MixedAir MailNearly all seem to have been graduates of Ivy League schools. But their passion and urgency for social justice is vividly evoked in Williams’s book ... I was grateful for the education in the politics, culture, and social history of the 1910s and 1920s, especially since our current age seems to be mimicking those years in all sorts of frightening ways, including, almost to the year, a global pandemic. But the names begin to pile up. The crowding becomes even more intense as the founding generation pairs off, splits up, finds new arrangements, has children ... at some point Williams’s compulsion to summarize each life—a cataloging of ancestors, schools, lovers, children, and professional accomplishments—begins to overwhelm the narrative. Williams celebrates his subjects’ liberation from the constraints of conventional thought and living arrangements in a prose style that only a law clerk could love ... Only at the very end, when a personal note enters, did the writing become evocative for me.
Anthony Veasna So
RaveAir MailI came to understand more about Cambodian society from any one of the stories in Anthony Veasna So’s Afterparties than I did in the years during which I regularly visited the country ... So’s book is a literary event in itself ... I approached the end of Afterparties filled with the grief and ambivalence that one feels toward the end of all great books, a kind of literary separation anxiety. But I will say this for Afterparties: I can’t think of a book I’ve read more filled with the joy of life.
Positive4ColumnsThe problem with having such a great title is that it’s a lot to live up to ... I enjoyed the memoirish opening chapters, and happily went along as she starts an intellectual exploration of her subject, delving into the work of William James and his peers ... The journalistic adventures are somewhat more problematic ... Attention is written from the perspective of the (mostly) recovered addict, and there is a wonderful moment that encapsulates what was lost by starting the drug, and then regained by going off ... When Schwartz turns her attention to the tech gods of the West Coast (not a group known for their sense of humor), my interest waned ... The writing gets a bit flat. I put the book down ... In the book’s last chapters, the personal reasserts itself dramatically ... In the last pages, the pineapple Life Savers per-line ratio happily jumps. After working through the drama of her father, she takes a magnificent if arduous train journey across India with her mother ... In this closing passage, the book’s subject...shines through.
Madison Smartt Bell
Rave4Columns...essential and much anticipated ... Bell’s tone throughout is so scrupulous and matter-of-fact, the pitch of emotion rarely rising much above a police report as he unfurls the great writer’s life—the childhood, the education, the navy years, the early publications, and so on ... In some ways, the even-keeled tone is as much an homage as the facts he has accumulated ... In some ways, Child of Light is as much a biography of a marriage as it is of a writer, and toward the end Stone’s books come to seem almost like collaborations with Janice, just as Bell’s biography is buttressed by her work as an archivist, interlocutor, and writer ... Bell gives us all the many pieces of Stone’s life and the composition of his writings, and some analysis, as well. It’s an illuminating appendix to a master’s body of work.
Rave4Columns...[an] enchanting and addictive little book—whose size and shape make it feel like it contains epigrams and instructions for life when in fact it contains not so much instructions for life, but life itself ... Like some of [Gornick\'s] other books, Unfinished Business takes up literary criticism in Gornick’s distinctly participatory way; putting the \" ‘personal’ and the ‘journalism’ together proportionally,” as she says in her introduction ... Delmore Schwartz, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Natalia Ginzburg, and Thomas Hardy...all are reexperienced in the same lucid, mercilessly penetrating way.
Robert A. Caro
Positive4Columns\"... like a restaurant behind on its orders sending out an amuse-bouche to appease hungry diners, Caro is throwing us all a few bones ... What I found most gratifying about Working was an insight into why I, and so many others, so enjoy, even crave, reading Caro’s books. Part of it is the pleasure in what he has discovered, reaping the fruits of his sheer doggedness as a researcher ... In comparison to our age of frictionless composition and communication, Caro’s writing feels as though he is scrivening his words onto the page. He doesn’t fetishize the internet; his writing is impossible to tweet. He talks about sitting in a room with a box of papers and turning every page. To borrow the title of Irving Howe’s most famous book, he is a living monument to the world of our fathers.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"At nearly 600 pages, it is a Beastie bouillabaisse. Part liner notes, part playlist, part museum catalog, part coffee-table book, part magazine, it is the chronicle of a band. Inevitably, even reluctantly, it is also a memoir from the trio’s surviving members ... Friendship is the book’s subject as much as music, fame and New York. But exclusions... give a faint sense of whitewash and dissembling. It’s not just about fact-checking. Now that the Beastie Boys are good, they struggle with how to talk about having been bad. They haven’t really figured out how to address difficult things ... Diamond’s voice is lapidary, droll. Horovitz comes on like a borscht belt comedian, but beneath that he is urgent, incredulous, kind of vulnerable. There is an almost Caulfieldian sense of grief about the irretrievable past ... Really, it’s a fascinating, generous book with portraits and details that float by in bursts of color.\
Positive4Columns\"On the face of it—a loaded phrase in this context—what I most enjoy is Yang’s lovely python style of writing and thinking. He seems to have imbibed everything related to his topics at the cost of great effort. But his prose unfurls in a mode of languorous deliberation ... Another overlap between Yang and [Norman] Mailer is that they are both excellent reporters who nevertheless find the most compelling evidence for their ideas in the mirror ... Though Yang pumps the iron of reporting, his pieces have a bit of dream state about them. I find the self-conflicted elegance of his prose to be a delight. We have heard so much about the incursions of the essay into fiction, but here we have the opposite, reported essays that often levitate into that fiction feeling on the strength of the author’s voice and their sharply observed character studies.\
Rave4Columns\"Such is Pardlo Jr.’s style—the syntax and thought process sinuous, elegant, the mood one of blunt disclosure ... The book’s prose is often exhilarating ... One of the difficult things about this fascinating book is that the father, so flawed and infuriating, has so many great lines. Another is the feeling of absence in the prose itself, which never lacks in perception but often feels lacking in intimacy with the characters, including the character of Gregory Pardlo, Jr., once he is no longer a child. But then the difficulties of intimacy—of spacing, to put it in air traffic controller terms—are the book’s subject.\
Positive4ColumnsMost of the pieces in this book are multitasking in some way. Roth provides literary joy while also running an errand. There are many acceptance speeches for his many awards. There are correspondence and/or interviews with authors like Edna O’Brien, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Milan Kundera, and Mary McCarthy. It’s like a concert in which the headliner keeps bringing on special guests. It’s fantastic if, as I do, you like the headliner’s taste as well as his songs. But the book functions mostly as a form of liner notes to his career and is probably best appreciated by those already interested.