RaveThe Buffalo News\"The apt title of Michelle Dean\'s book is Sharp. Is it ever ... I also can\'t tell you how joyous it is to read Dean\'s Sharp and to encounter together the life and times and works of Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Renata Adler, Joan Didion and -- on a slightly higher plane, Rebecca West and Hannah Arendt ... I have absolutely no complaint to make about any feminist reader who wants to claim Sharp as a marvelous exemplar of a book that probably should have been written years ago.\
RaveBuffalo NewsBut about four weeks ago, the non-profit Library of America--without question America's finest and most important book publisher--finally came through with a volume of Basketball: Great American Writing About America's Game edited by Alexander Wolff (Library of America, 463 pages, $35.) It isn't nearly as packed with literary stars as the LOA's baseball and boxing volumes, but what a terrific book it is anyway.
RaveThe Buffalo NewsThese have been, for over 40 years, some of the most remarkable stories written in this country ... He is both astounding and fun to read at the same time. A hell of a trick.
RaveThe Buffalo NewsThis is a writer who will tell you how her initial disdain for Joni Mitchell turned into something like worship. All from a once-ballyhooed multi-cultural woman who, in the course of doing it, name checks Seneca, Picasso and Kierkegaard … For years, [Smith] has been one of the most important literary journalists we have. This is why.
RaveThe Buffalo TimesHe returned to the heart of the American vernacular just as his lonely characters returned from the cold, coming in from the cold pursuit of individual meaning to find a community often in the most sorrowful places." One of the season's major books by any assay.
RaveThe Buffalo NewsHere is a book that finally lifts a great man out of the letters and diaries of truly great contemporaries ... Helen Smith...has written a grand, attentive and thorough biography of a major figure who, it seems, has emerged from near-anonymity.
PositiveThe Buffalo NewsThomson is not a financial reporter here, He is, by trade, one of the best film critics and historians we have so his interest is in the following things in order: personalities, films, filmmakers and performers, especially on the last two, depending on the page. Neal Gabler did it longer and better in An Empire of their Own but in Thomson’s case, that means tales of Casablanca, East of Eden, Bonnie and Clyde, The Big Sleep, Public Enemy, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, Rin Tin Tin, Daryl Zanuck (at first) and Wile E. Coyote. Any reasonably informed film fan is always able to argue with Thomson. I for one, would have liked here to see so much more about those very special Warner cartoon geniuses Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. But this was the studio of great wiseacre cartoons, and gangsters, and social consciousness, and World War II refugees and a lot of stuff funkier than, say, MGM. A place that, in modern parlance, would be full of 'bros' no doubt.
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
MixedThe Buffalo NewsThis, from the introduction to this predictably exceptional book, is inarguable...as always, Burns’ epochal creations are more than just huge and hugely distinguished creations for television, they are, as well, large multi-media events ...an extraordinary accompanying book... The books are always more than just large illustrated 'coffee table books' but also superb pop cultural histories of America by Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward ... So here, what Burns once did with baseball, The Civil War, and World War II, he now does with Vietnam, for our sakes as well as television’s.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
PositiveThe Buffalo NewsThe book is surprisingly candid and witty. It is even off-the-wall entertaining ... Any objective reader will be brought up short by her candidly confessing to yelling at the television set when Trump settled the case against Trump University and threw the remote control at the set when she read 'the news that he filled his team with Wall Street bankers after relentlessly accusing me of being their stooge.' But it isn't nearly as revealing as her personal anecdote about the unconditional love she experienced as a kid from her father ... In truth, despite the book's readability, it also is for many long pages at a time, unremittingly wonky and obeisant to received authority on so many subjects. (On the couple's first date they went to a Mark Rothko exhibit at Yale.) At least half of What Happened seems to be the work of a student so punctilious as to be pedantic. It's hard, even in everything so good about it, to maintain total patience with Hillary the mega-wonk. But that's perhaps another revelation ... For the purposes of a book that HAD to be written for both the bestseller list and American history's sake, she does very well indeed.
PositiveThe Buffalo NewsIt's difficult to resist a fellow who, despite all unavoidable apperances of megalomania, loves 'reading the index to any book I publish ... Exploring the index from a book you created is like having someone split your head open with an axe so that you can peruse the contents of your brain. It's the alphabetizing of your consciousness' ... Where Chuck Klosterman becomes one of the necessary sensibilities of our time is in, for instance, his final essay where he observes 'from here on out there's never going to be a downturn in the number of high-profile corpses arguably worth remembering, particularly in a media landscape driven not by institutions but by any private citizen who cares enough to argue. Perversely and predictably, recognizing the death of a celebrity on Facebook has beome,a form of lifestyle branding.' In the same way, of course, does reading new books by Chuck Klosterman brand your lifestyle, whatever else it might be. You could do worse. Much worse.
PositiveThe Buffalo NewsIt is a confession of no small deficiency to admit that one of the last places on this earth I expected to find conspicuous public whimsy is in the current editor of the New York Times Book Review and, indeed, the Maharini of all New York Times book coverage. But there it is, big as life and just as brazen on the dust flap of this book ... Such ingenuousness is verboten in many book places but I don't see why it should be. Much of it is a good deal more charming and substantive and less solipsistic than it might sound. Reading Flashman on a vacation was enough to make her dump her boyfriend, a Flashman fan. There are, after all, myriad ways for books to be useful to us. In the words of Marvin Mudrick 'books are not life but then what is?' Exactly.
