Kate Tuttle is president of the National Book Critics Circle. A freelance critic and writer, she writes a weekly book column for the Boston Globe; her work appears frequently in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @katekilla
PositiveThe Empathy Exams...[a] brilliant collection ... It’s a rallying cry, almost a manifesto ... Jamison wants us to pay attention to both heart and head, to feeling (in all its messiness and pain) and truth-telling (in all its qualifiers and inadequacy). Not every essay in the book is...ambitious, nor are they all equally successful ... Jamison exhibits a powerful ability to dwell in uncertainty while still training rapt attention ... in The Empathy Exams Leslie Jamison has announced herself as its rising star.
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"In Maid, Land displays a keen eye for how her clients live, what their houses say about their lives ... More than any book in recent memory, Land nails the sheer terror that comes with being poor, the exhausting vigilance of knowing that any misstep or twist of fate will push you deeper into the hole ... In a way, then, this is a survivor’s tale. But it’s also a cautionary one, not only warning of the fragility of prosperity in a nation where social mobility goes both ways, but admonishing those of us not currently poor to remember the humanity of those who clean our houses, mow our lawns, cook our meals.\
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"As is the pattern in these books, Harris braids together the personal and the political — readers might find themselves tempted to skim through what feels like a campaign speech to return to a life story that genuinely entrances. But that would be a mistake; Harris provides a very clear picture of the kind of leader she hopes to be, as well as the way her mind works when she confronts various issues, including crime, healthcare and foreign policy ... Throughout, there are unmistakable echoes of the kind of inclusive tone often struck by former President Obama.\
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"... exquisite ... But this isn’t a book powered by plot. Instead, McColl’s gift is in distilling a lifetime — the relationships, hopes nurtured then dashed, joys still sought, even at life’s end — into vignettes of great beauty, ordinary moments held up for loving examination ... Joy Enough is a slim book that feels expansive, both in its ideas and its spirit. The pleasure is in the closely observed, deeply felt moments between mother and daughter. If the book has a misstep, it’s in a section introducing friends and describing a group vacation — not because the writing here is anything less than lovely, but because our attention doesn’t want to leave the duo of Allison and Sarah.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe honesty with which Chung grapples with...racial erasure is a hallmark of her stunning debut memoir, a book that confronts enormous pain with precision, clarity, and grace ... in addition to being deeply thoughtful and moving, the book is a fiercely compelling page-turner ... what shines through this beautiful book is her clear-eyed compassion for all her relations, her powerful desire for connection, her bold pursuit of her own identity, and the sheer creative energy it took to build her own family tree, to \'discover and tell another kind of story.\'
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn her sharply-observed, big-hearted memoir, Heartland, Smarsh chronicles the human toll of inequality, her own childhood a case study ... Smarsh writes movingly of her father, Nick, an itinerant carpenter, and her grandfathers, whose hard work defined and often shortened their lives. But its her mother, Jeannie, and grandmother Betty who occupy the book’s emotional center ... Throughout the book, Smarsh writes in a form of address to an imagined child — an unborn, perhaps never-to-be-born daughter she names August. As a literary convention, it’s occasionally unsuccessful — much like novels disguised as diaries, the second-person narrative can strain good sentences into bad — but there’s an emotional power that comes through, a resonance that keeps readers focused on the weight and importance of Smarsh’s project.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewLike Dickens, Tyler sketches a well-peopled larger community, bustling with friends, lovers and bit players. But the book’s real action centers on Willa and how, in lending Denise and especially Cheryl some of her steadiness and predictability, she reclaims something of her younger self: a bolder, messier person than the superficial one she’d become, the \'cheery and polite and genteel\' woman who ended up living near a golf course and wearing expensive clothes ...the novels of Anne Tyler seem simple because she makes the very difficult look easier than it is. Her books are smarter and more interesting than they might appear on the surface; then again, so are our mothers.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times\"Dean deftly and often elegantly traces these women\'s arguments about race, politics and gender, making a kind of narrative of the ideas at play in the pages of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the New York Review of Books, the Partisan Review and other publications ... Dean\'s prose is mostly plainspoken, and often persuasive. The book is consistently entertaining and often truly provocative — especially for anyone who makes or loves art or literature ... It would have been nice to see Dean include more critics of color, but the world she\'s writing about was even less diverse than publishing and journalism are now ... the women Dean profiles here were willing to be unpopular. That made them not only sharp, but brave.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia, Allen interprets and contextualizes her uncle’s autobiography (including some of his idiosyncratic spellings). It was a process she compares to a musician covering another musician’s song ... Folks like Bob have a lot to teach the rest of us about what good mental healthcare might look like.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
RaveNewsdayThe book is composed of oral histories Alexievich gathered in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Alexievich weaves their testimonies together until their individual voices become a haunting chorus ... In undertaking the hundreds of interviews that led to this vast, emotionally riveting account, the author wants us to consider the women’s voices ... The deceptively simple form Alexievich deploys allows for an emotional range from utter despair to a kind of transcendent hope.
PositiveThe Bosotn GlobeLively, gossipy, and at times quite moving, Thompson’s is fine addition ... The Six is at its strongest when mapping the complicated family dynamics; where Thompson occasionally falters is in making sense of some in the family’s repugnant politics.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...dazzling, dizzying history of time travel ... Gleick’s a wide-ranging enthusiast and a graceful explainer — though some readers (like this one) may need to slow down and focus very hard as we move through the thorny thickets of theoretical physics ... one of the great charms of this book is its author’s willingness to embrace multiple points of view and to credit art and experience as much as theory.
