Book Reviews Archive

The Why of Things

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The Why of Things Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop Simon & Schuster, June 2013 320 pages $24.99 I can’t decide whether to be furious with Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop’s new novel, The Why of Things, or to admire it. In some ways, it’s one of the most frustrating, unsatisfying books I’ve read

Blurbese: “deeply felt”

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In general, I dislike curmudgeonly fiats contra adverb—in fact, I’ve complained about them here before. However, there are a couple of cases where I think specific adverbs ought to be banned outright. One of those is the book review phrase “deeply felt.” My problem with the phrase, I will

The Immanence of God in the Tropics

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The Immanence of God in the Tropics George Rosen Leapfrog Press, September 2012 167 pages $15.95 George Rosen performs a neat, almost anachronistic trick in his new book of seven stories, The Immanence of God in the Tropics: he plays it straight. When writing about exotic locales, the temptation is to mimic

Madness, Rack, and Honey

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Madness, Rack, And Honey: Collected Lectures Mary Ruefle Wave Books, August 2012 327 pages $25.00   Dear Dr. Poetry, I’ve been hiding my poetry for 3 years now, and I’m dying to finally tell my family I’m a poet. But there’s always been a lot of stigma about poetry ever

Another Insane Devotion

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Another Insane Devotion Peter Trachtenberg Da Capo Press, November 2012 304 pages $24.00 Paul Leyhausen calls cats’ ‘gifts’ of dead mice and birds as treating their owners like deputy kittens—as if they think we are pathetic creatures who can’t take care of ourselves and need to be taught to

Blurbese: Direct Quotations

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If you happened to read more than one review of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy last month, you’ll never look at a condom the same way again. That’s because of a single line from the book, which the New York Times, The New Yorker, Time, the Daily Beast, and Library

Lost Classics: Equal Danger

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Equal Danger Leonardo Sciascia New York Review of Books Classics, October 2003 152 pages $14.00 [Editor’s note: Every few months, Akshay Ahuja will dig into the archives for an old book that has either fallen out of favor or never received the recognition it deserves. Feel free to add

The Neruda Case

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The Neruda Case Roberto Ampuero Riverhead, June 2012 352 pages $26.95 Pablo Neruda has a problem: he’s ancient and dying of cancer, but he yearns for an ex-lover who may—or may not—have given birth to a long-lost daughter. As he faces death (“the old woman with the scythe”) he

Four New Messages

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Four New Messages Joshua Cohen Graywolf Press, August 2012 208 Pages $14.00 One may as well begin, before getting to the ignoble task of judgment, with the facts: Four New Messages is a collection of stories by Joshua Cohen, who, according to his biography near the book’s back cover,

Blurbese: “a _____ debut”

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Book reviewers generally frown on unnecessary adjectives. Precisely how they frown depends on the situation, but you can bet if an author’s use of adjectives comes up in a review it’s not as a compliment. If a book is filled with rare and unusual descriptions (e.g. “a perturbing peccadillo”),