PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books[John] Davis is a very serious, though generally not solemn, Oxford historian...You won’t find any reference to the Kinks in Waterloo Sunrise and only some rather lofty references to most popular music and culture, although Davis does go to town with fashion...The Beatles get a few mentions, but these are loftier still: for example, \'Beatlemania was in itself an adolescent cult, but the Beatles were instrumental in developing musical modes which — in many hands — had an extraordinary appeal to teenagers and young adults\'...Davis is a meticulous and exhaustive researcher who has clearly spent masses of time going through old newspapers and local government archives as well as more familiar printed sources... The bibliography runs to 30 densely packed pages; there are 90 pages of notes...The result is that he has ferreted out some wonderful and arcane nuggets of information...Who would have thought that, in 1963, 65 percent of office staff in London were women, and that by the mid-’60s there were half a million secretaries in the city, though I suspect the definition of “secretary” was rather porous....I didn’t know, though others surely did, that the word “gentrification” was coined by Ruth Glass in 1964, and for a while it was rivaled by the term Chelseafication...For that matter, who would have imagined that the first project undertaken in 1971 by the newly established Harrow Council of Social Service was a study of loneliness in the borough?...A book like Waterloo Sunrise obviously can’t be all things to all people...There were certainly times when I wished it was a bit more fun, but no doubt that’s evidence of my light-mindedness...Even so, I know that this is a book I will be using as a research source for many years to come.
Catherine Cusset, trans. by Teresa Fagan
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksIn general, Cusset writes well and clearly, plays it fairly straight, and tells the story of Hockney’s life with economy and style. The book’s a good read and at times a compelling one, although there were one or two places where it all got a bit overwrought for my tastes ... [The] reluctance to name names is evident throughout the book ... I find this all very strange, and I honestly don’t know what the author’s up to, but she seems to be up to something ... There are times when the book seems at odds with the milieu in which it’s set ... Things don’t get much more surefooted when the action moves to Los Angeles ... Of course, some of these errors may well be the fault of the translator, Teresa Lavender Fagan, or indeed the book’s editors, and if so they should fess up, but either way it’s Cusset’s name on the front of the book. And one episode seemed so casually sloppy I was left wondering if it was a postmodern strategy ...
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksBut here’s the question: when I read The Big Sleep for the first time (or subsequently, for that matter), was there much in there that I didn’t understand? And I’m not talking about plot matters such as who killed the chauffeur, or why the cute but borderline-insane murderess isn’t prosecuted, but rather matters of fact and vocabulary ... The fact is, it’s rare, if ever, that we read a book and understand every single word, every literary allusion, every local or historical reference, just as we don’t understand every single thing we encounter as we go about our lives ... but ... there’s a huge amount to enjoy in the book. I found myself more intrigued by the background information than by the editors’ close reading of the text, which sometimes feels like they’re breathing over your shoulder and making arch remarks, telling you how to read ... The book’s bibliography is lengthy without being exhibitionistic, and the editors have even managed to track down a treatise on \'the lost art of walking,\' by one Geoff Nicholson, that contains a short section about Chandler. Top-notch sleuthing. Marlowe would be proud.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe best comment on Weegee belongs to Judith Malina, of the Living Theater, who knew Weegee in Greenwich Village. She said [in Flash], \'He wanted to see the soul of the person. He wanted to see the essence of the person. And he certainly wanted to see the tits of the person\' ... Self-deprecation was not part of his deal. Bonanos writes, \'Weegee was the one who went on talk shows, raced to burning tenement to beat the competition, got assignments that paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars; Arthur Fellig did not\' ... I don’t know that I’m entirely persuaded by this separation of the \'real\' man from his created persona. Surely they both ended up old, frail, and desperate, living in a depressing little room in Manhattan—although Bonanos does have a quotation from an interview in which Weegee speaks of himself as a Jekyll and Hyde character ... Until I read Flash I had no idea whatsoever that Weegee was involved with promoting the Zenit [camera] ... In fact, sales were good enough that the company took him to Moscow on a freebie. He seems to have enjoyed everything but the food.
Geoff Dyer, Garry Winogrand
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksEach image is accompanied by a piece of Dyer’s writing. Most of the pieces are a few hundred words long; some are informative about Winogrand’s life and work, some locate Winogrand in various artistic traditions, including the literary (has anyone else ever looked at a Winogrand photograph and been moved to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins?), and some are oblique and surprising, yet always relevant, mini-essays inspired by a particular Winogrand image. The model is John Szarkowski’s one-volume monograph on Eugène Atget, which takes a similar form. Dyer is a great man for the job. His writing, in this book and elsewhere, is always serious but never solemn. He’s original, eager to find unlikely connections, but you never sense that he’s trying too hard. Writing about photography is not exactly like tap dancing about architecture, but it does come with certain difficulties. There can be the tendency to state the obvious and describe the 'content' of the picture, which is unnecessary, or worse, to plunge into academic art speak. Dyer does neither, although he is constantly asking, sometimes literally, 'What exactly are we looking at here?' Above all, when you read his essays, you have a sense that a real human being is communicating with you. Oh, and he has a cracking sense of humor, which really helps.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleOne of McEwan's greatest gifts as a novelist is to make the reader fear impending doom. We know that disaster is never far away, and yet when it arrives, it's still a surprise, never precisely the disaster we were expecting. Since this is a novel, and a comedy, and to a degree a satire, of course Beard's plans won't work out the way he wants them to. McEwan's own sense of morality may be far more nuanced than his hero's, but ultimately it's just as cynical. The nice guys certainly don't finish first, but then again there aren't really any nice guys in the book … The book isn't a dud, but by McEwan's high standards it does seem a bit of a misfire. Satirists always have to be moralists at some level, but the moral dilemmas that occur in Solar never seem quite real or urgent enough.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleParents much less smart and worldly than Didion and Dunne might have struggled to find suitable responses to all this, and her new memoir, Blue Nights, doesn't reveal what theirs were. The events are presented here as evidence of Quintana's specialness and fragility ... [Didion] has always been the toughest of writers, and it would be good to believe she's being equally tough on herself ...this new book reads like a coda to the first one. Stories of Didion's grief, her husband's death, her daughter's illness, their lives together, are told again. The pain remains ... Blue Nights, of course, is profoundly moving: How could a memoir about the death of a daughter not be? However, Didion is not only concerned with the loss of a spouse and child but also about the loss of everything. This is first and last a meditation on mortality.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesOne of the greatest of Tartt's many gifts is her ability to assure readers that they're in the hands of a trustworthy storyteller. Her novels always feature surprising, in some cases preposterous, narrative elements, but she makes us believe them … There are bravura descriptions of landscapes and cities, shrewd dissections of human motivations and self-deceptions, convincing and sometimes very witty dialogue spoken by characters from wildly different backgrounds … For all its artfulness, and despite a satisfying and wholly unexpected denouement, The Goldfinch both describes and understands the arbitrariness of life and never makes it seem simpler or more orderly than the fascinating, troubling mess it is.
Edmund de Waal
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThere were...times when it felt as though he really wanted to be writing a historical novel, of the floaty poetic sort rather than a rip-roaring page-turner. But a man can only do so much. I never wished for more matter — the book is already bursting at the seams — but I did occasionally wish for a little less art. Still, this is a terrific book.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksClearly Sante is a serious writer, and his research here is extensive and seems impeccable. However, in the end, the book is as much playful as scholarly, and a general reader can find plenty to enjoy. He seems to be both a more intrepid explorer and a far more entertaining writer than most of his psychogeographic forbears. And if the book lacks a grand overarching design, well that’s in the nature of his serendipitous, drifting methodology.