Books

106 posts

Book Review: Astray by Emma Donoghue

Though some stories in Astray are more poignant than others, Donoghue once again shows herself to be a writer who excels at evoking characters with startling precision. The result is an exceptional collection that meditates widely on the way in which even the most stable-seeming lives can quickly unravel, revealing the contingent nature of the idea of stability itself.

Titian: His Life by Sheila Hale

Book Review: Titian: His Life by Sheila Hale

Seeing a paint brush on the floor, the emperor reached down to retrieve it and presented it to the painter. Had Charles bestowed a golden scepter upon Titian, the honor would have been no greater. Artists were still viewed as artisans by most of the nobility of Europe. In sullying his royal hands with a tool of Titian’s trade, Charles paid him the ultimate compliment.

Book Review: John Keats: A New Life by Nicholas Roe

Whether one approaches Keats’ life by reading a biography or by the direct study of his poems, there is no escaping the fact that he was obsessed by the nature and effect of beauty in its various forms. He was also haunted by death, the sheer, undeniable, inescapable physical annihilation that awaits each of us, sooner or later. In the case of Keats, death occurred much, much too soon.

Book Review: Through the Eye of a Needle by Peter Brown

Brown writes that Christian leaders had to carefully deploy Church resources, spiritual and financial, to create a new society to take over after the Roman one had collapsed. In the place of Roman municipal buildings and fortresses came Christian basilicas, monasteries and what Brown brilliantly calls “a coral reef of institutions devoted to intercession,” hospitals, hostels and eventually schools administered by the Church. This was the civilization of the Middle Ages, the foundation of a new vision for the Western world.

Book Review: Prosperous Friends by Christine Schutt

A mile wide and an inch deep? Not Christine Schutt’s Prosperous Friends. Quite the opposite. It’s a compact 205-page spare-prose novel with a wickedly deceptive rose-colored antimacassar of a book jacket. With those rudimentary tools, it rips the façade off of marriage, much the way a smiling nurse s l o w l y eases a bandage from your wound, and then when you’re good and trusting, rips off the entrenched last bit.

Book jacket: Lincoln's Hundred Days

Book Review: Lincoln’s Hundred Days by Louis P. Masur

The determination to end slavery may not have figured initially as a Union war aim for most of the young men in Blue who did the fighting and dying. But Masur quotes from numerous soldier letters and diaries to prove that many Union troops were horrified by the conditions that they found in the south, particularly the enslavement of children fathered by their own “masters.”

Edward S Curtis: Self Portrait

Book Review: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

The course of Curtis’ campaign to document the lives and life style of the Native American peoples is related by Egan with considerable detail and page-turning élan. There were plenty of incidents of physical ordeal and, in some cases, real danger. An Apache medicine man who divulged secrets of his tribe’s religious practices died under suspicious circumstances shortly after Curtis left the reservation. That fate might well have befallen Curtis…

Jacket cover NW by Zadie Smith

Book Review: NW by Zadie Smith

By calling her newest novel NW, Zadie Smith follows in the tradition of other writers, including Mary Gaskell, George Eliot, and Winifred Holtby, who have named the work after the setting. Like its predecessors, NW is an ensemble novel that explores human nature through a microcosm of the world, a technique that has historically appealed to women writers. Jane Austen famously said her work, containable on a “little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory,” was about “four or five families in a country village.”

Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Perhaps it’s fair to say that the big accomplishment of Diaz’s new book is that it does what authors have always done, but it does it really well. He explores grand concepts—pain, love, history, and life—through an obsessive devotion to particulars. The violence of colonial history replays itself in the troubled starts and stops of a family struggling for connection and in Yunior’s own search for love.

Book Review: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists is set in three inter-linked time frames. Past and present struggle to reconcile Yun Ling’s memories of wartime suffering and loss. But Yun Ling is faced by a cruel dilemma. Soon she will no longer have a future. Her brilliant, sensitive mind is slowly deteriorating from an incurable neurological disease. Oblivion will settle Yun Ling’s efforts to find inner peace if she does not achieve it first.