RaveThe Washington PostFelix Mordaunt’s true name, when it is revealed, will be familiar to Banville’s longtime readers, most of whom will no doubt already have guessed his real identity. Sometimes it feels like Banville is toying with his characters, or torturing them, as Luis Bunuel or the Coen brothers sometimes do with theirs. For their part, Banville’s characters seem highly self-aware, intuiting the existence of a higher power that is toying with them and wondering what he is up to. But unlike Banville’s readers — who are no doubt wondering too — they have no way of knowing how luscious and finely wrought are the exquisite sentences in which their sad lives and inscrutable fates are described and revealed. Such is the beauty of Banville’s prose that every page of The Singularities is a perplexing and enigmatic delight.
RaveThe Washington PostAnyone who picks up Last Days expecting a book about Federer, or about sports — and not, say, about Bob Dylan, or the painter J.M.W. Turner, or Beethoven, or the book about Turner and Beethoven that Dyer wanted to write but never will — will be in for a surprise ... affirming and moving, reminding us that, no matter how late the hour, our lives can be touched by art’s unexpected grace ... A serious critic, Dyer is rarely solemn, even when speaking of death, depletion, dissolution, disappointment. Indeed, his wit, a distinctive and delicious blend of salty, sweet and snarky, is on frequent display in his wonderful book ... Of course, every book must end, and I will say, without spoiling the ending, that I loved how this one ended. But that’s the nice thing about books: You can always go back to the start and begin again. Which, in this case — and at my age, I don’t very often do this anymore — is precisely what I did.
RaveNew York Times Book ReviewFrom the beginning, Harrison wrote about two primary and intertwined themes: pleasure and death. The pleasures of Harrison’s writings tend to the Hemingwayesque, and are set largely in his native Midwest ... The influence of Buddhism is reflected in the fragmentary and imagistic structure of much of his poetry, an approach that emphasizes the present moment over a remembered past and hypothetical future ... It is also reflected in the simplicity and elemental purity of many of the images he draws upon and continually returns to; and, as well, in his skepticism about accepted categories and hierarchies.
RaveThe Washington PostThe poems are elegiac, brooding and death-obsessed, haunted by intimations of mortality, by ghosts facing backward with regret and forward with trepidation. It is an end-of-life book, where the life in question could be anyone’s: the poet’s, the reader’s, the planet’s ... its poems, spoken in hushed and hesitant tones, are delicate and spare. One’s impression is of fragility, of vulnerability ... Every ending is a new beginning, as the consoling cliche goes; but in this book, every mention of new beginnings is immediately qualified and drained of any potential for hope ... Though Winter Recipes from the Collective is a challenging read, it is refreshing in its willingness to confront the uncertainties and anxieties ignited by our current predicament, in which predictions of our collective future alternate between the terrifying and the inscrutable ... It is a grim joy, yes, but one that feels true to its moment, one that we need, and one that readers of this bleakly elegant collection will find themselves savoring.
MixedThe Washington PostWilson is unusually candid about her own mixed feelings toward Lawrence ... an unconventional biography — it skips Lawrence’s early life almost entirely — and, page by page, a fairly entertaining one. Its main virtues derive directly from its subject. Lawrence was unpredictable and unconventional enough to be often frustrating to those around him but fascinating to the rest of us, who may observe his antics at a safe distance. And he had a knack for finding and befriending (and, later, un-befriending) the oddest and most fascinating people, resulting in a cast of characters any novelist would envy ... But Lawrence’s flaws — his confusion and inconsistency, his lack of self-understanding, the overall sense that he lacked a coherent self — also impose themselves on the book, making it feel less than fully cohesive and, ultimately, somewhat unsatisfying. And it should be said that Wilson’s attempt to force a unity by imposing a Dante-esque structure on the book — its three segments are identified as Inferno (England), Purgatory (Italy) and Paradise (New Mexico) — feels artificial and unconvincing. Lawrence’s actual life does not seem to display any such linear trend ... Still, Burning Man will entertain those already interested in Lawrence, and it may have the salutary effect of sending many readers to seek out his literary essays, travel writing and other nonfiction works — writings that, in some respects, have held up better than Lawrence’s novels ... As with any great author, Lawrence is perhaps best understood through his own words.
