[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?, by Henry Alford, reviewed by Charles Isherwood (New York Times)
The world—or at least a large percentage of the people I see on my commute—could use a lesson in manners. Alford, a “humorist” (a kludgy word for a supposedly fluid entity), offers a “whimsically haphazard” survey of manners. While certain of Alford’s strategies sound more passive-aggressive than effective, maybe that’s sounder than my personal tactic of staring at bus-riding cell phone talkers and pointedly following their conversation until they get creeped out and hang up.
Smut, by Alan Bennett, reviewed by David L. Ulin (L.A. Times)
David L. Ulin quietly but insightfully dissects Alan Bennett’s new pair of novellas. This is the kind of thing Ulin excels at:
Here, Bennett highlights a conflict central to both novellas: that there is a difference between pretense and self-preservation, and the roles we play (matron, widow) often serve to protect our inner selves. At the same time, there’s more at work here—since what we try to conceal is often obvious anyway.
In the end, Smut doesn’t sound like my kind of book. But the review is worth your time.
Terrorists in Love, by Ken Ballen, reviewed by Dina Temple-Raston (Washington Post)
This arresting nonfiction book attempts to discover and explain the reasons that Islamists turn to violent jihad. It’s composed of six anecdotal stories about men who were involved in violent jihad for various reasons. Ballen, the founder of an anti-terrorism nonprofit, comes to the conclusion that a lack of love on earth inspires these wayward souls to win God’s favor in the afterlife. It is, as Temple-Raston notes, not a very all-inclusive theory, but the discussion about it is quite interesting.
Treasure Island!!!, by Sara Levine, reviewed by Rebecca Barry (New York Times)
“I’m partial,” confesses Barry, in the opening of this review, “to a book with exclamation points in its title.” Not me. I’m gunshy about them, ever since the one in Swamplandia! turned out to be a bear trap. However, I am partial to “a rollicking tale, shameless, funny and intelligent,” which Barry claims for Treasure Island!!!. Before I get my hopes up, there’s no mention of either treasure or islands. It sounds, honestly, like another one of these literary novels whose purpose is to subvert all your expectations. It better be funny.
In brief: A “pale, lifeless” Jeff Bezos biography disappoints. … Houllebecq’s latest is also his first to feature a main character not modeled on himself. … The guy who named the main character of a long-running series “Harry Hole” writes a series of children’s books about farts? That makes sense, actually. And Simon & Schuster, the publisher who will readily sell their dignity, publishes it? That also makes sense. Carry on. … Christopher Paolini’s house is crazy. (Also, kids, when a major paper comes to do a profile on you, put on some damn shoes for the pictures.)