RaveThe New York Journal of BooksThis is not your typical true crime book, and that’s very much a good thing ... a stunning achievement—a whodunit page turner with an unexpected ending that is both shocking and, sadly, a little disappointing ... This was one of the best books of 2020. Author Becky Cooper’s quest to learn the truth about Jane Britton’s 50-year-old unsolved murder is a fascinating journey that ultimately leads to any number of truths about murder, relationships, justice, misogyny and powerful institutions.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksDid you ever read a book where it’s obvious the author has no burning desire to write a book, where he puts down phrases in staccato bursts that are not really sentences or paragraphs or even proper English? A book where the author admits he has little patience for story structure in the first ten pages? That book must suck, right? Wrong! If you’re Jerry Seinfeld that book is very funny indeed ... he is so funny that virtually all of his bits (and this book is nothing but a compilation of bits collected over a 40-year career) leap off the page and, yes, make one laugh out loud ... Seinfeld is no tortured genius giving us anecdotes about how he grew up—he just gets to it in a very plain manner of fact way.
PanThe New York Journal of BooksNorman knows an interesting character when he sees one but, sadly, he misfired when deciding on Jimi Hendrix. Even a fan of the great guitarist, after reading this book, would conclude the man himself is not that interesting. That’s not to say Jimi’s life and career wasn’t \'spellbinding,\' as the title suggests but Jimi, as a man without the guitar, was kind of dull and drug addled ... succeeds when it examines the creation myth of Jimi, exploring how he became the acknowledged greatest guitar god of all time. The problem with the book is the hole at the center of the story. It appears from this reading that Hendrix himself had nothing interesting to say ... We know Jimi became more and more obsessed about every track as his career went on and envisioned the Electric Lady Studio in New York, but we’re missing the essential elements that might make Hendrix appear interesting ... The best part of this book is how Hendrix became Hendrix, how this poor kid from Seattle somehow etched his name in the rock history books. Once he hits the big time with his first album and then the masterful cover of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, his story devolves into a long, uninteresting drug haze.
PanThe New York Journal of BooksThis book by Nick Hornby is so \'woke,\' it’s as though the author is writing an opinion piece more than a novel. All the PC bases are covered and, probably because of that, it all feels so contrived ... If all of this sounds fairly amusing, it isn’t really. There are any number of endless conversations Lucy and Joseph have about their relationships and, after a bit, you feel like you’re trapped in a private conversation you care nothing about. They drone on and on but never seem to advance and it gets tiresome and tedious, two adjectives that don’t make for a compelling novel ... There’s too much slog and not enough snog, as the Brits might say.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksEvelyn’s trip down this odd career path (which feels like it might actually exist or will in the near future) elevates the book above other novels of this sort ... In the hands of a less polished writer, this novel might be one long cliché, but Karolina Waclawiak is no mere writer. She is a master of painting emotions with many different colors.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksThis novel is difficult and challenging and demands a lot from the reader. Parts are wonderfully written, parts are transcendent, parts are heartbreaking . . . but hold on. Should we not consider the casual reader? Should we require the casual reader to have an advanced degree in comparative literature to be entertained? ... If only Olsen would stick with his central conceit and his clear ability for precise and concise detail ... The individual stories of the fictional characters are absorbing, and it’s interesting to read, as you’re meeting them, to know what their eventual fates will be. That adds an immeasurable weight to many of the scenes ... But storytelling here is sacrificed for experimental or innovative writing. The novel switches from prose to stream of consciousness to pages of a screenplay to, well, one is not quite sure how to describe some of this except to say there are words on a page. Free-form poetry maybe? In the ultimate chapter that begins with a plane crash, the paragraphs literally crash and burn against each other into a dysfunctional mess ... Maybe all of this is thrilling if you’re an English PhD candidate, but one doubts the casual reader will want to spend the money for such experimental storytelling. Some will, but forewarned is forearmed.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksThere are sections in Gary Janetti’s that are so funny, one needs to put the book down and just laugh out loud ... This slight book of essays does nearly as good a job as any memoir would, although one does thirst for the breakthrough moment. Janetti is a well-known TV writer and the book is filled with many self-deprecating essays but never the one when he finally figures out that he can make a living out of writing funny. It’s too bad because the rest of his adventures are amusing indeed ... Many of the essays are about the younger Janetti coming to terms with being gay. While hilarious, they are often poignant, such as his letter to his younger self when his advice could pretty much apply to anyone, anywhere ... Do You Mind If I Cancel is packed with funny lines, wistful memories, and the kinds of coming of age experiences we all have. A great read no matter what mood you’re in.
