PositiveThe New YorkerThis collision of the mundane and the revelatory makes McGee’s book as enjoyable to thumb through as the Fragrantica forums, though his guide is much better researched and far less baroque. It unfolds like a set of smart answers to essentially silly questions about quotidian life. Ever wonder why sweaty armpits stink? And, in the worst cases, why they stink of shallots in particular? McGee reports that the apocrine sweat glands, which kick into high gear during adolescence, do their best to hide the evidence of their own microbiomal bouquet. Sugars and amino acids bind to volatile, potentially rank molecules, thereby preventing the release of any foul smell. But when bacterial interlopers, such as bacillus and staphylococcus, break these bonds and \'liberate\' compounds like hydroxymethyl-hexanoic acid, then the full power of B.O. is unleashed: \'rancid, animal, cumin-like.\' ... McGee’s tangled web of fragrance families starts to reveal fascinating relationships. By charting the genealogy of the piquant invaders of teen-age underarms, he discovers that they are the \'very same molecules that scent goat and sheep meats, milks, cheeses, and wools.\' This is no accident. Traditional cheese-makers cultivated their curds with a \'sweat-like brine\' for weeks. Once humans realized they could mimic their own bodily ripeness in their food, they simply couldn’t help themselves. \'The smells of the human body may be socially embarrassing,\' McGee writes, \'but for children, and privately for adults, they’re often irresistible.\' ... McGee does not make such grand claims; he is more interested in analyzing the deep origin stories of smells than in tracking changeable cultural trends.
MixedBookforumStagg’s New York tends to be flat, matte, simmering at a low temperature—it always seems to be two in the afternoon or two in the morning. She’s both here and not, both in the thick of it and watching it all float past ... Stagg’s writerly affect is not so much so bored she could die; it’s so bored and still very much alive, and well, that is just how everything feels now ... Stagg is a staunch realist about the city, although her New York is decidedly more glamorous than the one most people inhabit ... Stagg’s proximity and appreciation for the gloss of the fashion world make her eager to skewer it; she truly loves it, so she is allowed to fully hate it ... it makes sense that the strongest section of Sleeveless is Stagg’s collected fashion writing; few people are able to wring so much cultural critique and history out of individual items of clothing. She takes fashion seriously ... Stagg is clearly trying to provoke ... Whether she is trying to provoke her reader, which would be a more actively antagonistic stance, or just to provoke and humor herself out of a nihilistic spiral, like touching an exposed wire just to feel something, is not clear. She is trying to chronicle a period of decadence and folly—and also anesthetic paranoia—from the jaded edges of the party. Her voice is certainly a faithful reflection of at least one corner of the fashion and media landscape of the past decade. And yet her rootless internal monologue can also simply give way to frustration. There is still a lot to care about in the world, and still a lot to do, even as Stagg muses that her generation and those that follow are sliding into paralysis like a warm bath.
RaveNPRThough books of criticism don\'t normally break through to mass audiences, there are certain tomes, like John Berger\'s Ways of Seeing or Susan Sontag\'s On Photography, that have managed to seep into public consciousness. It\'s clear that The Art of Cruelty intends to be this kind of book. In between her serious blocks of research, Nelson pauses to synthesize, inject humor and often speak directly to the reader as if he or she were part of a fiery conversation over dinner rather than an anonymous page turner. Her one-liners are sparkling ... The Art of Cruelty is not a book for the squeamish or even the passive reader. It will upset and confuse, and even delight at times. It\'s a lean-forward experience, and in its most transcendent moments, reading it can feel like having the best conversation of your life. It\'s not an easy text to dive into, but once begun it\'s difficult to ignore.
RaveNPRIf you read for story, Threats will disappoint. Very little \'happens\' outside of the ramblings of David\'s paranoid mind. But if you read for tone and atmosphere, or just that prickly feeling that runs up your spine when writing is so hauntingly grim that a ghost may have written it, Gray might be your new favorite find ... What the writer lacks in narrative coherence, she makes up for with technique: She packs both humor and the grotesque into vivid sentences ... Threats swerves often, jumping from the present to the past, from dental exams to David\'s inner brain, from a crime scene to a house littered with tormenting scraps of paper. The disorientation can be jarring. But that sensation of unease is a testament to Gray\'s talent.
RaveBookforum... a thoughtful and fast-paced biography ... Few people could truly understand Fisher’s bizarre upbringing—and certainly very few of them are biographers. But Weller, a Vanity Fair contributor who grew up in Fisher’s neighborhood as the daughter of a movie-magazine writer and the niece of the owner of the buzzy Hollywood restaurant Ciro’s, is exactly the right showbiz insider-outsider to shepherd Carrie Fisher’s story to the masses ... Weller’s book is full of wicked, exuberant details...the author is much more concerned with Fisher’s private antics in the service of her friends than her public displays in service of her fame ... Weller does an excellent job of placing Fisher’s life in context, showing that while she may have shifted the culture (and certainly, when she stepped into that terribly uncomfortable gold bikini, she indelibly changed fandom and what it meant to be a mega-star), the culture also shifted her ... Weller interviewed hundreds of people, but the book does not feel overstuffed. Instead, it reads like a great, extra-long magazine profile, full of scuttlebutt and glamour and insight. In a way, the biography’s bouncy tone is a tribute to Fisher’s memory; she knew how to laugh, even when circumstances were dire. She would want her life story to go down like good chocolate, rich and sweet. But she would have also wanted a bitter edge to it, and that’s here too: Weller doesn’t gloss over Fisher’s struggles, heartbreaks, indulgences, or petty squabbles. She shows us a woman who, in her decades-long battles with insecurity, depression, and addiction, often ended up hurting others as well as herself.
