RaveThe Guardian (UK)... a glorious tapestry of literary enthusiasms. Brenda Lozano is among several contemporary Mexican writers whose playfully innovative work has met with acclaim in the UK ... Loop reads like a confessional essay rather than fiction, and like Luiselli’s first novel Faces in the Crowd, it plays with the idea of keeping readers guessing whether it conjures an entirely imaginative world, or represents a kind of autofiction ... Lozano wants the book to feel like coming upon a diary. Its cryptic swivels from one subject to another and its loose, allusive structure give the illusion that it has been thrown together, but the result is far more artful than that.
A. Kendra Greene
RaveThe Guardian (UK)With each chapter Greene circles around her subject as if viewing it in a vitrine, approaching it from different angles, changing her register and voice. The book is shot through with glee and irreverence ... Greene doesn’t offer much of a conclusion – she just enjoys the museum of sea monsters for the eccentric unlikelihood of the place. Birds, polar bears, whales, sorcery – all are equally of value, and her celebration of Iceland’s museums takes all of them into its cabinet of wonders, its exuberant, idiosyncratic enthusiasm. Greene’s mind doesn’t move in lines, either curved or straight, but in weaves and knots, new threads radiating from each tangle of concepts. Her tone is delightfully looping, oracular, faux naif; The Museum of Whales You Will Never See is work not of cataloguing and curating, but of longing and love.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)In a moving series of reflections, he reveals just how terrible doctors are at telling patients when treatments are unlikely to work, and how hopeless they are at estimating how much time their terminally ill patients have left ... The intrusion of commercialised medicine, and the elevation of the interests of insurance companies over those of patients, can complicate these issues considerably, but Gawande remains clear-sighted through the muddle of anxieties, conflicting emotions and vested interests ... When time becomes short, Gawande has the presence of mind to ask his father: \'How much are you willing to go through just to have a chance of living longer?\' The answer helps guide his father to a relatively peaceful death in the arms of his family, as opposed to a technologised end on an intensive care unit. The message resounding through Being Mortal is that our lives have narrative – we all want to be the authors of our own stories, and in stories endings matter.
RaveThe Guardian...an enthralling, deeply personal book that’s by turns lyrical and impassioned, lucid and enlightening – one woman’s journey to discover the best way forward for her son, herself and the communities of which we are all a part ... There are many wonderful, illuminating reflections in On Immunity, how vaccine refusal in Pakistan and Nigeria can be understood as a legitimate form of anti-colonial resistance; how capitalism has inadvertently limited our imaginations by making us blame it for everything; how metaphors of the body at \'war\' with bacteria are misleading, and \'war\' should be left to warmongers. Candide, Dracula and Silent Spring are mined for the ways they illustrate contemporary anxieties around toxins and vaccination ... Biss chose to vaccinate her son, and On Immunity is brave because it will attract hostility from those she implies are selfish or misguided in refusing to vaccinate. Her arguments are profoundly compelling, and her narratives are braided together with beauty and elegance. The book is itself an inoculation – it grafts and unites different traditions of the essay, and in doing so creates something stronger and more resilient. And its urgent message is an inoculation against ignorance and fearmongering: may it spread out through the world, bringing substance and common sense to the vaccination debate.
PositiveThe GuardianBryson’s The Body is a directory of such wonders, a tour of the minuscule; it aims to do for the human body what his A Short History of Nearly Everything did for science. He has waded through a PhD’s worth of articles, interviewed a score of physicians and biologists, read a library of books, and had a great deal of fun along the way. There’s a formula at work – the prose motors gleefully along, a finely tuned engine running on jokes, factoids and biographical interludes ... For all Bryson’s encyclopedic reading, his brain-picking sessions with medicine’s finest minds, the ultimate conclusions of his book could stand as an ultimate prescription for life: eat a little bit less, move a little bit more.
PositiveThe GuardianThe Library of Ice explores cultural perspectives on ice and snow, and traces Campbell’s ice-obsession to that memory of adventure, return and comfort ... At the end of the book Campbell returns to London; it’s not clear if her time in the snow globe has been a refuge, or, as she once feared, a kind of entrapment. She unpacks her books with a gathering sense of liberation, but feels ambivalent about words as a legacy, as a way of shoring up the present against the future. Her ice-obsession has a refreshing lack of romanticism; she reflects that her old snow globe probably had nothing to do with her motivation after all.
PositiveThe GuardianAt the outset of The Immeasurable World William Atkins explains how his first trip to the Empty Quarter of Arabia was occasioned by the end of a love affair. \'The woman I’d lived with for four years had taken a job overseas,\' he writes. \'I would not be going with her.\' ... \'The summer before, in the name of research, I’d spent a week with a community of Cistercian monks.\' His flight to the deserts of this book is thus framed not as discovery but recovery; his impulse is an ascetic one, rather than voyeuristic or sybaritic. Atkins is not in thrall to deserts – in his words \'dead\', \'forsaken\' places – but loves them for their austerity, and the clarity of thought they grant. From Oman to Australia, from China to Arizona, deserts offer him allegories of humanity’s mistreatment of the planet, and of one another ... He picks his way across the stones towards the water.
PositiveThe GuardianTheir subject matter reflects the agility of Sacks’s enthusiasms, moving from forgetting and neglect in science to Freud’s early work on the neuroanatomy of fish; from the mental lives of plants and invertebrates to the malleability of our perception of speed ... Some of the slighter pieces here suffer from being placed between more substantial work, and in one, only one, Sacks’s argument loses coherence. But even then I was conscious of the great premium he placed on flights of ideas ... Two years after his death, he’s still reminding us that a unified vision is long overdue.
RaveThe GuardianHis second neurosurgical memoir is transgressive, wry and confessional, sporadically joyful and occasionally doleful. It is in many ways a more revealing work than his bestseller Do No Harm, and the revelations it offers are a good deal more personal. Much will be familiar to admirers of that book – Marsh skilfully articulates the subtleties and frustrations of neurosurgery – but there is a deeper examination of death, and an angrier exposition of the shameful betrayal of the NHS by successive generations of politicians ... There is something valedictory about Admissions, a clever title for a book that mingles case studies with confessions. It’s elegiac but consistently entertaining ... His book is infused with a sense of urgency, as if he senses his time might be short. For his sake, and for the sake of his readers, I hope he’s wrong.
PositiveThe GuardianThe middle part of Alter’s book is illuminating on the ways that designers engineer behavioural addiction. He examines goal-setting, and why users of Fitbits often exercise to the point of injury; the dangers of inconsistent but rewarding feedback (counting those 'likes'); the importance of a sense of progress (such as counting followers, or advancing through a game) ... Some will find this shrill and alarmist – new technology has always had its catastrophisers ... Connectivity is here to stay, and Alter suggests that parents in conflict with their kids over it would do well to stay approachable, calm, informed and realistic, and remember that technology brings solutions along with problems.
RaveThe GuardianIncluded here are eight short, less demanding pieces taken from her 1987 memoir An American Childhood, offering pointers to Dillard’s evolution as a writer. They suffer slightly through being juxtaposed with her more rapturous material, but even here there are masterful moments, hand-brake turn transitions, and she rattles out revelations in stories so elegant and compact they could be prose poems ... Dillard is triumphantly awake, and these essays are magnificent and dramatic, illuminating and inspirational. Read them; they brim with abundance.