...shows that Cole has fulfilled the dazzling promise of his novels. He ranges over his interests with voracious keenness, laser-sharp prose, an open heart and a clear eye. His subjects are diverse and disparate. Readers are certain to find a personal favourite ... There is such richness in these essays that it is not possible, in this short space, to do justice to all their delights.
The stunning second section, 'Seeing Things,' is especially captivating and reveals Cole’s voracious appetite for and love of the visual ... When the occasional essay fails to hold interest it’s because the connections Cole draws to some European lineage remain tenuous ... On every level of engagement and critique, Known and Strange Things is an essential and scintillating journey.
Strewn throughout the work are a set of pieces that sit simultaneously within and apart from the rest of the book. Drawn together these essays amount to what Kevin Young calls in The Grey Album, a 'removed shadow book.' It’s through that Known and Strange Things finds focus: written during a political era framed by 'forever wars,' terrorism, our collective traumatization, and now renewed authoritarianism, Cole’s essays offer ways of our through the arts’ beautiful provocations ... Maybe because he’s constantly seeking new narrative spaces, Cole is on the road regularly. Essays like 'Always Returning,' 'Unnamed Lake,' Far Away from Here,' 'Brazilian Earth,' and 'Two Weeks' display his predilection for traveling to places where truths might arise with this sort of involuntary action ... Spread intermittently among the collection’s sections, surrounding pieces slightly obfuscating their subjects, these essays are Cole’s shadow book. This improvised book’s meaning is never fully realized; however, to borrow Kevin Young’s words, it 'represents a willingness to recognize the unfinished, process-based quality of life and art, even taking pleasure in the incompleteness of being.'”
Cole’s essays are brilliantly written—sharp, intelligent—and yield a pleasurable sweetness. His prose, in its variations, is impeccably where he wants it to be. His erudition is put to work humbly. But in encountering these essays, perhaps the most important quality to grasp is Cole’s deep sense of the seriousness of life, which is sustained in different registers throughout. Rotating through his compositions, and sometimes shouldering aside their announced subjects, is an array of thematic problems routinely confounding to the educated secular leftcentric urban readerships of today … I am sentimental about Teju Cole and think of him as an emissary for our best selves. He is sampling himself for our benefit, hoping for enlightenment, and seeking to provide pleasure to us through his art. May his realm expand.
Cole’s takes on everything are seen through the alternating long and short lenses of a modern writer steeped in history. His short essays are the best, simple and elegant...The longer pieces can be less satisfying ... One of the results of [Cole's] ambition is that a certain extravagance can sometimes inject itself into his otherwise judicious prose.
...many of the essays seem slight, their insights not given room to develop ... But then there are wonderful essays on place — 'Black Body,' 'The Reprint' — that have this sense of space and pacing. And even some of the shorter essays are fully formed and affecting ... they feel most satisfying where the author has followed his ideas to places the reader hadn’t thought to visit.
Cole strews searing insights like fresh seeds throughout his latest book ... Cole’s latest book feels like an intimate conversation with an eccentric friend who cannot wait to share his wonderment with the visual world. Like a modern-day Montaigne, Cole patiently teases out deeper meanings from varied art forms and the outer margins of everyday existence.
These intimate yet expansive essays, some mere musings, some critiques, others scholarly articles and still others insightful pieces of cultural reportage, display the same peripatetic spirit and dot-connecting that Cole put to such good use in his debut novel set in Manhattan, Open City, and his novel exploring the social dynamics of Lagos, Nigeria, Every Day is for the Thief.”
In this dazzlingly wide-ranging collection, he draws an insightful map of literal and metaphoric inter-connections. Even while discussing one creative form, it’s clear he could be defining himself as well as the world.
A 400-page book of disparate essays is a hard ask, and even visual arts aficionados may struggle through the long middle section. All the same, patience will be rewarded by Part III, 'Being There,' in which Mr. Cole deftly blends memoir and travelogue ... Although erudite and wide-ranging, these essays are not quite as successful as, say, Julian Barnes’ or Geoff Dyer’s in making any and every topic interesting to laymen. Still, Mr. Cole proves himself a modern Renaissance man, interweaving experience and opinion in rigorous yet conversational pieces that illuminate the arts.
For this gathering, he admits, he has favored his pieces on photography, but he has also included a good number of literary reviews and reminiscences, as well as a sampling of political reflections and travelogues. It makes for a nice variety ... [An] alert scavenging instinct is deployed across Cole’s wide spectrum of interests and it results, as noted, in an excitingly heterogeneous mix of topics ... Happily, Cole does not confine himself to high-end journalism. In a number of his longer pieces, he shows himself to be a superb personal essayist. He knows how to control anecdote and digression, create suspense, and hold everything together with the spell of a natural, even confiding, voice.