[An abbreviated holiday edition of OMM, with many publications running scaled-back review sections this week]
New York Times:
- Sunday Book Review cover: Dale Peck on My Prizes and Prose by Thomas Bernhard: "[P]erhaps it’s a good thing Bernhard isn’t more popular in the wide world. Perhaps acclaim of the kind he describes in 'My Prizes' would smother the idiosyncrasies of his texts with bland, universalizing exegeses. No doubt I’m contributing to that process with these words, in which case probably the best thing you can do is forget everything I’ve just told you and go read one of Bernhard’s books instead. Or, better yet, don’t."
- Garner on Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss: "Described simply, 'Radioactive' is an illustrated biography of Marie Curie, the Polish-born French physicist famous for her work on radioactivity ... and her equally accomplished husband, Pierre.... Described less simply, it’s a deeply unusual and forceful thing to have in your hands. Ms. Redniss’s text is long, literate and supple.... The electricity in 'Radioactive,' however, derives from the friction between Ms. Redniss’s text and her ambitious and spooky art. Her text runs across and over these freewheeling pages, the boundaries between word and image constantly blurring. Her drawings are both vivid and ethereal. Her people have elongated faces and pale forms; they’re etiolated Modiglianis. They populate a Paris that’s become a dream city."
- Jason Zengerle on Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann: "The result is 'Play Their Hearts Out,' an often heartbreaking, always riveting exploration of the seamy underbelly of big-time youth basketball — and one of the finest books about sports I’ve ever read.... He’s a reporter, not a polemicist, and he’s comfortable letting the facts speak for themselves. And the facts at his disposal allow him to create a rich narrative. In Keller, Dohrmann found the perfect protagonist."
- Dani Shapiro on Poser by Claire Dederer: "Yoga! Let the eye-rolling begin. But what makes 'Poser' work on a lot of levels is that first in line to ask searching questions and poke fun is the author herself.... 'Poser' is a powerful, honest, ruefully funny memoir about one woman’s open-hearted reckoning with her demons. I only wish that Dederer had trusted herself just a bit more. Ever the journalist, she has a well-honed instinct to provide backup, context, proof to support her circumstances.... Stop, I wanted to tell her. Breathe and stay still. Keep your gaze close to you. In the hands of a gifted writer, the universal is embedded within the personal."
- Ben Macintyre on Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda: "Most treatments of Lawrence’s life can be divided into debunkings and hagiographies. 'Hero' by Michael Korda, as the title implies, is closer to the latter category.... Yet into this baggy but beguiling biography, Korda, the author of several works of history, has also crammed the darker incarnations of Lawrence, the shy depressive, the tortured ascetic, the 'odd gnome, half cad — with a touch of genius,' in the words of one of his companions behind Turkish lines. This book, for all its worship of Lawrence, leaves the impression that his heroism lay in a unique brand of personal eccentricity, a refusal to fit into the expectations of others, an unshakable determination to do things his own way, however peculiar and wrong-headed this seemed."
- Dirda on Long, Last, Happy by Barry Hannah: "Before going any further, let me say straight out that I was a fool to have waited so long to discover Hannah. Agatha Christie mysteries we read for their plots, Sherlock Holmes stories we return to for their gaslight and hansom-cab coziness, but the very best writers we love for the sound of their sentences, the shiver of pleasure delivered by unexpected words and astonishing turns of phrase, by the way their language makes us feel glad to be alive. You don't pick up James Joyce's 'Ulysses' because you want to learn about the events in Dublin on June 16, 1904; you don't read Hunter S. Thompson because you want to find out about the nightlife in Las Vegas. What Joyce and Thompson offer is simply the glorious experience of the English language knocking your socks off. Barry Hannah belongs in this noble company. And then some."
- Daniel Stashower on Mr. Hooligan by Ian Vasquez: "Vasquez has a bone-deep connection with his setting that transforms an otherwise conventional story line into a dark modern-day morality play, complete with a pot-smoking ex-nun, Sister Pat, who comments on the action from the sidelines.... The author's crisp dialogue and low-life atmospherics have drawn comparisons to Elmore Leonard, with whom he shares an abiding respect for the cruel loyalties that can lead decent men astray."
Los Angeles Times:
- Susan Salter Reynolds on The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers: "No one is even really sure of Crazy Horse's date of birth, and the ambiguity carries through to his death. Powers is determined to untie the knots, to find out how Crazy Horse really died and why. There is a sustained feeling of excitement throughout the book, a sense of the historian's hunt as Powers ferrets out the answers. At most junctures, there is more than one telling of events: Words that mean one thing in English mean something else in Sioux. In every newspaper report, the career and bias of the reporter are considered as well as the surge of public opinion at the time. With every firsthand report, Powers reveals the bias of the teller — his relationship to Crazy Horse, his investment in the myth of the man.... He writes that he is grateful for the firm foundation of primary sources. But Powers has also clearly inhabited this story, living in it as one does a home or a piece of clothing that holds meaning for the wearer."
The New Yorker:
- Dan Chiasson on One with Others by C.D. Wright (subscription only): "It turns out that the literary genre least likely to get in the way of this story [one woman's life from the often-told Civil Rights Movement] is poetry, which, despite its reputation for gilt and taffeta, comfortably veers close to 'documentary' conventions. It comes especially close in Wright's angular strain of postmodern poetry, which draws on refractive techniques now a hundred years old: collage, extensive quotation, multiplicity of voice and tone, found material, and, often, a non-authorial, disinterested stance.... No longer disorienting, not yet shopworn, they are, for the reader, transparent, like a documentary camera: you can see right through them to the subject matter."