RaveWall Street JournalPappyland reads as a dramatic three-act tale, tracing the rise, fall and redemption of the Van Winkle family and fortune through the eyes of the third-generation Kentucky bourbon baron Julian Van Winkle III ... Pappyland is not only for fine bourbon aficionados. A celebrated sportswriter, Mr. Thompson brings to this authorized biography the same immersive and often personal perspective that make his profiles of athletes must-reads, whether or not you’re a sports fan. In between demystifying the Pappy mythos, Mr. Thompson unravels the complicated familial relationships within the Van Winkle clan while meditating on the meaning of his own family: welcoming the birth of his baby daughter and, particularly, mourning the loss of his beloved father, whom the author’s many fans will remember from past essays. At its core, this is a book about loving, lovingly written; about fatherhood and friendship, the South and its favorite drink and, as Mr. Thompson writes, \'the great communal joy of being alive.\' Bourbon is for sharing, and so is Pappyland.
MixedAV Club\"The Silence is slight. Slight in the way that much of DeLillo’s post-Underworld output, especially Point Omega and The Body Artist, have felt slight. Slight in page count, yes. In plotting? Yes. Slight in humor? Yes, defiantly so. (Oh, how one wishes for the wickedly farcical DeLillo of Running Dog and Cosmopolis!). This new novel isn’t prime DeLillo, but it’s definitely not not DeLillo-esque: in ideas, in tone, in the way his characters think and act and, most notably, speak. There’s a whole world of DeLillo in these 116 pages. Yet, that might not be enough ... For fellow DeLillo-ites though, there’s plenty of connections to previous novels that might rewire your brain for an hour or so.\
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe Man Who Ate Too Much is more than a story of one man’s existence; it is a portrait of 20th-century gay life and aesthetics ... Like the life of James Beard, this biography is big and beautiful, heartbreaking and true. It is the celebration that Beard deserves.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWith humor, pathos and heaping spoonsful of self-deprecation, Mr. Chang covers the ins and outs, the fires and floods, that come with running a restaurant—while constantly questioning his place in the constellation of celebrity chefs ... an honest, ugly, raw dish of a book ... Mr. Chang apologizes for his behavior, but only broadly, abstractly, never directly to the individual workers he’s harmed ... There was a time when such a book might inspire a generation of young cooks to sharpen their knives and move to New York, much like similar chefs-behaving-badly memoirs, including Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Bill Buford’s Heat. But Eat a Peach reads like a requiem, the last gasp of the celebrity chef. Do not open a restaurant unless you must, he advises the next generation of chefs, when he should have written: Do not operate a restaurant like I did ... Mr. Chang’s memoir will no doubt add more fuel to the funeral pyre. He might be called out for his episodes of bad behavior. He might be forced to divest his restaurant holdings, as has happened to other misbehaving celebrity chefs. Or he might take a different tack and use his capital and charisma to speak out about sustainable and equitable farm, health and wage-earning systems, like his mentor Tom Colicchio. Or, like José Andrés, he might help feed the nation’s neediest. In the wake of Covid-19, Mr. Chang has joined forces with other New York restaurant owners to address wage inequality in the city’s restaurant industry. But customers and critics will surely demand more. Whatever happens next, Mr. Chang knows that as the hill stretches ever higher, the Sisyphean peach that is his burden grows heavier by the day.
PositiveThe AV Club... combines memoir, natural history, and literary biography to create something wild, messy, immensely personal, and intensely readable ... Macdonald is at her best when writing about birds ... The 40-plus essays in Vesper Flights flutter, float, and fly by with ease ... While most of these essays stick their landing, a small handful—like a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile of an astrobiologist—don’t quite fit. What the collection lacks most of all is organization, a touch of editorial taxonomy that divides and groups these essays into an overarching, narrative whole ... Yet, if one takes the time to poke at the egg collection that is Vesper Flights, a theme slowly emerges.
PositiveThe AV ClubIn the mode of pop tech writers like Michael Lewis, Steven Johnson, and Malcolm Gladwell, Kucharski combines science and history with a bit of immersive journalism to enliven what might otherwise be a dreary subject. Like those bestselling authors, Kucharski weaves in interesting asidesand builds his narrative around a complicated hero that such books require ... will interest those seeking insight into COVID-19, of course, but it’s impossible to read the book without reflecting on the Black Lives Matter protests that have flared up since the killing of George Floyd in late May. Viral cellphone videos of police brutality and murder incite people to take to the streets, but also—as my experience shows—invite the opportunity to productively talk about America’s history of systematic racism among family and friends with whom, for any number of reasons (discomfort, ignorance, racism itself), the subject never came up.
Samanta Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell
MixedThe A.V. Club... the Argentinian author eschews full-bore horror for an unsettling, Shirley Jackson-esque phantasmagoria. Little Eyes readers might experience the feeling that, Wait, isn’t this already happening? ... As an allegory of digital connectivity, Schweblin succeeds and fails. Kentukis are a creepy, believable plot device, the users and dwellers are as real as you and me, but the dissociated world they inhabit never quite gels—dwelling and using perhaps feels a bit too familiar. Which is no doubt Schweblin’s message, a message that especially bears reiterating today: How do we measure the era of social distancing, when we’ve been social distancing all along?
