. Shallots were a luxury!

This book of letters is simply fantastic. It confirms Julia Child’s status as an American treasure in my book.

It Takes a Blogger…

Finally, a review of Shalom Auslander’s book Foreskin’s Lament that looks past the hilarity to the angst religion causes. So many reviewers make this memoir out like it’s a shallow dig at Orthodox Judaism—it’s not. It’s a caustic memoir written by someone who truly feels conflicted. Mark Sarvas (I swear I’m not mentioning this because he’s a fellow blogger. I read the review and didn’t notice who had written it until the end). Mark and I don’t always see eye to eye on books, but more often than not, our tastes overlap. I’m glad someone out there is truly representing this book.

Kakutani and Then Some

Marish Pessl’s debut novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics received a lot of press when it arrived on the shelves this August. Many of the reviews seemed favorable. Some have called the book overly clever and nothing but a literary trick. This week, my favorite local paper The Weekly Dig posted their own review. The subtitle of the piece says it all: “Deadly chick lit virus claims another victim”. Lest you think I’m trying to bring up the chick lit yay or nay discussion again, I’m merely pointing out the negativity of the review, not talking up the chick lit reference. I find this review so very interesting as it flies into the face of the anti-snarkiness that the Believer gang proselytize.

Someone Woke Up on the Wrong Side of Crazy Today

Seriously, what’s going on with Michiko? First AM Homes:

A. M. Homes’s dreadful new novel, “This Book Will Save Your Life,” reads like a cartoon illustration for a seminar on men and middle age — a pastiche of all that is hokey, hackneyed and New Agey in Robert Bly’s “Iron John” and Gail Sheehy’s “Understanding Men’s Passages.”

and now Philip Roth:

“Everyman,” the title of Philip Roth’s flimsy new novel, announces that the book’s hero is meant to be a sort of representational figure: an average Joe, an ordinary guy, an homme moyen sensuel…The problem is, this nameless fellow turns out to be generic, rather than universal: a faceless cutout of a figure who feels like a composite assembled from bits and pieces of earlier Roth characters. Spending time with this guy is like being buttonholed at a party by a remote acquaintance who responds to a casual “Hi, how are you?” with a half-hour whinge-fest about his physical ailments, medical treatments and spiritual complaints.

Shrinking Pages

I can’t believe it took me this long to notice this. I am hoping that it was just for this one Sunday The Boston Globe appears to be shrinking the entire Ideas section, which includes the Book Review. I had noticed that the Ideas part had lost a page a few weeks ago—what happened to the Joshua Glenn’s Examined Life column? And then this weekend the already short 4 page review section lost another page? Is this forever? I hope not. I don’t know what’s going on over at the Globe (other than the incompetance that allowed the printing out of thousands of subscribers credit card information and their distribution as “scraps” to Worcester including yours truly). Can anyone tell me what’s going on here?

They’re Not Completely Useless

The Globe surprised me this weekend with several interesting articles. Kate Bolick spoke with William Gass about his new book A Temple of Texts. And there was also this piece on Julia Kristeva, whose new book Murder in Byzantium is a detective novel (it came out in France in 2004, but the translation is just now available here). Of course, these articles appeared in the Ideas section, not in the Book Review, but I’ve also been informed that a new, promising column will be appearing sometime in March. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Call Me a Snob, but…

Why in the hell is the NYT reviewing Jackie Collins’ new book Lovers & Players in this weeks Book Review? And according to the review’s author Alexandra Jacobs, Collins named the main character’s Jett Diamond? Seriously?

It’s All Who You Know or Are Married To

Do you think that if Nick Laird weren’t married to Zadie Smith, his new book Utterly Monkey would be reviewed in the NYT today by Kakutani? I don’t mean to disparage his writing, which I haven’t read, but they seem to reserve Kakutani for the big, writers of renown. I’m sceptical of course that they would have bothered with the review otherwise. A review might be included in the Sunday supplement, maybe in the Fiction Chronicle, but a full review from Kakutani? Forget it. But good for Laird. Kakutani likes it, though she can’t resist from mentioning his wife. “Instead, Mr. Laird – who is married to the novelist Zadie Smith – uses his radar-sharp eye for detail and ear for how regular people talk to give us an ebullient cast of characters, rendered with an idiosyncratic mixture of sympathy and wry humor.”

This Week’s Reads

I finished 2 books earlier this week, that at first glance seem completely unrelated, but after a closer look have a few similarities. The first, a novel that takes place during the American invasion of Haiti in 1994, follows 3 characters whose lives are connected. The second, a memoir from a NYT correspondent about his decades spent in Africa.
You don’t discover the sex of the main character Tory Harris aka Jersey in Voodoo Lounge, which was written by Christian Bauman, until the end of the prologue, and it’s only mentioned in passing. She’s a newly pinned sergeant on board a ship about to land in Haiti. The other 2 main characters are Marc Hall, a half-Haitian captain that she meets on a mission, and Junior Davis, Jersey’s ex-lover. Davis and Jersey’s relationship is visited through flashbacks and you don’t realize the impact it has on the story until towards the end of the novel. I found Bauman’s exploration of what people do under pressure particularly interesting. When Marc Hall contemplates what it means to be part Haitian and also a member of the occupation, we see the internal conflict; And when a group of soldiers are caught in a standoff with some Haitian soldiers, we see what people are capable of when placed in fraught situations.

What does Voodoo Lounge have in common with the other book A Continent for the Taking by Howard French? Both books show the debilitating and often absurd effects American arrogance can have on another society. French spent years traveling all over Africa and came across all kinds of greed, waste, and hypocrisy from all directions. His book really opened my eyes to the devastation that the West has had on Africa. I knew, or supposed I knew what the world has done to that continent. But his experiences show both the small and the big picture of life in Africa. Not everyone is bad of course, but not many come off as good human beings. Like our “aiding” of Haiti, the United States often sets out on misguided efforts to help nations. But more often than not, the government backs whomever will help us the most, be it a dictator known to have perpetrated war crimes or an “elected” official who’s been known to use whatever means necessary to win an election.

Bauman’s rich novel reads quickly, but still has depth and power. French’s book is not only informative but also emotional, capturing both the human and historical angles of the story. I enjoyed reading them both.