RaveWords Without BordersWhat distinguishes The Dream of My Return from other Castellanos Moya novels, like Senselessness or She-Devil in the Mirror, is how he plays here with the myth of repression ... From the perils of memory it becomes a story of exiles still enmeshed in a past that continues to live within them. Politics shows itself to be a realm with its own unique memory problems ... What is impressive about The Dream of My Return is how it manages to have it both ways: to treat the Freudian psyche like the cheap myth it is, but to also show that when push comes to shove, we will rely on it because we need it ... Yet another satisfying variation on this theme, the book in which the author travels furthest into the Freudian psyche and in which he puts this dominant myth of our times to the harshest tests.
PositiveThe Quarterly ConversationAs with the first paragraph, almost all of this 432-page detective novel is quick and cheeky. It’s like Woody Allen doing noir: sharp and cynical, but far too intimately acquainted with humor to ever really get dark ... In The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Chabon’s fine writing is not limited to character descriptions. The entire book is redolent with fresh, imaginative prose, and often Chabon’s imagery doesn’t merely put a pretty picture in one’s head but also secretes surprising complexity ... Into this plot Chabon builds a poignant heart, as the centerpiece relationship between Landsman and his ex-wife Bina sizzles with intensity ... The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a fine piece of detective fiction, but it has aspirations toward loftier goals, and it is here that I think Chabon comes up short ... In the end, what we’re left with is a great set-up—an alternate universe with just enough resemblance to ours to be interesting, a plot that necessarily dips into a number of worthwhile questions, and storytelling strong enough to make us want to read all the way through—but a book that fails to make good on this promise ... A book split between two audiences.
MixedThe San Francisco Chronicle[Hemon] dredges his Eastern European roots for remarkable stories that feel universal despite being indelibly marked by the Soviet experience ... this prose has an unfinished quality that makes it come bounding at you like a basketball, but perhaps a little too often the language here is strained ... Hemon\'s strengths are storytelling, description and humor, but when he attempts to force conclusions, these essays flounder. It is unfortunate that the collection opens with one such pedantic piece on the difficulties of assimilation ... Readers should persist, however, for subsequent essays largely avoid such overdetermined, prolix writing in favor of playful, intricate anecdotes that show Hemon\'s strengths ... All in all, The Book of My Lives is a worthy collection. These essays, all but one previously published, cohere well and offer a satisfying composite of the man behind the books. But they\'re nonetheless outshone by Hemon\'s novels and stories - enjoyable and stimulating, they don\'t always fulfill the promise of their subject matter but do whet the appetite for Hemon\'s next novel.
MixedThe Barnes & Noble ReviewSelf does a rather beautiful job of sketching in the details of precisely who Busner is, how he came to be here, and where he’s headed next ... It’s all rather rich and full of potential, but then, out of nowhere and without even so much as a paragraph break, we are rocketed into a parallel life ... De’Ath’s back-story — involving his homophobic parents and the challenges of being closeted while pursuing a military and espionage career– is intriguing enough, but it lacks the urgency and emotional depth of Busner’s story ... it never feels like very much to hang your hat on, certainly not enough to propel one through hundreds of densely packed pages ... A lack of plot need not be an impediment to the success of a novel but something has to develop over the course of a work, or else one has stasis, and this is an issue with Phone ... The result is an energetic ride that offers a lot of fun and erudition — probably for many readers that will be enough. Phone presents a thoroughly domesticated, tamed version of modernism, akin to some enormous, armor-plated rhinoceros that’s been so subdued by the forces of civilization that you can walk right up to it and hop on its back. Taming such a creature might well be admired as a feat: but it leaves us wanting a confrontation with something wilder.
