RaveThe Washington Post... the historian (he also has a degree in computational mathematics) writes with genuine, even geeky affection for his subject ... These stories shine light on a part of government that many of us seldom think about. They introduce readers to census designers, enumerators (who slog door to door to do the count) and ordinary Americans whose lives are recorded in the data ... Solid storytelling chops and a friendly tone help Bouk convince readers who might question just how interesting a book about the census can be. Surprise — it can be! In the hands of someone who understands it, the census is a mirror of the country’s ideals, values, flaws and attributes ... Bouk uncovers the great paradox about the decennial count: that it is an impossibly large and messy task, but also an awe-inspiring achievement ... [Bouk] wants us to believe that achieving a better census is possible, and to care whether it improves. Democracy’s Data makes the case.
RaveWashington PostMargo Jefferson’s new memoir is a pleasing reminder that we have not quite seen it all. And Jefferson delivers her surprises in fewer than 200 potent pages ... The distinguished thinker...shoves aside old ideas about memoir as mere biography. Her approach is an almost poetic presentation of fragments of her experiences as they ricocheted off artists whose work and lives she has found meaningful. It’s an extraordinary reading experience — the first book I recall wanting to reread immediately after reaching the end ... She lures us into a dreamy and peripatetic journey of the mind and heart. She uses her elegant voice and some theater lingo to persuade us to focus on her nuanced ideas about race, class identity and, to some extent, family ... Jefferson exudes charisma on the page with a voice that commands attention almost regardless of content ... Constructing a Nervous System offers the reader an opportunity to become comfortable with the discomfort of life’s contradictions ... Constructing a Nervous System is a diary that often stops to directly address the reader. It’s a stage performance and maybe a therapy session. Above all, it is meaningful cultural criticism. Jefferson invites us to rethink our experiences with art while finding resonance in intimacies that she shares from her own life. I still can’t say I know exactly how she manages to make this all succeed. I only know that she does, and it is splendid.
Michael Knox Beran
MixedThe Washington Post... there is something almost entomological about Beran’s new book. Under his glass, we see his subjects beyond their propensity for silly nicknames and membership in the Skull and Bones club, and we look more closely at what made a WASP a WASP ... A warning, though: The reader hoping for something of an American Downton Abbey is in for a surprise. At its center, \'WASPS\' is a think piece, a colossal essay that assumes a measure of sophistication about the topic on the part of the reader ... Good writers tell us what happened; greater writers make meaning of what happened. Beran is a great writer who seeks to connect dots others wouldn’t see. Too often, though, this effort slides into peripatetic wandering...and can make it easy to lose track of the point. This was, for me, more than a small hurdle to overcome. Still, there is much to love in \'WASPS.\'
Sarah Maslin Nir
RaveThe Washington Post... a delightful tour of equine history ... Nir writes for those who know, but she also ropes in a broader audience by bringing humor, sensitivity and journalistic fervor to horse culture—American, mostly, although not solely ... Over and over, her identity as a horse person has delivered her from life’s anguishes, including a terrifying knife attack. The details of some of these difficult experiences feel like the least natural parts of the book. While they provide a glimpse into the healing power of horse love, in several instances they also subject secondary characters to judgment that feels incompletely earned. I felt as if I was getting both too much information and too little about some of the more painful interpersonal conflicts. On the other hand, Nir is fully persuasive and entertaining when describing a particular horse or a memorable riding experience ... I was completely charmed and stunned by a chapter on Breyer, the gold standard of plastic model horses ... Nir’s journalistic journey into the subculture of adult collectors is poignant and illuminating ... a reliable survey of the ways we have invested in, exploited and befriended these beautiful beasts. The book probably can’t make a reader who doesn’t \'get it\' feel the human infatuation with horseflesh. For everyone else, it is a reminder that horses go a long way in making planet Earth a nicer place to be.
RaveThe Washington PostWeingarten takes immense pleasure in sifting through facts for meaning, then selecting the right language to draw readers close ... the stories in One Day are...dramatic, and all earn their ink ... The book ends up being a portrait of the nature of time itself, because we see clearly how events bleed into one another and overlap. Beginnings and endings are rarely clear-cut ... Very little goes off the rails in One Day, although I had a hard time wrapping my head around a chapter on race relations ... Thematically, these pieces tie together, but the chapter doesn\'t unfold with the organic elegance of others in the book. Much of this sounds heavy, but plenty of light seeps in ... Weingarten’s sharp wit supplies so much of the reading pleasure ... One Day is full of scenes and wordsmithing that can make a reader elbow her partner in the ribs and force him to listen to a read-aloud.
RaveThe Washington Post\"... marvelous ... [Gabriel] is a gifted storyteller and a dogged researcher. She puts these gifts to excellent use in this panoramic take on the 20th century’s American art revolution ... Ninth Street Women masterfully unspools the biographies of its central cast and scores of supporting players, including the critic and starmaker Clement Greenberg, patron Peggy Guggenheim and writer Frank O’Hara. It takes us into their Greenwich Village haunts and hangouts, and it rummages through their relationships, too often fueled by alcohol and dizzying infidelities ... More than a compilation of biographical tales, Gabriel’s book is a reminder of the importance of women to an artistic genre long associated with masculinity. But it is also is a vivid portrait of the very nature of the artist. The stars of the era suffered and sinned as mortals, but their works — and their creative appetites — were otherworldly. Ninth Street Women gets us a just a little bit closer to their galaxy.\
PositiveThe Cleveland Plain DealerWith The Surrendered, Lee continues to write about the Korean War and the mix of cultures, but he has dropped his questions of identity. Instead, he weaves a tale of three characters beset by tragedies ...a lugubrious story with little redemption, though Lee is always masterful at drawing his characters and rendering human frailty ... In one of the most confounding features of the novel, Lee leaves the period from June's adolescence to this last-gasp adventure largely unremarked upon ... When the piling up of tragedies stops moving emotions and becomes ridiculous, I start craving a palate cleanser. A dollop of chick fiction, please.
RaveThe Cleveland Plain DealerMr. Fox is most notably a bit of slipstream fiction whose most pronounced effect, especially in the first half, is to leave the reader struggling for a foothold. Tucked within this framework are short stories, presumably written by Mr. Fox, that play with themes of marriage, men and men's attitudes about women … I found the stories within the story profoundly less captivating than the framework tale. Part of this is Oyeyemi's writing voice, which has a consistently cool, crisp tone … As for Mary, she's the best invention of them all. Created merely to do a service for her maker, and imagined as a beautiful, sexy and controllable creature, she does what any strong spirit must do: She grows a mind of her own.
PanThe Cleveland Plain DealerThe story is brutal, and the storytelling style is challenging. Off-putting, even. And so, this is art: McBride's book contains familiar elements – family, cancer, sexual abuse – but reveals them in singular style … In all its zesty, experimental glory, this novel strives not to be loved, but to be vividly remembered. Maybe it also seeks to make us think about how we tell the stories of our own lives when we're the only ones listening … I was terminally distracted, though, by what the author was trying to convey with her choice of voice...I did not love this trek, I endured it – and gave thanks to have arrived at the final word.
RaveThe Cleveland Plain DealerIf this all sounds too dire, let me add that H Is for Hawk is one of the best books about nature that I've ever read. Macdonald's wonderful gift for language and her keen observations bring pleasure to every page ... Moreover, H Is for Hawk invigorates the genre of memoir, which over the last decade or so has become cluttered with hollow addiction porn. Macdonald was recovering from something, too, but her story is vastly enriched by history and by her intimate understanding of raptors.