PositiveThe Boston GlobePart natural history, part scientific inquiry, but most of all a deeply thoughtful human meditation on how we walk through life, Moor’s book is enchanting.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn poet Kim Addonizio’s unflinching, often hilarious 'confessions,' the excesses and debauchery are not prelude but process, not a state from which to be saved but a series of experiences and memories to save, and savor ... Much as it revels in the poet’s life as a fun-loving bad girl, this stunning book is at its most gorgeous when it reveals its author’s great big heart.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe author skips back and forth in time, with accounts of her learning to care for and eventually run sled dogs providing thrilling moments, but it’s her portrait of this friend and father figure that lends a warm glow to this thoughtful meditation on a lifelong attraction to the cold.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn this compact yet powerful memoir, Cooper tells the story of Zoë’s cancer and her treatment — more than that, he meditates on fatherhood, childhood, aging, safety, and love. A children’s book illustrator and author, Cooper writes with the plainspoken grace and sharp eye of an artist ... Cooper’s an astute observer of his own reactions to Zoë’s illness, which made him 'angry and protective and wild.' Because he’s a good father, he keeps those feelings from the children — but because he’s a good writer, he shares them with us, the readers. The result is something special, a tough, tender book that gets at the heart of what it means to make a family and a life.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe Girls is gorgeous, disquieting, and really, really good ... [Cline's] prose conveys a kind of atmospheric dread, punctuated by slyly distilled observation, not unlike the early cinematic style of Roman Polanski, whose wife, actress Sharon Tate, was killed by the Manson family. That deliberate tone remains throughout, though it’s somewhat less successful in the sections set in the present ... By far the strongest writing comes when Cline limns the nearly exquisite boredom and anticipation of early adolescence ... brings a fresh and discerning eye to both the specific, horrific crime at her book’s center, one firmly located in a time and place, and the timeless, slow-motion tragedy of a typical American girlhood.
RaveThe Boston GlobeWeaving together cultural context and a rich cast of characters, Silberman casts the history of autism as a medical page-turner. By the end, as he describes how people with autism have sought to empower themselves, the book is as emotionally resonant as any this year.
RaveThe Boston Globe[Ghettoside functions both as a snappy police procedural and — more significantly — as a searing indictment of legal neglect ... Leovy’s powerful testimony demands respectful attention.
RaveThe Boston Globe[Seierstad's] taut narrative also reveals a series of heartbreakingly incompetent official decisions, without which many lives would have been saved. It would be an unremittingly dismal book if she hadn’t also profiled many victims and their families — in particular, the politically engaged youth gathered on Utoya, a tiny island owned by Norway’s Labour Party, whose loss to their parents and to their nation is clearly incalculable. The juxtaposition of their stories with their killer’s is what makes this book unforgettable.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...rather than focus on the gory details, Tillman instead is interested in how Brownsville itself has been wounded, and how it sets about to recover. As a good reporter must, she talks to everyone from lawyers and psychiatrists who consulted on the case to local people who still regard the building as a site housing evil. Her investigation goes in so many directions that the book can feel unfocused. Yet there’s a strength in Tillman’s rejection of a single narrative. Pondering poverty, mental illness, and a belief in demonic possession as three of the motives raised at the trial, Tillman concludes that '[t]he truth can be more than one thing.'”
PositiveThe Boston GlobeNewman’s self-awareness is what makes the book work; it’s a portrait of striving toward a perfection that never existed, while loving the imperfection that surrounds us. 'The parent I want to be floats in and out of life,' Newman writes, sometimes helpfully present and other times as elusive as 'a shaft of sunlight I want to capture.'”
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn a book this delirious with ideas, a few land more firmly than others. It may not be literally true that '[b]urglars are as much a part of architecture as the buildings they hope to break into,' but it’s hard to argue with Manaugh’s contention that burglary is 'a new science of the city, proceeding by way of shortcuts, splices, and wormholes.'”
PositiveThe Boston Globe...a terrific book: fast and furious, if a little ugly at times. Abramovich listens to the Rats as they gossip and feud; as they get older, he notes when they marry, have kids, and drift away from the club. Oakland is both backdrop and character, a city whose booms and busts, racism and violence mirror anything the Rats could dream up.
RaveThe Boston GlobeCotkin explores what Susan Sontag and Tom Wolfe, among others, dubbed 'the New Sensibility,' a term he admits contains so many possible definitions that 'trying to reach one is a game that has its delights but never ends with victory.' He’s right about its delights — the book fascinates on every page — and also about the inevitable failure of assigning any single meaning to the label. It doesn't matter.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn Murray’s letters to Roosevelt, as well as Bell-Scott’s masterful, understated narrative of their historical context, we can see the evolution of a powerful, important American voice.
RaveThe Boston GlobeBy turns raw, wry, and meditative, Lisicky offers a painfully honest accounting of his own failures and limitations; ultimately, this is the story of how a heart opens, and the endless, literally death-defying work of keeping it that way.
Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
PositiveThe Boston GlobeAlong with delivering the standard biography, complete with a raft of charming photos, Carmon and Knizhnik write powerfully about the progression of Ginsburg’s legal career. In particular, they make vivid the development of her trademark arguments — particularly her longstanding belief that cases involving women’s rights, inextricably tied to reproductive freedom, should be tried using standards of equality, not privacy.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn this lively, deliciously gossipy dual biography, Karin Wieland treats both with great sympathy but also clear-eyed assessment.