PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewConfident, charismatic and alive to the pleasure of observation, the voice Granados conjures in Happy Hour is a testament to the power of charm on the page ... the voice that kept coming to mind as I read was Kay Thompson’s Eloise. While that figure has now been merchandised and rereleased into franchise oblivion, the original character was a small comic masterpiece: resourceful, unruly, at once worldly and innocent, with a certain loneliness flickering into view from time to time. Isa is a worthy heir to her anarchic spirit (an heir who prefers pupusas and halo-halo in Queens to gugelhopfen at the Palm Court).
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIs there a better way to come of age than in the first-person plural? Teenage stories take well to a \'we\' ... \'We\' is where the heroine begins in We Run the Tides, ... Vida captures the unstable sensation of early adolescent reality, that period teetering between childhood and young adulthood in which outlandish lies can seem weirdly plausible and basic facts totally alien ... The true dangers in Eulabee’s world are offstage, on the margins of Maria Fabiola’s story, but suggested with a deft touch by Vida ... Vida’s San Francisco is ramshackle and eccentric, home to heiresses but also tide pools of counterculture backwash ... Still, the affectionate specificity of the portrait she offers is one of the book’s real pleasures.
PositiveThe CutHaving and Being Had also takes the literature of self-aware privilege to a certain logical extreme: The book is an account of the precise material circumstances that enabled Biss to write it. Yet the spirit is less one of legalistic disclaimer and preemptive self-defense than of genuine scrutiny ... The predicament here—the queasy appeal of consumer pleasures to those who want to believe that they know better—is a common one, and one that’s also become somewhat commonplace as a subject ... Still, even on somewhat familiar terrain, Biss is a more thoughtful guide than most. She proceeds with a calm, attentive curiosity. She makes conversation with strangers; she looks words up in the dictionary. She is earnest, but not relentlessly so ... things grow increasingly interesting when she stops thinking about life as a consumer and begins considering what it means to work ... clarity of purpose is what makes Biss refreshing. Midway through the book, she describes sitting on a friend’s back porch, looking out at the tall grass in her yard ... Her commitment to her art is complete and unembarrassable. And as I read it, it occurred to me that perhaps the problem with \'self-aware\' writing isn’t just the tiresome disclaimers but the failure of nerve. Why read an essay or a novel whose own author seems unconvinced it should exist? Biss may be exhaustively self-aware, but she writes like her writing is work worth doing.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewMifflin is no Miss America apologist. She’s cleareyed about the pageant’s many hypocrisies and failures, which include a legacy of racial exclusion ... The marks she hits are largely familiar, and her galloping pace through a century of pop culture—310 pages pass swiftly—produces some moments of Wikipedia on speed .... Looking for Miss America is at its best when Mifflin pauses this sweeping summary to tell the stories of individual contestants. The pageant’s tensions and ambiguities emerge most vividly through the way particular women understood them in the context of their particular time ... The commercial promise that saw the pageant through shifting winds of feminism and fame would seem, at present, to have mostly disappeared. Mifflin’s lively book reads as an obituary.
MixedBookforumIn the notebooks, Roiphe finds herself \'experimenting, following possibly disturbing tangents, pursuing diverging lines of thought.\' Much of what her experimentation produces lies within the realm of commonplace pop-feminism ... If the familiarity is exasperating rather than just a little dull, it’s because Roiphe seems to hold herself aloof from the audience for those insights ... Faced with circumstances that might render her ordinary, Roiphe sometimes defaults to a posture of jaded uninterest ... Yet certain of Roiphe’s autobiographical sketches succeed in capturing, with uncomfortable immediacy, the experience of confronting something larger and genuinely unresolved.
