[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Saul Bellow: Letters, by Saul Bellow, edited by Benjamin Taylor, reviewed by John Banville (Guardian)
There are several reviews of this book floating around this week. This one is my favorite, mostly because it paints the letters as the extremely well-written precursor to E-mails from an asshole. Banville memorably quotes a letter in which Bellow eviscerates a publisher for lavishing him with not-quite-high-enough praise, and says, “It is the prickliness that makes for interest in this collection.” For another perspective, here’s the NYT review of the book, which Leon Wieseltier, a contemporary of Bellow’s, writes more as a remembrance and sketch of Bellow’s remarkable life and career.
Luka and the Fire of Life, by Salman Rushdie, reviewed by Jon Fasman (L.A. Times)
This review is funny, then irritating, then intriguing—that’s a lot to fit into 800 words. Rushdie’s latest appears to be a winning young-adult adventure story about video games. It sounds interesting, if light. The review is worth reading solely for the long quoted passage in which Rushdie describes such classics as Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, and Space Invaders, while coyly omitting their names. Also, the L.A. Times sometimes has outstanding original art accompanying its reviews, and that happens here.
A Very Simple Crime, by Grant Jerkins, reviewed by Patrick Anderson (Washington Post)
This grisly crime novel sounds intriguing as much for its troubles getting published (because it has no “rootable” hero) as for its constellation of dark, cold characters or its discomfiting plot. Anderson details all of that in this relatively simple review.
The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, by Patrick Somerville, reviewed by Joseph Peschel (Boston Globe)
Peschel’s review makes this collection sound like a cross between Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories and Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics. Peschel says, in part: “These tales are mostly speculative fiction-science fiction, surrealism, absurdism, and fantasy blended into a metafictional continuum.” Yes, please.
OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, by Allan Metcalf, reviewed by Roy Blount, Jr. (New York Times)
The spelling of the word “OK” or “okay” is frequentedly a topic of debate at Chamber Four HQ. This review frustratingly doesn’t resolve the issue (although the book lands on “OK,” which I—as an OKist—record as a victory), but it’s fairly amusing to hear a few of the mythic stories of its origin, as well as the summarized breakdown of the pleasure and spread of the word. And the extravagant corollaries that the author draws from the word’s history are pretty good, too.