MixedSan Fransisco GateLastly, something that seems to be either laziness or vanity mars this book. These pieces were originally lectures, and they have been published unedited. What works in the oral format often doesn’t in the written, and worse, because these pieces were never meant to appear together, the same insights and arguments are repeated throughout, many times nearly word for word ... Challenging, twisty, contentious, surprising, inspiring — Robinson goes after the biggest questions, and proves herself equal to the task.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Ingvild Burkey
MixedThe San Francisco Chronicle\"The great pleasure of Autumn is in watching how Knausgaard starts in commonplace observations but then moves unexpectedly toward surprising conclusions ... the book feels like a holding pattern, a bunch of musings that might have been plucked from the essayistic portions of My Struggle, but not new ground for Knausgaard. I can say that I absolutely enjoyed reading Autumn and underlined copiously throughout, but this is a work that lacks any desire to add up to more than the sum of its parts ... the thoughts here feel entirely detached, as though Knausgaard has turned his back on the world and is content to churn out charming, but small, sentiments ... If Autumn indeed represents a moment of repose for Knausgaard as he casts around for a direction after My Struggle, it’s not such a terrible place to be. I’ll look forward to Winter, Spring and Summer, and I’ll very likely enjoy them, but I’ll also expect that Knausgaard finds some new way to reinvent himself, some big idea for a work of literature that has a little more to say than \'The Four Seasons.\'”
Laurent Binet, Trans. by Sam Taylor
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewWhat if Barthes was in possession of a document of such immense power that it inspired murder? Such is the dizzying premise behind Laurent Binet’s frantic, Umberto Eco–esque The Seventh Function of Language … The Seventh Function of Language is like a self-perpetuating top that’s capable of generating its own ludicrous momentum, never slowing down enough to topple over. Binet knows his terrain intimately, crafting fantastic parodies of the real-life personalities of his star intellectuals but also integrating their ideas and disagreements in thoughtful, lively ways (don’t miss the sex scene that brings new meaning to Deleuze’s ‘body without organs’) … Binet’s accomplishment is to give this rich body of work a James Bond–esque makeover, both radiating a charismatic appeal and confidently winking at the very excesses that its detractors have tried to mock.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle""Longtime readers will immediately recognize Manguso’s ever-present sense of futility and masochism, as when she explains the origins of this project .... Much of 300 Arguments has a seamless distance that banishes the author’s biases, but this is also a very personal book ... there is a definite feeling of embattlement here, a sense of aggression and forcefulness that gives 300 Arguments great energy. It’s one of the best things about this book, and about Manguso’s writing in general: a willingness to be honest enough to lacerate (most often the one cut is herself) and a lapidary style that well serves such abrasive prose.
In the end, perhaps the prose is the thing: a master stylist besotted with the act of getting the words just right ...300 cuts that will draw a little of your blood.""
Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleIt’s an effective pairing: readable, accessible, highly entertaining, educational. Ozawa provides all the deep knowledge of a storied classical career, while Murakami supplies his trademark down-to-earth metaphors and a layperson’s curiosity ... What most fascinates about Absolutely on Music is how it unlocks the challenging question of what makes for genius in the performance of music ... a pleasing step away from the increasing banality and sameness of Murakami’s fiction, a book that opens a new side of his authorial persona and that will open doors for people who want to love classical music. It is a quirky, oddly compelling book carried along by the smooth, laid-back rhythms of its relaxing conversations.
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleZero K grapples with the fact our demise is profoundly at odds with this aspect of us that yearns to exceed every limitation. Circling around this irreconcilable dilemma, DeLillo finds a vital dialogue with his great work White Noise. It is this, and not Jeffrey’s milquetoast characterization, nor the forced attempts to shove Middle Eastern terrorism and the Ukrainian revolution into Zero K that makes this book a provocative success. Still, one can sympathize with DeLillo’s efforts to insinuate terrorism and uprisings into a book that seeks to understand the perverse power that death holds over our imagination.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleThis latest book is a skillful history of the existentialist milieu. Fascinating and well written, it will help many readers discover the likes of Sartre, Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty. Unfortunately, its biggest claim, that these writers are once again relevant, remains seriously underdeveloped...Nonetheless, the liveliness and force of Bakewell’s book constitutes an argument of its own.