Jan Stocklassa, trans. by Tara F. Chace
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksConnecting Larsson to Palme and marketing a book this way is the equivalent of spinning gold out of yarn. In this case, the yarn are Larsson’s never-examined files on the Palme murder. This was the genius of author Jan Stocklassa who took a legitimate interest in solving the Palme murder and then discovered that Larsson also had been obsessed with it ... One can feel Stocklassa’s excitement when he was given access to Larsson’s storage unit filled with boxes of material on the Palme murder. He liberally quotes memos and correspondence throughout the book so that the reader is nearly reading Larsson’s mind. Just the idea of it is compelling ... But then the book hits a snag. One can hardly blame Stocklassa for being too thorough—after all, the casual reader does need to be brought up to speed on who Palme was and why his assassination was important—but do we really need to know every far-flung theory the police chased down? ... One must slog through the middle of this nearly 500-page book filled Swedish names that are difficult to remember and even harder to pronounce. The whole thing feels like chemistry homework and is hard to follow even if you’re invested in the book’s thesis ... One gets the feeling that this book could have been 200 pages shorter and when it comes to the writing, it must be said that Stocklassa is no Larsson ... Fascinating stuff but, as of this writing, the Swedish police authorities continue to investigate even though they’ve had Stocklassa’s book for about a year now. The jury is out.
Bret Easton Ellis
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"Ellis is good chronicler or our divided times ... White is a refreshing read because it’s just so full of rage. It’s almost as if Patrick Bateman, Ellis’ anti-hero from American Psycho, had decided to become a writer instead of a serial killer.\
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"Readers can get really caught up in S. H.’s discovery of her young self. The writing here is sophisticated and literate and the author’s line drawings sprinkled throughout the book add to the story’s whimsy ... The push pull between the mature narrator and her younger self is fascinating and works on every level, so it’s disappointing when the fiction of the younger writer interferes. It’s tempting to skip over those pages. Certainly, Hustvedt felt this younger fiction was important but it’s lost on this reviewer.\
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"Shapiro [is] a seasoned writer who understands self-reflection and knows how to go deep inside herself ... Inheritance is a fascinating read that will carry you along as it explores the nature of what makes us who we are ... This memoir is part detective story, part personal essay and was born out of the serendipity of spitting into a test tube.\
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"Brottman’s book goes deeper and deeper into the nature of suicide and it is way more fascinating than you might think ... Anyone who enjoys true crime is liable to enjoy the story behind Brottman’s search and Rivera’s death.\
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"This is an odd hybrid of a book. It’s half true crime story and half literary criticism and, overall, an honest attempt to unearth the origins of the iconic novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, now celebrating its 60th year since publication ... It’s a provocative and timely thesis in the #MeToo age we live in and makes this a worthy hybrid, so long as you’re not looking for a typical true crime story. This is much more than that.\
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksIt tells the story of one small, dead-end block in Manhattan and tries to use neighborhood life to examine the larger world ... But what stands out most for this male reader is the novel’s almost total disregard for men.
In lead character Nora Nolan’s world, men are children, boobs, boors, and Neanderthals incapable of containing their misplaced rage ... Quindlen is a good storyteller and Alternate Side zips along but it all feels so small, somewhat intentionally. The block is a microcosm of white privilege and mostly liberal elitism.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksBut because this tell-all is written by a woman, it has an entirely different point of reference. And writer Erica Garza was not only addicted to your run of the mill threesome and lesbian porn ... Garza attributes her sex addiction to her lack of self-worth and her sex adventures are sometimes so brutal you want to yell at her to just stop! ... What makes the book tick is that Garza’s ability and talent as a storyteller. She’s a well-known essayist on this subject, and she is able to mine the depths of magic and mystery that makes sex what it is ... As Garza struggles with her addiction and psyche, the reader is firmly in her corner because she is painfully open and vulnerable. This memoir succeeds as the best memoirs do.