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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 2/29/12

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]


The Map and the Territory, by Michael Houellebecq. Reviewed by Elaine Blair (New York Review of Books).

I like Houellebecq. He’s a dark, somewhat crazy weirdo, which I tend to enjoy. I really ought to read more of his books. This one takes a different tack than what you might expect from him. As Blair explains in her open: “Jed Martin, the hero of Michel Houellebecq’s new novel, is the first of his major characters to make it to the end of a book without checking into a psychiatric ward or committing suicide.” Where most of those characters are talkative and oversexed, this book is centered around an artistic loner. Houellebecq, it seems, is trying to write the opposite side of the same lonely coin he has focused on for most of his career. If he can do something new and interesting while remaining a dark weirdo, I’m interested. This is a long, but astute, review that you should read.

Find it on Goodreads.

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Blood Red Road, by Moira Young. Reviewed by Martin Lewis (Strange Horizons).

Another taking-down of a genre book at Strange Horizons (they have positive reviews too). This one isn’t quite as thorough and agressive as the last one I pointed to, but Lewis–though he lays the summary on a bit too thick–does a good job of detailing just where things went wrong. His third paragraph opens with a sigh you almost hear, and his disappointment from there is clear. I can relate. There’re a lot of books such as this (it’s a post-apocalyptic western; I mean, that sounds cool) that I really want to like, and just can’t ignore their badness enough to enjoy the story.

Find it on Goodreads.

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The Lifespan of a Fact, by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. Reviewed by Gideon Lewis-Kraus (New York Times).

Fingal is a fact checker, D’Agata is a douchey-sounding “nonfiction fabulist” who thinks fact checkers get in the way of his vision (“It’s called art, dickhead.“). This book does sound pretty fascinating though, depicting, D’Agata’s original writing along with Fingal’s annotations and their running dialogue.  I definitely don’t agree with D’Agata’s idea of acceptable journalism standards, which he’s clearly all-in on seeing as he allowed this book to be published:

D’Agata’s response to these discrepancies, as Fingal kindly calls them at first, is basically: Who cares? It sounds better to say that all these events happened on the same day than it would to hobble the opener with lumpy qualifiers. “The facts that are being employed here aren’t meant to function baldly as ‘facts.’ The work that they’re doing is more image-based than informational.” Over the next 100 or so pages — the fact-checking comes to at least five times the length of the piece itself — Fingal questions not just a few dates but also the existence of entire conversations, etymologies, histories.

It’s a book a want to check out though, if for nothing else than a point of conversation. (Note: this is more of an essay than a review. Read Jennifer McDonald review the book for NYT here.)

Find it on Goodreads.

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Quickly: A lesson in trusting publishers: a novel rejected over and over sells three days after a pen name is applied… Great photobooks of 2011. Finally, RIP Dimitri Nabokov.

Bonus Book Trailer: Not sure I want to read the book, but at least Potter’s trailer for it is professional.

Green Is the New Red — Book Trailer from Will Potter on Vimeo.

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