MixedLos Angeles Review of BooksMoser is both informative and disappointing on Sontag’s struggle to feel. He doesn’t see it—as I do, even more so after reading his biography—as the fruitful source of her greatest essays. To him, it is a pathology of her personality. He believes it stemmed from a lack of empathy and stunted her as a writer, a lover, a mother, and a friend. He is persuasive and illuminating about the origins of Sontag’s struggle to feel, but curiously dismissive of what it enabled her to say ... his tone takes a turn for the sour ... I had already been surprised by a prosecutorial tendency in several asides about her childhood...an oddly judgmental take on a troubled child. But...as Sontag resumes her flight toward freedom, Moser begins to quote judgmental observations from Sontag’s acquaintances, building an indirect case against her. Breezy speculation by means of quotation seems an odd way to get at biographical truth ... Moser seems to seize every opportunity to add a shadow to his Dorian Gray’s portrait of Sontag, even in ways that might reflect badly on himself. The biography...felt to me like a gathering storm of judgment and scandalmongering, a clamor of mean voices from the sidelines of Sontag’s life, to which her career and writings were, at best, a subplot ... this biography of Susan Sontag is...clearly a labor of disdain ... I wonder if a biographer who...had also truly admired her work, would have taken better advantage of the resources of her archive.
Ursula K. Le Guin
PositiveThe New Republic\"...feels like the surprising and satisfying culmination to a career in other literary forms ... A running theme is the life of her cat, Pard. Between each of No Time to Spare’s four topical sections are essays entitled \'Annals of Pard.\' Devoting such time and interest to the observation of a cat might seem to represent the commonest impulses both of internet culture and old age; but, as always, Le Guin wades into her new genre to deepen and expand it...Even in the familiar relationship of an old woman and her cat, Le Guin finds an ambit for challenging moral insight and matter for an inquisitiveness that probes the deep time of evolution. She represents an artist unimpeded by old age or acclaim. She continues to look for new sources of otherness in her life, and to give us glimpses of the otherness she inhabits ... even in a diminished form of writing, the spirit of Le Guin’s work remains.\
PositiveThe New RepublicThe Shadow in the Garden is at least partially a defense of Atlas’s honor in response to the harsh reception of this earlier [Bellow] book. What saves the memoir is the self-awareness with which Atlas presents his personal experience. At times he is less defensive than apologetic, eager to get it right ... The memoir is divided between the light and the darkness of biography, illustrated by the empathic triumph of his first book and the empathic failure of his second. He contextualizes both experiences by interweaving discussions of the history of literary biography ... The suggestion is that The Shadow in the Garden is written on behalf of all the biographers whose honesty about their subjects was interpreted as gossip, or whose readability was maligned as salaciousness. Such are the pitfalls of the genre. But is biography writing worth it? Atlas thinks it is.
PanThe Los Angeles Review of BooksAll but one of the essays collected in The Shipwrecked Mind first appeared in the NYRB. They make rather odd book-fellows: three profiles; two round-up reviews; a report from the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shooting; and a meditation on Don Quixote ... Lilla’s insistence that he is bravely exploring terra incognita highlights a bizarre silence that symbolizes the book’s shortcomings ... My suspicion is that some of these essays are only 'about' reactionary politics in retrospect, threaded onto the necklace of that theme for the purposes of putting together a book ... One problem with this account of reaction is that it seems too broad. What Lilla calls 'apocalyptic thinking' tends to characterize the mindset of any group seeking a change from bad times ... The same problem — a definition of reaction so abstract and formal that it applies to things that aren’t reactionary — makes a hash of Lilla’s claims about the history of the movement.