PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewKirsch’s essays are expertly made, each one deftly including just enough historical context, healthy portions of summary and exposition, and the lightest sprinkling of interpretation and evaluation. He says just enough to make the value of a book clear, without too many spoilers, and he doesn’t go on too long or belabor his points. The essays could serve as models for anyone asked to write the introduction for a new paperback edition of a well-worn text ... In some cases, Kirsch adds an important gloss, but often he’s simply recalling for his audience a quotable quote ... Kirsch offers for each book a crystal-clear and eloquently phrased summation that no intelligent reader could disagree with ... Readers who will appreciate the accessibility and clarity of these essays will also be relieved to discover that Kirsch has kept at bay any trappings of academic literary scholarship (citations, notes). Experts, on the other hand, might notice that Kirsch often errs when he says something was the \'first” of its kind\' ... Speakers of many languages — who may notice that of the famous lines above, only one was composed in English — might also be annoyed that while Kirsch acknowledges Jews’ literary multilingualism, he never delves into the complexities of translating from Russian, German, Yiddish, Hebrew and other languages ... Most troubling, for a contemporary reader, is that Kirsch presents 20th-century literature through a narrow 20th-century lens. It’s a vision of that century in which women are a minority (they account for about a quarter of Kirsch’s authors); homosexuals don’t seem to exist, except for Tony Kushner; poets, like Rukeyser, don’t exist, except for Yehuda Amichai; and Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews don’t exist, except for an apology in Kirsch’s introduction ... In other words, Kirsch does not propose a new and improved canon. He surveys one we’ve been kicking around for quite a while ... In fact, more than anything else, Kirsch’s new book is an expression of his abiding faith. Not a faith in God, Zionism or America — he is open-minded about all of these, willing to see the different sides. Instead, Kirsch’s is a traditional liberal faith in books themselves, and in their power to edify, soothe and unite people ... Such a faith in books has sometimes been dismissed as middlebrow, at least by intellectuals. But in our collapsing America, stopping to read a book, let alone a whole shelf of them, as Kirsch has done — rather than distractedly scrolling through a listicle of 10 takeaways from some new tell-all — has come to seem an increasingly noble, perhaps utopian, act ... As fascism flowers at home and abroad, and conspiracy theorists sharpen their knives while readying congressional bids, why not hope, alongside Kirsch, that a few readers will find their way for the first time to a writer like Primo Levi or Grace Paley or Abraham Joshua Heschel, and through them to a more nuanced and accepting understanding not just of Jews, but also of recent history?
PositiveJewish Currents... reflect[s] the irrelevance of Jewishness to the most pressing concerns in many American Jews’ lives with refreshing honesty ... an energetic, funny midlife crisis story, moored in the so-called First World problems of putatively successful American Jews. It’s most winning when offering finely tuned, well-earned social observations of Gen X, now all grown up ... One of Brodesser-Akner’s chapter titles even delivers a shock reminiscent of those parables used to highlight unconscious gender bias. As with such pedagogical exercises, there’s something pat and vaguely unsatisfying about all this—I sometimes found myself wishing that Libby would tell her own story, rather than Toby’s. That would have felt more timely, at least. Libby’s decision, late in the novel, to break with the ethos of macho journalism by telling \'both sides of the story\'—Rachel’s as well as Toby’s—feels well-intentioned but insufficient ... where the novel is more sure of itself is in its handling of Jewishness. Fleishman Is in Trouble takes pains to position itself within a Jewish American literary tradition ... what excites me, as someone who reads a lot of contemporary Jewish novels, is that Brodesser-Akner avoids an all-too-common Jewish literary cliché, which is the notion that a solution to all the characters’ problems can be found in a recovered historical document or implausible religious ritual ... Enlivened by a reporter’s eye for detail, and charming even when exploring overly familiar territory, Fleishman Is in Trouble might ultimately be most memorable for the way it offers a counterweight to an old, persistent Jewish narrative about marriage ... understands that when it comes to marriage and divorce, Jewish people are just people, like everybody else.
PositiveJewish Currents...an energetic, funny midlife crisis story, moored in the so-called First World problems of putatively successful American Jews. It’s most winning when offering finely tuned, well-earned social observations of Gen X, now all grown up ... If at this point you are wondering why, in 2019, you would want to read the story of a wealthy, white nebbish experiencing what, by the standards of most people who don’t earn a quarter of a million dollars every year, is a mildly inconvenient summer, you’re not alone: the novel itself often gives the impression that it would rather concentrate on the challenges facing Rachel, or on Toby’s friend Libby, a recovering journalist and the novel’s narrator, but is stuck instead with Toby ... the novel is more sure of itself is in its handling of Jewishness. Fleishman Is in Trouble takes pains to position itself within a Jewish American literary tradition ... Enlivened by a reporter’s eye for detail, and charming even when exploring overly familiar territory, Fleishman Is in Trouble might ultimately be most memorable for the way it offers a counterweight to an old, persistent Jewish narrative about marriage...which tells us that the most (perhaps, only) important thing about a Jewish person is whom they marry.
Benjamin K. Bergen
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewProfanity, in Bergen’s skillful presentation, also illustrates how our brains edit speech, where we learn grammar and why words that mean similar things sometimes sound alike. What the F delivers on the surprise promised by its title, as what seems like a book about language taboos turns out to be a cognitive scientist’s sneaky — charming, consistently engrossing — introduction to linguistics ... as entertaining and enlightening as he is, he inadvertently saps a little of the joy out of dirty words.