RaveThe New York Times Book Review[Serpentine] is the slenderest of creatures, almost plotless and at 80 generously illustrated pages barely thick enough to have a spine ... Serpentine is a trifle, but it brings with it all the familiar delights of Pullman’s work: its effortless clarity, its intelligence, its ineffable mix of coziness and darkness, innocence and experience.
John Jeremiah Sullivan
RaveTIMEJJS, as I have come to think of him, may be the best essayist of his generation ... He does everything I wish I could do as an essayist ... There are problems with Pulphead. JJS’s best subject is himself, and the line goes a little slack sometimes when he’s not in play ... The collection is not as cohesive as it wants to be, which is to say that it’s not cohesive at all, and it shouldn’t pretend to be, even a little. It’s also not published with anything like the gravitas JJS has earned ... The title is too faux-cool (as is the flap copy—in my experience anything billed as \'mind-bending\' won’t actually bend your mind). The cover is muddy. And it’s a paperback original. JJS deserves hardcover! ... He’ll get it. He’s not exactly a national secret ... But he’s the closest thing we have right now to Tom Wolfe, and that includes Tom Wolfe. Though DFW might be a better comparison, actually, except that JJS isn’t quite as clever as DFW (who is?), and on the plus side, he never makes the mistake of taking himself too seriously. Everything else, yes. Maybe that’s the key to JJS: he’s a man who happens to have been born in trivial times, and he meets a lot of trivial people, but he treats it all so very, very seriously.
Tatyana Tolstaya, Trans. by Anya Migdal
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"Tolstaya is well known in Russia as a brilliant and caustic political critic, but her memories of her Soviet childhood have a tender, personal quality, devoid of any ideological ax-grinding ... Tolstaya is doubly haunted by the past, both by its lostness and by its stubborn refusal to go away. She is blessed, and cursed, with the mystic’s gift of seeing the shades of the departed ... Although this is Tolstaya’s first book to be translated into English in 10 years, it could not be said of Aetherial Worlds that it is all killer, no filler...But it’s more than worth sifting through a little dross for the pleasure of seeing the world through the corrective lens of Tolstaya’s vision, which reveals the world as not just a dull accretion of matter but a complex and shifting system of real and unreal realms, populated by beings both visible and invisible, floodlit by flashes of transcendence.\
PositiveTIME MagazineIn the past, he focused on individual experiences, but now he wanted to look at the behavior of societies as a whole. Specifically, he was interested in memory, and the role that collective remembering and forgetting plays in the ways societies recover after catastrophes ...The Buried Giant is set in a misty, primordial England populated by feuding Saxons and Britons and haunted by traces of a great age just gone by: the ruins of the collapsing Roman Empire and the shadow of the late King Arthur... If at first Ishiguro's language sounds flat and unadorned, it's that very flatness that makes you wonder what's buried underneath. It's a voice he found before he ever started writing, back when he was still a singer-songwriter.
RaveTIME Magazine...what intrigued me about his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, is that it's explicitly about that blankness. He cops to the emptiness of his hero right up front... By delving into the past, Tsukuru delves into his own blankness to see how deep it goes, what it means and what it might be concealing ... Tsukuru does find out why his friends turned on him, but I won't spoil it. The question is whether in the process he becomes a whole person. Murakami tells us he does — but I'm not convinced. Tsukuru excavates a mountain of drama and backstory out of his blankness, but he still stares at it just as blankly.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewMerchant does the important work of excavating and compiling large numbers of details and anecdotes about the development of the iPhone, many of them previously unrecorded ... The iPhone is designed for maximum efficiency and compactness. The One Device isn’t. The three chapters on the development of the iPhone are the heart of the book, but there’s some filler too ... Even worse is Merchant’s ghastly time-traveling habit. In order to talk about magnetometers we first have to sit still for a history lesson ('compasses can be traced back at least as far as the Han dynasty, around 206 B.C.') ... But when he gets back to the actual iPhone’s creation, Merchant tells a far richer story than I — having covered Apple for years as a journalist — have seen before ... The iPhone masquerades as a thing not made by human hands. Merchant’s book makes visible that human labor, and in the process dispels some of the fog and reality distortion that surround the iPhone. The One Device isn’t definitive, but it’s a start.
J. K. Rowling
PositiveTIME...The Casual Vacancy is a different beast entirely... a big, ambitious, brilliant, profane, funny, very upsetting and magnificently eloquent novel of contemporary England, rich with literary intelligence and entirely bereft of bullshit... Her interest is in the emotional and social chasms that yawn between us and the grotesque emotional wounds we inflict on those on the other side, always in the belief that we’re acting in righteous self-defense ... Rowling, by contrast, shows off a new descriptive dexterity, an extra verbal gear that until now she kept in reserve... In Pagford, everybody believes they’re the hero of the story, but as the novel’s point of view restlessly shifts, we see each character recast again and again as villain, victim, fool, lover, ally, traitor ... The Casual Vacancy is, in a funny way, not so much an extension of the Harry Potter books as their negative image: it’s a painfully arbitrary and fallen world, a world that, bereft as it is of the magic that animates and ennobles Hogwarts, sags and cracks under its own weight.
RaveTIMEOne of these narrators has to be unreliable. Maybe both are. It becomes apparent in a series of stunning reveals and whiplash reversals that these characters, like the book they\'re in, aren\'t what we thought they were. Gone Girl is a story about men and women who live double lives not because they\'re secret agents or jewel thieves but because as human beings they\'re incapable of being who they appear to be … Gone Girl is a hall of mirrors where everything is an empty reflection, including the people who live there … Its content may be postmodern, but it takes the form of a thoroughbred thriller about the nature of identity and the terrible secrets that can survive and thrive in even the most intimate relationships.
RaveTIMEMukherjee has a gift for making gripping, vivid narrative out of the cataclysmic but largely invisible drama of molecular biology. There’s something both comic and poignant in watching generations of fallible, eccentric geniuses try to peer into their own cells and puzzle out the codes that made them that way.
MixedTIME...[T]he book’s putative subject, death, is as real as they come, but the people caught in this Totentanz are strangely colorless. The tone of the book is hushed, earnest and almost completely humorless, but more than that DeLillo withholds, perversely, any detail that would bring the characters in it to life...This is a choice on DeLillo’s part–we know very well that he’s capable of thrillingly vivid fictions–and as such it’s hard to interpret. What can a book with this little life in it tell us about death? (For a better treatment of a similar premise, see Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.) What Zero K does evoke well is the cool digital alienation of the present moment, the sense of dislocation that comes from being awash in torrents of data about the world but at the same time at a distance from it, seeing everything through screens.
PositiveTIMEExperiences From the Outside World, is a collection of his travel writing, though the real thread that runs through it is painful honesty ... Not much happens to Dyer; probably the most dramatic moments in White Sands are his attempt at dogsledding (he falls off), an attempted hookup with his Forbidden City guide (no spoilers) and, in the title essay, his acquisition of a sinister hitchhiker in New Mexico (ditto). The real action is in the lively intercourse between Dyer’s mind and the outside world.
RaveTIMEMacdonald’s first sight of her bird, when the breeder lifts her out of the cardboard box she travels in, is one of the most memorable passages I’ve read this year, or for that matter this decade. The heat of the moment is enough to melt grammar ... Macdonald frames her book in part as a dialogue with a similar memoir, The Goshawk, by T.H. White, who’s best known for his Arthurian epic The Once and Future King. Macdonald is every bit his equal as a writer (as a falconer she’s much better), and thinking about White is a roundabout way for her to look at her own motivations for training Mabel in the wake of her father’s death, which aren’t simple.