Ed. by Catherine Burns
PositiveThe Buffalo NewsCelebrity is hard to find here and no more a guarantor of interest than anything else. Comedian Tig Notaro begins telling about her stepfather’s dealing with her messy room and goes on through her mother’s death and her search for her childhood belongings. It is moving and largely irrelevant to her fame. So too is John Turturro telling about being his mother’s protector 'in a volatile house' and dealing with his mentally ill brother Ralph. Writer Meg Wolitzer tells about she and her friend Martha watching 'as Richard Nixon was lifted from the White House like a rotting piece of lawn furniture' ... They’re all arresting tales but no more so than those by everyone else.
Grace Paley, Ed. by Kevin Bowen
RaveThe Buffalo News...here is one of the great books of 2017 -- the Grace Paley Reader Bowen and Nora Paley envisioned to embody fully one of the greatest literary and political lives of her time. What George Saunders says in his introduction to the book (it is, alone, worth the price, as one era’s extravagantly admired 'writer’s writer' is enraptured by another from the immediately preceding era) is inarguable: 'In Paley, you hear America singing, yes, but also: bellyaching, kvetching, teasing, advocating, disarming, politicizing, explaining the states of their bodies, assessing friends, lovers and their children with both clinical distance and aching love.' It’s a 'universe' he says and it’s 'incapable of a dull sentence' ... [an] overdue and necessary book.
RaveThe Buffalo NewsGet this. That’s my earnest advice. If you merely have a passing interest in the revolution in food writing of the past 50 years, you need to know about the most macho food writer of them all ... Harrison will quickly tell you he loves to kill what he eats and interrupt marathon meals to dip into 'vials of white powder to stay awake.' All this orgiastic machismo is interlarded with philosophy. 'It has only just occurred to me that I might not be allowed to eat after I die.' The obvious thing to say here is that only two or three (or four at most) of these essays at a sitting are recommended, lest readerly dyspepsia graduate into something like a coma from culinary prose. In sensible portions, he is the best cure for nouvelle cuisine prose ever.
PositiveThe Buffalo NewsWe're fine with a miscellaneous book of first-person 'takes and mistakes' whose propensity for error is precisely wherein its profundity lay. But it's Shields' current bad luck that our political era has re-introduced all of us to the iron-clad necessity of knowing what's a fact and what's an 'alternative fact' i.e. a lie or dangerous error. This is an exciting book, nevertheless, no matter where you happen to fall into it ... In his certainty of getting other people wrong, David Shields is vastly more profound, entertaining, memorable and trustworthy than armies of writers whose presumptions of professional certitude and golden methodology are fatuous and mistaken to alarming degrees. Nothing David Shields writes should be ignored. Sometimes, as here, he is to be read as intently as any writer around.
PositiveThe Buffalo NewsDescribing anything about prose by Joan Didion – even a book as slender and unfinished as this one – as 'raw' is more than a little comic. Nothing about Joan Didion’s prose, not even in notes, is 'raw.' It is the product of a stunning sensibility that drives headlong into specificity ... She has never known deprivation, she writes, unlike the South she saw so full of the past. 'I have been looking all my life for history and I have yet to find it.' There was a book in that – years later but a book nevertheless.
RaveThe Buffalo NewsHere, by all odds, is an anthology of conspicuous brilliance, even by Block standards ... The paintings that inspired each story are reproduced nicely. A grand, masterly anthology.
RaveThe Buffalo News...a very personal and utterly wonderful book ... as idiosyncratic and vehemently personal a book as it is reliable, readable and enduringly important. One of the year’s best music books.
RaveThe Buffalo NewsThe world we discover inside the walls of schools is of kids overwhelmed with homework and social media, of some kids overmedicated too. Too long a book, you say? Not for how much Baker cares about his subject and has to say. A marvel of our literary life.
PositiveThe Buffalo News...here, after all that slightly unseemly novel-worship, the most savage and entertaining of all 'new journalists' has found one of the most unlikely subjects to stimulate his lifelong penchant for mocking naked emperors whom the world considers the epitome of regal splendor ... Never mind that there has always been no small fatuousness and philistinism in Wolfe’s deification of reportage, he has a grand time ripping through Chomsky’s theories ... Of eminent B.S. in this world, there will always be a surplus. Which is why we always need Wolfe.
PositiveThe Buffalo News...[a] compulsively readable magazine editor’s memoir ... [strikes] the ideal tone of a memoir about writers ... As good as the contents are, this thing needed an index.
PositiveThe Buffalo NewsBefore Hyden is finished, the wildly entertaining and adamant former rock critic for Grantland considers, among others, Oasis vs. Blur, Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam, White Stripes vs. Black Keys, Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West, Eric Clapton vs. Jimi Hendrix, Roger Waters vs. the rest of Pink Floyd, Biggie vs. Tupac, Neil Young vs. Lynyrd Skynyrd and, yes of course, the Beatles vs. the Stones ... No matter who you might be on any rock-aware cultural spectrum, this is great fun. But it’s a bit more than just that, too.
RaveThe Buffalo NewsWhat this oral history book is devoted to is an exhaustive but enthralling and brilliant chronology of the period between August 1969 and September 1970 when 'radicals, resisters, vets and hippies' helped America 'lose its mind and find its soul.'