Megan K. Stack
MixedBookforum...an uneasy combination. The first quarter or so of Women’s Work is largely a memoir of early motherhood, with all its pain and anxiety, in the tell-it-like-it-is tradition of Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work. The final quarter finds Stack in journalist mode, bringing her professional skills to bear on her own story ... Stack does not discuss or acknowledge this history, and the omission manages to work both for and against her. This is not breaking news, you want to tell her. Do the homework. But, at the same time, Stack’s sense of discovery is fresh, her anger is still hot, and these qualities give her story its force ... This makes it hard to look away but also hard not to feel claustrophobic ... You get the sense that these were meaningful encounters for Stack, but as journalism they fall a bit flat ... However formidable Stack’s professional skill, reporting introduces a new power imbalance: She controls the conversation; she controls the story that emerges. And the employer/employee relationship is not so easily set aside ... Stack lets nothing slide when it comes to herself, though; she’s unsparing, even brutal ... There’s bravery in a writer’s willingness to look bad. A genuine reckoning demands it.
PositiveBookforumThe pleasure of Emre’s book...is not vague grandiosity but specificity. Whatever her reservations about Katharine [Briggs] and Isabel [Myers]’s work, her commitment to her subjects is total—she renders personality in all its detail and contradiction. Her heroines are readers and writers at heart, inveterate observers and storytellers, and Emre, a literary scholar, portrays them in this spirit. Both obsessive and dauntlessly able, they emerge as true, irreducible weirdos ... The Personality Brokers presents a damningly thorough critique of the MBTI: From its lack of scientific merit to its role as a tool of Cold War–era conformity, personality testing looks misguided at best and potentially sinister at worst. Emre echoes Theodor Adorno, who aligned the exercises of personality typing and people-sorting with fascism. And yet her book’s slyest argument against MBTI—conveyed forcefully, if only implicitly—might be its portrait of Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs themselves. Emre confronts the reader with an undeniable gulf between the normalcy they profess and the energetic, idiosyncratic intensity they display. The banalities of type falter beside their combined force of personality.
PanBookforum\"It feels weirdly coy, right now, reading a novel concerned with contemporary women’s issues whose real-world reference points are draped in a perfunctory veil of fictionality...For a book that strives to capture an era in which feminism became a dependable pop-culture brand, The Female Persuasion offers a sparsely populated cultural landscape ... Wolitzer’s tin ear for pop culture comes to feel like an author’s inability to either authoritatively capture the things of her world as they exist or else invent a world compelling on its own terms ... The youth are out there naming names, demanding change, maintaining a briny sense of humor. Meanwhile, at the end of The Female Persuasion, thirty-one-year-old Greer has something strongly resembling \'it all\': a baby, a best seller, and a brownstone. It’s a happy ending, fantastical and very old-fashioned.\
RaveHarper'sA loose, baggy monster, full of irrelevant garbage and needless words — and all the richer for it — the book implicitly makes an argument for what a twenty-first-century novel might be ... In Batuman’s view, integrating the new and the familiar, the personal and the canonical, is precisely what the novel ought to do. But this integration isn’t simply an intellectual process; it’s what happens in all coming-of-age stories ... As idiosyncratic Hungarians continue to materialize, it begins to feel as though Batuman is giving us an object lesson in distinguishing between the tastefully modest craft of fiction and the ungainly ambition of literature ... Batuman is virtuosic in articulating the internal workings of this moment. Her compassion for the agony of those attempting to forge a connection through words is perceptive, intelligent, and funny. In The Idiot, she has heeded the rallying cry she issued in n+1: 'Write long novels, pointless novels. Do not be ashamed to grieve about personal things. Dear young writers, write with dignity, not in guilt. How you write is how you will be read.'”
PositiveSlate\"Kleeman reported on \'fruitarians\' for n+1 last year, and she’s good at capturing the beatific zeal of the orthorexic. Her genius in A Body Like Mine is to extrapolate new varieties of magical nutrition ... In the book’s final third, A descends into the bowels of the cult, and her story becomes more mechanical as Kleeman goes through the motions of a conspiracy plot ... Much more effectively unsettling are the quietly unhinged antics of B; the bland, blank imperturbability of C; and the phantasmagoric sensory detail that Kleeman imagines ... one of the best books I’ve read about what it feels like to have a body: the mystery of its unseen innards, the ongoing project of its appearance, the meaty fact of its movement through the world.\
RaveThe New YorkerThe Argonauts is a moving exploration of family and love, but it’s also a meditation on the seductions, contradictions, limitations, and beauties of being normal, as a person and as an artist.