RaveThe A.V. ClubCarr’s articles for The New York Times, where he joined the business section in 2002, remain as relevant and readable today ... candid, chatty, punches resolutely unpulled ... Sure, it’s a shame we’ll never read [Carr\'s] words on Trump and co., but it’s all there, in these essays: his hate for bullies and love for news media, his personal integrity, intelligence, and empathy. We should marvel at the opportunity to read him again.
Grace Elizabeth Hale
PositiveThe A.V. Club... historian Grace Elizabeth Hale makes the case that without the small Southern college town, there would be no grungy Seattle, no hipster Williamsburg, no weird Austin ... she does a good job of reconstructing the band’s fabled early years ... Hale does an even better job resuscitating those bands that did not play Japan numerous times, those artists the frat boys hated ... Cool Town should inspire widespread ransacking of old shoeboxes to dig up forgotten cassette tapes.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIn one of the book’s most fascinating chapters, Mr. Freedman argues that though so-called ethnic restaurants might promise infinite variety, they instead provide the comfort of familiarity ... In the third part of American Cuisine, Mr. Freedman rushes to cover the past half-century in less than 100 pages, resulting in an ultimately underwhelming conclusion ... he neglects to mention how the changing climate has already begun to alter how Americans actually eat, ushering in plant-based and lab-grown meats, hyperpersonalized microbiome diets, less seafood, less grain and more nutrient-rich renewable resources.
MixedThe AV ClubLieber’s origin story is as good as any of the characters he would go on to create, and Danny Fingeroth’s new biography tells it well ... The second half of this nearly 400-page biography covers Lee’s far less fecund, and much less interesting, post-1960s career, which perhaps explains the copious and tiresome repetitions that mar Fingeroth’s otherwise entertaining book.
PositiveThe A.V ClubNothing so obvious as a single subject or theme links the 19 stories in Smith’s first collection of short fiction, Grand Union. Nothing beyond a virtuosity for the form, a powerful imagination, and, as in her five novels and two essay collections, a striking empathy for her characters. But the best stories contained here, the stories that will whiplash readers into cycles of heartbreak, hope, and more heartbreak are those...that illustrate the intrusions, whether grand or diminutive, that disrupt the days, the family circles, the very unions we all hold dear.
J. Michael Straczynski
MixedThe A.V. ClubIn Becoming Superman, he adds another title to his rambling oeuvre: memoirist. Here, in the book’s second half, he details the ins and outs, pitch meetings, rejections, and successes of the writerly life, or, as the subtitle states, his Journey From Poverty To Hollywood. None of which makes for particularly interesting storytelling ... But then there’s the first 200 or so pages, a gruesome portrait of this Average Joe artist as a young man ... a read suitable for Straczynski superfans only, wherever in this marvelous multiverse they may be.
MixedThe A.V. ClubChapters alternate between enlightening (the sections on anthropology and neuroscience) and sloggy (on several occasions, Gasser writes something to the effect of \'I sense your eyes glazing\') ... For those looking to learn how the digital streaming sausage is made, Why You Like It offers little insight ... Digital radio is here to stay, but Nolan Gasser fails to make the case that the Music Genome Project is the way forward.
Brian Jay Jones
PositiveThe A.V. ClubHalf hagiography, Jones’ book is unafraid to recount the Schloppity-Schlopp that marred Geisel’s long career: The racist and misogynist cartoons penned during his early years ... Beyond that, you won’t find much drama in these pages. Nor will you find deeper interpretations of Geisel’s work ... In the end, Becoming Dr. Seuss feels both like too much and too little. Still, Jones manages to craft a loving portrait of a singularly imaginative life.
RaveA.V. Club\"Bryan Washington’s Lot is not only a stellar debut but also an essential blueprint to understanding America’s next best city ... Covering the breadth of Houston’s infamous sprawl—chapters take their names from the city’s streets and neighborhoods—Lot manages to squeeze a whole world of cultural, political, and social issues into the macro-microcosm that is the place nicknamed Space City: racism, poverty, violence, drugs, gentrification, AIDS, the War On Terror, and anti-immigrant conservatism ... Washington writes with as much warmth and humor as he does grit. Like the tiny shards of reflective, mirror ball-like material that flecks a pavement’s surface, Lot’s stories glow amid their own inherent darkness ... Lot is not only the story of Houston, it is also your story, my story, our story. A sorrowful tale, a hopeful story, a beautiful gift—the song of America today.\
MixedA.V. Club\"Like many of Lipsyte’s best characters, Hark is sketched in both broad strokes and absurdist subtleties that, when combined, ring hysterically and heartbreakingly true ... Unfortunately, Lipsyte focuses too much of the novel on Hark’s braintrust at the Institute For Mental Archery... Their names... are often more interesting than their exploits ... They’re vehicles for Lipsyte’s madcap brand of humor, which too often here misses the mark. A yogi would say that these jokes, involving ass worms, sour cherry soup, and the 1980s New York Jets’ defensive line, are not grounded, not connected or in service of the story and its characters. But for all their blandness, this core group of Harkists reveals the blessing and the curse that accompanies our age’s obsession with the secularized meditation practice commonly known as mindfulness.\
PositiveA.V. Club...humurous and heartbreaking ... Let It Bang ends with a pair of plot twists ... a poignant illustration of the racialized fearmongering that isn’t new to Trump’s America but sure feels intensified over the past several years ... B+.
