RaveThe New York Review of Books... some of the best writing about the home that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read—and, crucially, loads of black-and-white photographs and illustrations ... As Lee points out, writing about one’s own life or somebody else’s often involves writing about houses; biographers study them to better understand their subjects, and memoirists and autobiographers often begin their books with a memory of their childhood home (I can vouch for this myself). The twenty essays and three poems included here adjust that relation: rather than passing through a house on its way to a person, each piece stays put, inspecting the various ways a home—or lack of one; homelessness, vanished houses, and asylums are also examined—shaped its inhabitant, from ancient Rome up to the near-present. The contributors are an eclectic mix ... Less diverse are the destinations themselves, which are entirely Western ... My selfish hope is that others will be inspired to create similar collections focusing on different parts of the world ... Kennedy and Lee pleasingly assert the freedom to consider not only houses, but also house-related themes.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...a rallying cry for privacy justice ... Goldberg builds a convincing case that sexual privacy is a right that should be protected by federal law, much in the way that our personal, financial and medical information already is. If anyone can make that happen, it is she ... Goldberg chronicles in Nobody’s Victim her battle for justice in a tone that is both take-no-prisoners and warmly gregarious ... The cases she narrates are gut-wrenching, and her conversational approach lightens what could otherwise be an unbearably heavy load. It also makes accessible the complicated legal history leading to our current moment.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention, Freitas recounts with great thoughtfulness how her perception of the power differential between them, as well as her faith in the religious and educational institutions she’d grown up with, lulled her into susceptibility and disbelief ... [The book includes] nuanced explorations of the meaning of \'consent\' but also the hurried, underedited quality of a manuscript written on deadline ... Freitas’s [book] would benefit from tightened prose. But these are small complaints given the service...provide[d], which is to show without a shadow of a doubt that sexual harassment is often more terrorizing than many people understand it to be (particularly those lucky enough to have avoided its reach). For that reason, I’m grateful for Freitas’s reclamation of her voice[.]
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewBy recounting her travails in a conversational tone, and relegating most of the people in her life to nameless figures—the boyfriend, for instance, is known only as \'The Last of the Last Great Men\'—she borrows from popular single-lady conventions to turn the frown of bad fortune upside down. Conceivably the book’s indifference to exact details is a result of its unorthodox DNA ... among the 26 short chapters are tales that Black performed at various Moth story slams...in some instances nearly word for word. Did interweaving these anecdotes with (presumably) fresh new material written for the page, not the stage, make her lose sight of what a solitary reader requires in order to follow and feel immersed in a stranger’s story? ... Then again, it’s also possible that the narrative disjointedness is intentional, a dramatization of her theory that, as she states in the opening section, \'time is a lie\' ... Whatever the cause of the lack of cohesion, it would be perfectly unobjectionable, and even less detectable, were the emotional trajectory more persuasive. Instead, the reader is left with the unwelcome sensation that Black’s journey to become what she calls \'a woman on fire\' is little more than a strategic attempt to shoehorn a series of experiences into a suitably fashionable stance for a contemporary memoir.
PanKate BolickThere is no question: Reading this book made me feel queasily complicit in the author’s moral transgressions. Dressing up that discomfort as a ‘moral challenge’ endows Plante’s motivations with a nuance they simply don’t deserve. We are accustomed to thinking of memoir as a window, but in Plante’s case, it is more like a shield. Under cover of ‘it was my own experience,’ he finds the liberty to write and print cold-blooded commentary about other people, and spill their secrets … Plante is writing about three people of his close acquaintance, but his actual subject is his own contempt—for them and, presumably, himself. Were he to get to the bottom of this contempt within the pages of this book, it would be a very good book.
RaveThe Boston GlobeJonathan Lethem's remarkable new novel is more than a tribute; it's the author's own fortress. A 511-page social-realist epic chronicling the lives of two boyhood friends – Dylan and Mingus, one white, one black, and both motherless in 1970s Brooklyn – the book is a repository for all the junk and treasure, experiences and obsessions, of Lethem's life thus far … Save for one fantastical twist, it directly confronts the world in which we live, taking on everything from white liberal guilt and the politics of gentrification to the brutal realities of the prison system … If the first half of the book is embedded with stories and secrets, then the second half shoulders the burden of carrying them into adulthood. Once Dylan is an adult – clever and wry, he is the picture of emotional arrestment, unable to open himself completely to his black girlfriend, and stalled in his career packaging CD collections for a record label.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewAcross all 14 essays, nearly each page contains at least one gemlike moment of visual-verbal synesthesia ... Chew-Bose is never not thoughtful, though the insights on offer are largely of the wayward-whimsical variety — a personal memory that kindles an observation, then meanders along before stumbling, albeit gracefully, onto the next ... Presumably, linguistic maximalism is meant to stand in for the momentum of a well-built argument or narrative arc. But unlike her heroes Agnès Varda or Wong Kar-wai, she hasn’t yet learned to make the idiosyncratic miasma of memory, feeling and observation sustainably cohere.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewFor all of this new book’s color and ambition, it’s curiously lacking in voice, emotion and even very many ideas, as if the stripped-down language of Gerard’s fiction doesn’t quite translate to this hybrid genre and its different demands. At one point a source asks, 'Are you a journalist?' and Gerard replies, 'I’m more of a memoirist.' In fact, she borrows from both disciplines without taking full possession of either.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewGaitskill fans will be pleased to learn that the wise iconoclasm of her fiction is also on display in this, her first nonfiction book ... Throughout, Gaitskill is reliably unsparing but never mean, nor clever for the sake of it; even when operating as a critic she retains an artist’s appreciation for the labors of creative work. Those times she trains her eye on her own process, such as in her 2003 essay about the movie adaptation that 'bears almost no relationship' to her short story, 'Secretary,' on which it was based, are particularly satisfying. So are the moments when we’re treated to her theories on the purpose of story and form ... Her prescience is agenda-free, but it’s her exceptionally discerning writings on women — Linda Lovelace, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton — that make one wish she had (or even wanted) her own syndicated newspaper column.
RaveBookforumTo truly reclaim a legacy, it generally helps to have a big, penetrating biography, one that takes into consideration everything that’s come before and pushes forward a new and improved interpretation. Ruth Franklin’s excellent Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life is all that and more.
Mary Louise Parker
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewPerhaps this epistolary approach strikes you as cloying, as it did me, initially. But as I read on, and was pulled deeper into the behind-the-tabloids reality of Parker’s existence, I grew to appreciate how the device creates an unusual intimacy. The effect is less like eavesdropping over her shoulder, and more like being right there inside her head, to the point that her almost stream-of-consciousness cadences become your own.