RaveThe Washington Post... distinctive music, a sometimes mellifluous, sometimes cacophonous polyphony ... The poetry he has published in the past couple of decades is pleasingly diverse and adventurous. At the same time, Komunyakaa, 74, has achieved a distinctive, recognizable and unifying style. The poems in this new book engage in various formal and thematic experiments—and yet the works embody the same spirit and sing with the same voice. Komunyakaa’s poems are as contemporary as poems can be: Some of them feel as if they were written a day, a year or a decade from now. At the same time, they draw liberally on historical, mythical or biblical sources ... Komunyakaa tends to reach peak intensity in longer works that afford him the space to stretch out, gather momentum and amplify resonances ... To praise Komunyakaa’s longer pieces is not to minimize the accomplishment of his shorter poems ... In an era when there is great temptation to offer consoling sentiments, Komunyakaa dares to disturb.
MixedThe Washington PostAt times, the conclusions McCarthy-Jones draws seem to go well beyond the evidence he describes ... We need to be careful, then, to distinguish genuinely spiteful motivations from those that might appear superficially similar but are actually centered on conceptions of justice and are hence morally valuable and admirable. Unfortunately, McCarthy-Jones’s descriptions of various experiments are not extremely detailed. A fuller accounting of those studies might have reassured readers that he is not going well beyond the conclusions warranted by the data. Still, many readers who feel such concerns will nonetheless find the book an interesting and at times provocative exploration of an emotion that has to this point been underexplored and, if McCarthy-Jones is right, significantly under-appreciated.
MixedThe Washington PostIt might be hard, at the present moment, to read the title of Susan Liautaud’s The Power of Ethics without snickering or rolling one’s eyes ... Talking about \'the power of ethics\' at this moment feels rather like talking about “the power of warmth” in the middle of a raging blizzard while wearing wet socks. The book’s title, at any rate, is misleading. The Power of Ethics is more focused on the demands of ethics than on its alleged powers; its main intention is to help its readers make better ethical decisions ... Interesting questions, however, do not guarantee satisfying answers, and Liautaud’s recommendations about how to resolve them are frequently frustrating and often vague ... Some parts of the framework, moreover, are quite problematic ... A bolder, more searching book would have encouraged its American readers to step away from themselves and think, objectively and self-critically, about their position in the world, how they have achieved it, and what it takes to maintain it. Its failure to seize this opportunity renders The Power of Ethics far less powerful than it might, and ought, to have been.
RaveThe Washington PostIt is highly personal, unapologetically opinionated, intermittently whimsical, charmingly idiosyncratic and above all deeply impassioned. It reads, at times, like a love letter to the art that has moved Thomson most. Or a eulogy dedicated to a tradition, and indeed a world, he fears may be on the verge of disappearing ... His regret, and disappointment, regarding the sins of the medium and its practitioners is sincere but so are his admiration and enthusiasm for their work. And attending to flaws as well as virtues isn’t just a moral or political impulse. It also makes a better story ... A Light in the Dark leaves many directors in the shadows. The book is focused on America and Europe, with only brief mention of directors from Japan, India and elsewhere ... Thomson does not deny — for there is no denying — that film directors are preponderantly White and male. He is right to fret about it. I do wish, though, the book had noted the fact that over the last decade or so of the Academy Awards, the best director category has been among the most eclectic and surprising ... That said, every reader will of course find omissions to protest; that’s part of the fun (Chaplin! Lubitsch! Tarkovsky! Kiarostami! The Coen brothers!). And there is no denying that this often beautifully written book is fun, no matter the aura of gentle mourning and foreboding that hangs over it.
Justin Phillip Reed
RaveThe Washington Post... reminds us that poetry can be playful and deadly serious in the same moment ... Reed is the kind of poet who will write a poem from the point of view of the alien in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Alien, or compose a caustic and terrifyingly accurate portrait of contemporary American life from the perspective of the oppressed and title it Leaves of Grass. He piles on anxious images and quasi-logical connections to create a gratifying weirdness.
