New York Times:
- Sunday Book Review cover: John Simon on The Letters of Noel Coward: "Let’s face it: Coward was a genius. Who else was outstanding in the following capacities: actor; author of comedy, drama and farce; also operetta, musical comedy and revue, as both composer and lyricist? Furthermore, novelist, short-story writer, light versifier (independent from music), autobiographer, diarist, travel writer, filmmaker ('In Which We Serve' — a masterpiece) and, as we see here, letter writer extraordinaire."
- Jim Harrison on The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993 by Charles Bukowski: "Even more surprising in this large collection are the number of poems characterized by fragility and delicacy; I’ve been reading Bukowski occasionally for 50 years and had not noted this before, which means I was most likely listening too closely to his critics. Our perceptions of Bukowski, like our perceptions of Kerouac, are muddied by the fact that many of his most ardent fans are nitwits who love him to the exclusion of any of his contemporaries. I would suggest you can appreciate Bukowski with the same brain that loves Wallace Stegner and Gary Snyder."
- Rachel Donadio on Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano: "A powerful work of reportage, 'Gomorrah' became a literary sensation when it appeared in Italy last year, selling an astonishing 600,000 copies. It started a national conversation, but also won its 28-year-old first-time author uglier accolades: death threats and a constant police escort. He now lives in hiding.... I could not get this brave book out of my head. After reading 'Gomorrah,' it becomes impossible to see Italy, and the global market, in the same way again."
- Walter Kirn on A Free Life by Ha Jin: "The two steps forward, one step back progression of the Wu’s acculturation may be true to the actual experiences of countless naïve, non-native English speakers, but it feels here more like a monastic meditation or a ritual breathing exercise than a fictional documentary. Jin’s simple sentences, familiar sentiments, and uneventful three- to five-page chapters ... appear to derive from a highly refined aesthetic of anti-excitability."
- David Treuer on Hundred in the Hand by Joseph M. Marshall III: "I've always suspected that cowboys are really Indians in disguise. Joseph Marshall's astonishing new Western is proof.... The publisher claims that this book is reminiscent of the oral tradition of Indian storytelling. But for something to jog the memory, we have to know it in the first place, and this novel doesn't evoke Indian storytelling (whatever that is) as much as the tradition of old Westerns. It sounds and reads like a Western, only facing the wrong direction."
- Charles Kaiser on Boom! by Tom Brokaw: "Combining oral history with the author's own memories, this 662-page tome touches on nearly all the major events of that extraordinary time. Unfortunately, it tells us nothing new about any of them."
Los Angeles Times:
- David Ulin on Bukowski's The Pleasures of the Damned: "One of the benefits of a career retrospective is that it allows us to see how a writer has progressed, how themes and styles are continued or discarded. This collection, though, shows no real growth. A poem from the 1950s reads no different than one from the 1980s; they are part of the same lifelong binge."
Globe & Mail:
- A.L. Kennedy on Born Standing Up by Steve Martin: "The story he tells is engaging, dense, occasionally moving, but - in autobiography as in comedy - the decision that 'jokes are funniest when played upon oneself' means the book's overall tone is what can only be described as courteous.... His prose fiction can occasionally be distorted by a need to prove itself, an unwieldy self-awareness. But here there are only economy, clarity and an intense visual awareness, the keen observation that transfers beautifully from stage to page."
- It's time for The Guardian's version of the British year-end tradition of, instead of naming your top 100 or some such sum, asking writers what their favorite books of the year were. An idiosyncratic list as usual, with only a couple of books named more than once, and one named three times: Black Mass, John Gray's argument against modern secular utopianism, which John Banville calls "bleakly invigorating" and J.G. Ballard says is a "brilliant polemic."
The New Yorker:
- Bill Buford on "cookbooks for carnivores," including a favorite among the carnivores at Omnivoracious, Pork and Sons, which is "the story of killing a pig—the kind of killing that has been done every year for a very long time—and the many things you can then eat afterward, and it is distinguished by an unusual tranquillity of purpose," and our choice for the best food book of 2007, The River Cottage Meat Book: "I found myself wondering, Doesn’t anyone do the dishes down there at the cottage? Fearnley-Whittingstall’s occasional efforts to explain butchery, like boning a leg of lamb (encouraging his readers not to bother with a professional but to do the 'hatchet job yourself—it’s quite easy to improvise'), reveal a tolerance for chaos ('It’s a bit tricky to explain') that may be without precedent among people who make a living from preparing food."
- John Updike on Jin's A Free Life: "His new novel ... is a relatively lumpy and uncomfortable work.... Unfortunately, the novel rarely gathers the kind of momentum that lets us overlook its language."