RaveThe A.V. ClubHeavily indebted to the profane blood, guts, bullets, and opiate-strewn absurdities dreamed up by Thomas McGuane, Larry Brown, and Barry Hannah, Cherry tells a story that feels infinitely more real, and undeniably tougher than the rest ... It’s like college, or high school, or that insidious hometown bar filled with men who never graduated beyond punching each other in the balls. Women fight in this Army, sure, but they’re sex objects, purely and without exception. The narrator and his infantry buddies lose their collective toxic-masculine minds when a woman, a cook no less, scores the company’s first kill—but this doesn’t stop them from trying to sleep with her ... You know how the story ends. Military veterans return home, traumatized and socially adrift. Many turn to opioids, others suicide. Nico Walker somehow survived, and is now serving 11 years in a federal prison, where he wrote this book.
RaveAV/AUX\"In what passes for structure, Hyden undertakes a hero’s journey, à la Joseph Campbell, through classic rock’s foundational myths ... Hyden’s classic rock education is exhaustive. He’s listened to every bootleg, checked in at concerts by most every living god ... It’s only rock ’n’ roll, nonbelievers will say, but we who worship the gods will know better.\
PositiveThe A.V. Club\"Sick will not reward readers with a happy ending, though there are triumphs, large and small ... in the end, she produces a book that might one day join the shelf of, for lack of a better term, sick lit classics, including The Bell Jar, Illness As Metaphor, and Brain On Fire.\
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIn Hippie Food, a chronicle of the counterculture’s culinary contributions, Jonathan Kauffman describes a time when a simple bowl of brown rice layered with stir-fried vegetables and dashes of tamari could be an act as politically symbolic as hitchhiking to San Francisco with flowers in your hair ... His goal lies in uncovering the history of why so many Americans do ... Alongside playful prose (for Mr. Kauffman, alfalfa sprouts smell as if 'a field of grass were having sex'), the great joy of Hippie Food is its rich cast of characters. Some, like the madcap Boots, 'half cheer-squad leader, half generalissimo,' who stirred up the crowd at the restaurant’s weekly Back to Nature Luau night, might encourage readers to reconsider carob. Others, like Jim Baker, the whole-foods community’s answer to Charles Manson, will likely make many never look at a superfood the same way.
PositiveThe AV Club...a terrific rumpus of a journey into the world of illustrated and young reader classics that Maurice Sendak grumpily termed 'Kiddiebookland,' and Dr. Seuss teasingly called 'brat books' ... Early on, it becomes evident where Handy is heading, toward the greatest mystery of all: death...Unfortunately, Wild Things never really answers where all this death comes from. Is it rooted in the fantastical grimness of the Brothers Grimm? Does the fact that so many children’s authors remained childless (Brown, Sendak, Seuss, Louisa May Alcott) have something to do with it?
PanThe AV ClubIt’s all very Tintin Goes West, the kind of adolescent adventure novel where a minor character succumbs to his fate with the last words, 'Damn Indians…Unfortunately, Dragon Teeth will offer little to Jurassic Park junkies. Even William’s accidental discovery of a set of Brontosaurus bones—the titular 'teeth of dragons'—become little more than a MacGuffin in a protracted, Yojimbo-esque stage piece set in the town of Deadwood. On to the next mosquito. Dragon Teeth has no bite.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
PositiveThe AV ClubIn The Refugees the living are haunted by their lovers, their children, themselves. They are wealthy, poor, and middle-class. Tour guides, shopkeepers, and hucksters. They are Vietnamese, American, and Vietnamese-American ... Others are haunted by the strangeness of California, by months spent in refugee camps, by years, if not lifetimes, spent living in another world ... Fans of The Sympathizer might miss Nguyen’s finely filigreed prose, byzantine-absurdist plotting, and Kubrickian dark humor in these stories. Still, The Refugees will haunt its readers, especially in these times, when refugee stories need to be told, shared, and told again, ad infinitum.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksRivlin spent eight months reporting for The New York Times in post-Katrina New Orleans, and it shows in the structure of his book: after careful attention to the storm and its immediate aftermath, he attempts to squeeze the past nine years into the last 50 or so pages ... Much of Katrina: After the Flood will read like old news for not just New Orleanians, but for anyone with a passing familiarity of the city’s recent changes and challenges.
PanLos Angeles Review of BooksRegrettably, Deep South reads as disaster porn for those who can’t bother to renew their passports — a Heart of Darkness set in the Southern heartland.