John Berryman, ed. Philip Coleman and Calista McRae
PositiveThe Washington PostThe Selected Letters of John Berryman, chronicles that cycle of breakdown and recovery, expectation and disappointment, through more than 600 pages of correspondence ... This is a long book that I wish had been longer; on turning the last page, I was eager buy a second collection. The voice of these letters is recognizably the voice of much of Berryman’s poetry ... I would have liked, too, a bit more assistance from the editors. (To be fair, there are over 1,300 notes, but they leave many references somewhat obscure.) Readers of Selected Letters will find it useful to have a biography of Berryman nearby, to fill in the missing framework. But all of these are minor quibbles, and none of them diminishes the tremendous pleasure and fascination of this long-overdue collection. After too long an absence, it is wonderful to see Berryman once again resurrected.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewEven as a purely physical object Oblivion Banjo is hefty, impressive. But the purely physical has never been what this particular poet is about. In Wright’s cosmos, the material is permeated with the spiritual, the physical with the philosophical. Everything is what it is, and a whole lot else besides ... Wright’s poetry is driven by a trembling wonder before existence, and by a profound sense of mortality: that is, an attachment to things past and present, things experienced in the light of our knowledge that every object is singular, that every event, once it is over, is over absolutely ... spacious, impulsively wandering poems that create their own shapes as they go, rather than playing by the rules of established forms.
RaveThe Washington PostMatthew Zapruder’s poems are among the friendliest in contemporary poetry. I don’t mean that they are eager to please, or accessible in the sense of being easy and unchallenging. Their meanings, in fact, can be quite elusive, and they are, as well, reliably strange, displaying a kind of gentle, domestic, frequently humorous surrealism. But his poems manifest, or perhaps presuppose, the intimacy of friendship, written in the voice of someone you know and trust who has let his guard down in an attempt to unburden himself or describe his experiene ... Because Zapruder writes in very short lines and uses very little punctuation, it’s often fascinatingly unclear just how to parse his thoughts, or where his sentences begin and end ... Zapruder’s new book is firmly situated in its (and our) political moment, and is anchored by a compelling gravity and urgency. His past poems sometimes hid themselves behind a shield of protective irony, using a deflective wit to reassure readers that there was nothing serious at stake. But the new book makes clear that there is a great deal at stake, if not in the poems themselves (Zapruder is reliably and admirably clear-headed about the unlikelihood that any given poem will alter our situation or fix our problems) then in the world with which they engage ... Zapruder’s sense of humor, and his refusal to exempt himself from the possibility of responsibility, not only prevent him from being very angry for very long, they also enable his poems to avoid the perils of didacticism and hectoring self-righteousness that mar so many attempts at political poetry ... Many poets today strive for an appearance of unflappable coolness, and I greatly admire Zapruder’s willingness to skirt the boundaries of sentimentality in passages like this. Reading Father’s Day not only made me feel less alone, it also reminded me how great, in times of confusion, frustration, and shared anxiety, is our human need for tenderness, for forthright yet gentle speech, and for unashamed sweetness.
PositiveThe Washington PostBaker’s poetic universe is a hushed, melancholy and at times ghostly place, haunted both by attachments to the past and by anxiety about its increasingly uncertain future ... Baker’s poems remind us that nature poetry can never be old-fashioned, because nature is never old-fashioned; it is, indeed, not even the same from one moment to the next. His writing is guided by a fundamental question: How do we understand nature in a world in which nature is no longer stable, in which anything we say about it is likely to be overturned or falsified by tomorrow’s breaking news?
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesEunice is pretty much a girl without a thought in her head ... what bothered me was Shteyngart\'s decision to narrate part of the novel in Eunice\'s voice. These sections, which are presented as excerpts from the online chats she conducts with friends and family via the \'GlobalTeens\' network, are nearly uniformly uninteresting: I had to resist the urge to skim and get back to the sections narrated by Lenny, who, for all his various flaws, nonetheless comes across as a witty, perceptive observer ... One might, I suppose, accuse Super Sad True Love Story of being nothing more than an extended expression of the paranoia that afflicts so many contemporary intellectuals, who worry that the space for anything resembling a \'life of the mind\' (the very phrase has come to sound somewhat quaint) is being squeezed out of existence by our increasingly superficial, increasingly oppressive, consumer culture. Our hearts go out to Lenny, because we fear becoming Lenny. For my part, I find the novel pretty much on target: The Eunice sections aside, it is on the whole both frightening and devastatingly funny. What remains to be seen is whether its depiction of the fall of the American republic will turn out to have been frighteningly, devastatingly prescient.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneWright\'s account of the church\'s history and struggles is helpful, admirably fair-minded and, at times, absorbing ... The book\'s most intriguing aspect, though, is not its treatment of Scientology, in particular, but its raising of general questions about the nature of faith and reason and the role of religion in American life ... strongly suggests that there is no way to brand some religions as real or legitimate while excluding others.