PositiveBookforumReading the cleverly titled I.M. (how deliriously fortunate, to go through life with those initials!) feels like sitting with the designer while he is in a salon chair, unspooling. For some, it might seem tedious to be the ear he practically gnaws off as he ping-pongs between memories ... But for those readers who turn to celebrity memoir for exactly this sort of breathless dish, who love a gossip column with a central character, who want to be rocketed into inaccessible inner sanctums by a denizen telling tales out of school, I.M. will land not with a thud but with a satisfying squish, a gooey hunk of cake with more than enough frosting to go around ... I.M. is a surprisingly literary work ... I.M. is a playful read, with just enough spumy effervescence to give it the texture of a bobbinet tutu. And yet there is a weight to it, a few heavy paillettes to keep the structure in place ... His book is all smooth seams, which can elicit a distinct pleasure. I do miss the ragged hems.
Tara Isabella Burton
RaveThe Barnes and Noble ReviewBurton\'s novel is Patricia Highsmith-meets-Gossip Girl, a mashup of a long con and the demimonde. But this is simplifying Burton’s magic trick; she has taken our insatiable love of grifter stories... and twisted them into sparkling, high-flying prose and an timely allegory about female friendship that is so propulsive that I read the entire book in two days (I even took it with me into the bathtub, as my waterlogged copy can attest).
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewThe resulting book is itself a kind of a marriage, between Scutts’s academic training and her more personal engagement with Hillis as a flesh-and-blood character. The resulting book is far from a straight biography and offers instead a colorful dissertation on midcentury womanhood, exploring Hillis’ impact from several angles in order to sketch out a prismatic understanding of feminism and freedom at the time ... Scutts was smart to continually weave Hillis’ story into her diversions. This makes Hillis’ story feel far-reaching — she touched so many aspects of women’s rights and financial independence — but it also grounds an enormous history in a personal narrative ... One obscure woman’s story can be a vessel for understanding the lives of thousands; it is in doing justice to this fact that Scutts does justice to her leading lady.
PositiveThe NationYaffe has given us the best chronicle to date of Mitchell’s creative process and the specific way her songs were composed. He is especially good on her unique tuning methodology and her myriad influences, from classical composers to the swingy American Songbook. He breaks down her songs in encyclopedic detail, from inspiration to cultural reception to the intimate moments of their composition. But one has to wonder how much of Reckless Daughter would feel like yet another glamorous misunderstanding to the artist. Mitchell has said in many interviews that she longs for the kind of creative carte blanche that she sees afforded to her artistic equals, and Yaffe’s deep study does contain a new level of granular, obsessive analysis that treats her songwriting as great art. Yet many of the passages in Yaffe’s book read like a swoony valentine to Mitchell, or at least to the effect that her music can have on the spirit.
PanNPR...Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, the story of two young magicians pitted against each other in an intricate, mysterious and lifelong competition ... Morgenstern is both a writer and a visual artist, and the world of The Night Circus is elaborately designed, fantastically imagined and instantly intoxicating — as if the reader had downed a glass of absinthe and leapt into a hallucination ... Having never published a single word before Doubleday scooped up her book, Morgenstern is living the kind of scrappy success story that adds mystique to an already hyped project ... As Morgenstern's sometimes exhilarating high-wire act comes to its close, The Night Circus almost evaporates, as if fading into the nocturnal haze with the flashbulbs and tents.
PositiveThe New RepublicManguso ties her eccentricities to brief statements that are intended to outlive her. Her book is only 90 pages long, and can be digested in a single sitting, but it also beckons the reader to return, to read a sentence, and put it down again ... These statements feel like they have maybe always existed; like they came from an oracle. What makes Manguso’s book feel so surprising, however, is that she quickly veers away from these more decisive observations into idiosyncratic personal memories ... If there is any point at which I bristle at Manguso’s lifelong enthusiasm with being brief, it is that she regularly equates excess with vulgarity...There is a romance in this—the perfect book, with no gristle on it—but also it implies that there is something obscene about writers who choose to give in to their hunger and go long on a subject ... Manguso’s need to write short has sharpened her lines into diamonds, but it has also driven her slightly mad, and it has caused her to perseverate over words to the detriment of her happiness and, as she admits, her health. These arguments are forged out of hard work and sustained effort, and also out of pain. It is impossible to read them without feeling for her; for what it took to write on such a tight leash.
MixedThe New RepublicThe book itself has the veneer of an ambitious performance piece, as Abramovi? exposes her deepest personal wounds and places them next to her artistic triumphs, in order to create a kind of epic mythology around her work ... both dramatic and deeply controlled, an act of naked exposure and also a narrative that is at times a bit too fascinated with the dazzle of high art. And there are moments in the book, just as there are in her more dangerous performances, when everything goes off the rails ... This [warrior] Marina is the most charming one, the voice that makes Walk Through Walls propulsively readable...It is also only present in one part of the book ... when Abramovi? confuses the Bullshit for the Spiritual, trouble is never far.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewSparks has no fidelity to realism; she plays with both fantasy and form. No one story sounds like another, yet her singular voice floats through the collection, tying it together with opulent prose that draws heavily on history and the macabre.