RaveThe Washington PostJohn Ashbery: They Knew What They Wanted does readers the great favor of letting us peer into Ashbery’s second, less known artistic career. His collages are presented alongside a selection of his poems, allowing us to see how much they have in common, to understand how each medium came to occupy a natural space in this prolific and influential artist’s creative landscape. And the book invites readers, even those who are most familiar with his poetry, to see the poems in a fresh light. Indeed, although They Knew What They Wanted collects work that spans a period of more than half a century, it feels so new that turning these pages is an experience of constant pleasurable surprise ... These unique and amusing collages are well served by this beautifully designed and produced book, which is permeated by the sense of a half-remembered, half-postulated childhood ... The publication of They Knew What They Wanted will help bring us closer to an artist whose work was what we sometimes forget poetry can be: a whole lot of fun.
MixedThe Washington Post\"Eisner’s prose, moreover, is on the whole, fairly pedestrian, except for a few unfortunate occasions when it strives, unwisely, for a kind of Nerudaesque poeticism ... And his criticisms of Neruda tend to be articulated using what are by now rote, clichéd terms that make them feel like empty, obligatory gestures ... Ultimately, Neruda: The Poet’s Calling is not as satisfying as one might have hoped. Still, Neruda’s life remains a source of fascination, and his work remains vital. Any book that is likely to help bring new generations of readers to it is to be valued for that reason alone.\
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune\"\'Strangler Bob\' is a prison story with a colorful cast of characters; \'The Starlight on Idaho\' is the first-person account of a man trying to escape his addictions and rise up from his sad existence. Neither story is entirely satisfying, though they have their moments. The other three stories, though, are remarkable ... ohnson was also a poet, and he has the poet’s gift for finding the perfect image to encapsulate an idea or experience, what T.S. Eliot called the objective correlative ... Although his characters are often diminished and winnowed by their struggles with life, the narrative voice that describes their travails gives evidence of an imagination that is nearly boundless in its generosity and abundance.\
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThe pieces range widely, though Salter’s distinctive sensibility and his elegant yet muscular prose help unite them. He writes from a perspective that combines the passionate enthusiasm of seemingly perpetual youth with a knowingness that flirts with but never quite collapses into world-weariness or cynical disappointment, as if always judging things by a mildly anachronistic, honor-based code — masculine, austere and vaguely Apollonian ... Salter’s sensibility is baldly and unashamedly masculine; one does not go to his writings to discover the female perspective on things, and anyone who approaches an essay like 'Younger Women, Older Men' hoping that the the sexism suggested by its title will be subverted in what follows will be disappointed ... Don’t Save Anything does not rise to the level of those astonishing novels, but it rises higher than one would expect. Posthumously assembled collections are usually disappointing and often superfluous. This book is neither; its every page offers pleasure, the profound, joyful pleasure of watching a masterful writer at work.
MixedThe Washington Post...hardships lend some narrative drama to Blunk’s biography, an intermittently entertaining read that will serve as a useful source for readers interested in the poet’s life. Ultimately, however, James Wright comes across as unsatisfyingly exterior. Wright’s dramas played out within his mind and on the pages he left for us. It is there — in his poems and wonderful letters — that we find his humor, his tenderness, his insecurity, his unique and unforgettable voice. In the end, we must turn to Wright’s own words to get a true sense of the man, which is just the way he would have wanted it.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewA more predictably chronological walk through the decades might have highlighted the way in which Bidart’s work has evolved with experience; this more inventive sequence invites a different sort of insight. It’s true that the poems from the ’60s and ’70s, composed before Bidart found his full voice, are more straightforward, more conventional ... Yet what this ordering makes apparent is the remarkable consistency and unity of Bidart’s work over time. This is partly a matter of the tools and techniques he has discovered and honed over thousands of lines; in particular, his highly expressive and idiosyncratic use of punctuation and capitalization, and, closely related to this, his distinctive way of arranging words on the page. More than this, though, the unity of Bidart’s work is thematic and psychological; it represents the highly crafted outpouring of a troubled consciousness persistently grappling to comprehend and accommodate a difficult and disturbing world, a world that seems inherently hostile not only to being mastered or comprehended, but at times to human life itself ... Part of the accomplishment of his work is that this technique ends up generating an odd form of intimacy: rather than feeling excluded, the reader feels complicit in the psychological struggles depicted in the poem, an active participant rather than a mute witness ... These rich and hypnotic poems are, to my knowledge, not much like anything else in contemporary American poetry.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleA large part of The Cat's Table's ability to fascinate is grounded in the slowness with which it reveals its actual intentions and true nature, its coyness regarding the rules of the fictional game that the author and reader are playing. This is a cunning move on Ondaatje's part, for by placing the book's readers in this position of deep uncertainty, he builds a peculiar and delicious form of suspense while simultaneously managing to imitate and evoke our recalled experiences of reading books as children … The Cat's Table is an adventure book, then: a book about the adventures of reading, and also the adventures of growing up and growing old. It is also a haunting book about being haunted, about the necessary and necessarily futile quest to understand and come to terms with the remembered experiences that shape our lives and personalities.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesNocturnes –– Ishiguro's first collection of short fiction, after half a dozen novels –– offers, as the subtitle puts it, 'five stories of music and nightfall.' Indeed, four of the five pieces here concern musicians, while the fifth features a couple both united and separated by a shared love of song ...the nightfall Ishiguro has in mind is more metaphorical: the encroachment of the darkness of age, and the dimming of the hopes of youth, set in counterpoint against those whose aspirations still burn brightly –– the young, the foolish, the not-yet-disillusioned ... a metaphor for the condition that afflicts nearly everyone in the book: a self-inflicted isolation, a fear of engaging in the perilous enterprise of life ... Part of what makes Ishiguro so refreshing is that he leaves the epiphanies to the reader.
Kay Redfield Jamison
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewJamison, though her focus lies largely on his illness, is keenly aware that Lowell was more often than not sane and lovable; she does not let the reader mistake the madness for the man ... she makes a fairly convincing case that he would not have been the writer he was, or became, if it had not been for his illness ... Setting the River on Fire is a bit too long, in places redundant, at times a bit undisciplined. Jamison wants to cover everything, and her instinct is to include everything...It is, nonetheless, a fascinating and frequently moving book, one that adds considerably to our understanding of a challenging and essential artist, and one that for the most part avoids the standard perils of writing about mental illness in the context of artistic creation.
MixedThe Chicago Tribune...this highly fragmented book feels less like a novel than a collection of prose poems, tied together not so much by plot as by theme and mood, a certain bleak but vital vision of the world, and by the presiding consciousness of the book's unnamed central character ... Shepard once said, with respect to his 1985 play A Lie of the Mind, 'All of the characters are in a fractured place, broken into pieces, and the pieces don't really fit together.' The same can be said of the characters in The One Inside, who can sometimes seem less like people than assemblages of people-parts, attached to dreamlike, partial, unresolved stories that have a disconcerting habit of dissolving into each other ... The ambiguities inherent in the man's recollections are magnified by Shepard's writing. The book switches between third- and first-person narration, and there are moments, even entire sections, when it is not entirely clear who is talking. Shepard refrains from naming most of the characters, and often chooses not to let readers know when he is moving from one timeframe or plotline to another ... Like its characters, The One Inside can be difficult to love: Its willful resistance toward closure or even, at times, coherence will surely put off some readers. But its dreamlike imagery, its vision of the inherent instability of human existence and its occasional flashes of humor are frequently compelling, and there is something not only admirable but magnetic about its obstinacy, a kind of integrity manifest in its refusal to give readers the easy answers we so often seek, or the sense of resolution we so often crave.
MixedThe Washington PostMarshall’s book makes use of some previously unavailable materials, including letters from Bishop to her psychiatrist and to three of her lovers, and as a result is able to offer a more detailed portrait than existed before of the romantic relationships about which she could not be fully open during her life. But its portrait of the poet still feels somewhat remote, mirroring the control, distance and reserve Bishop insisted on in her work ... As if to compensate, Marshall includes some autobiographical material centered on her own encounters with Bishop, with whom she studied poetry at Harvard in the 1970s. But these passages feel, for the most part, distracting and out of place, an unsuccessful attempt to compensate for the narrative’s inability to connect directly with its subject. Still, there are moments in the book where control is lost and reserve overcome, where the human vulnerability of this meticulous and austere artist is revealed.