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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 4/8/14

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

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lefthandturnA Left-Hand Turn Around the World, by David Wolman. Reviewed by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings).

This might be a weird admission, but I’ve always wished I was a lefty. I’ve even spent time teaching myself to do things left-handed, though the results are invariably sloppier than my natural right-handed efforts. That aside, this book, which explores the history of left-handed sounds fascinating (Latin for left is sinister? I should have taken Latin in school). If this sounds familiar, it’s because Wolman was recently on an (also fascinating) episode of RadioLab talking about this stuff.

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Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, by Errol Fuller. Excerpted in Scientific American.

Not a review, strictly speaking, but this book looks pretty neat. The title pretty much explains it: the book is a compendium of documentation of animal species that no longer exist. It’s incredibly fucked up that the human race has managed to wipe out as much life as it has, and books like this are a good starting point for reflecting on all the damage progress leaves in its wake. Old nature photography is mesmerizing in its own right too, and particularly in the cases where, as the author notes, “the fact that photographers often had no idea how important their photos would become. They didn’t necessarily have any insight into the notion that their subject would soon become extinct.”

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Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue. Reviewed by Janet Maslin (New York Times).

Donoghue’s last book, Room, at once impressed and infuriated me. It got mostly love around the bookosphere despite, or perhaps due to, its gimmicky narrator. (The story was told from the maladjusted perspective of a 5 year old child of a kidnapped rape victim who had spent his entire life imprisoned in the same small room with his mother.) It doesn’t surprise me then, that without such a crutch there’s not much to like about Donoghue’s latest, which is based on an unsolved murder from the late 19th century. Maslin actually comes right out and says that the “afterword is a more interesting telling of the story.” Ouch.

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Quickly: Home Movies might be my favorite TV show off all time (though I think I’ve also said that about Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, and Miami Vice plenty), and I found this write up of the show particularly astute.I still haven’t read anything by Karen Russell, and I’m not sure I want to start here. John Paul Stevens is convinced Shakespeare wasn’t really the author of all that good stuff.

The Week’s Best Book Reviews 3/26/14

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

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overwhelmedOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte. Reviewed by Jennifer Howard (Washington Post).

Oh man, I wish I was joking in saying I’m too busy to read this book right now. Never in my life have I had so much to do as this spring. Part of me actually loves it, and part of me wants to go live in the woods and eat berries around a campfire for the rest of my days. Much of my consolation though, is knowing that my current busy-ness levels will subside in another month. But what about those of us who are always busy, no matter what our life situation. Why do we do it to ourselves (or why do we construct a society that demands it)? Seems like a decent rumination to base a pop-sociology book on. I’ve added it to my Amazon cart, but I’ll be waiting until I have more free time to actually read it.

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Blood Will Out, by Walter Kirn. Interviewed by Walter Kirn (New York Times).

The pretentiousness of someone interviewing themselves is a pretty big turn off for me, especially when they open with wearing fancy clothes and packing up zebra striped undies. But Kirn’s weirdness (he wrote Up in the Air, which became that Clooney movie a few years back), which is plenty evident in this self-interview, led him–apparently out of boredom between books–to befriend a con-man/impostor/murderer who went by Clark Rockefeller. I don’t know, I probably don’t want to read his book about it, but whatever this is is worth a look.

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Cycle of Lies, by Juliet Macur. Reviewed by John Horn (Los Angeles Times).

I could give two fucks about the sport of cycling or its athletes’ integrity, but I do very much enjoy the schadenfreude that follows a rich, colossal douchebag’s fall from grace. Lance Armstrong’s downfall was his own hubris and assholishness, and the more books like these (the review also discusses Wheelmen by Reed Abergotti and Vanessa O’Connell) that pile on the denigration of his name, the better.

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Quickly: Anyone in DC should try and attend the 826 fundraiser event tomorrow, C4 knows a couple cats who will be there. This book collecting American interpretations of Shakespeare through the years looks fairly interesting. An agent doesn’t like the idea of publishing with Amazon, shocker.

The Week’s Best Book Reviews 3/11/14

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

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boysnowbirdBoy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi. Reviewed by Heller McAlpin (Barnes and Noble Review).

If you want to entice me to read a book, just make promises about its ability to “entwine elements of fairy tale, folklore, and ghost stories with thorny issues like racial prejudice, cultural dislocations, and maternal ambivalence.” This retelling of Snow White (I’m also a sucker for retellings) is set in 1950s Massachusetts and is centered around a black man called Boy who passes for white, though McAlpin is pretty guarded about the actual plot. I’m sold though. Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching has been on my list for a while now. I guess one more couldn’t hurt.

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The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black. Reviewed by Janet Maslin (New York Times).

Black (mystery book pseudonym for author John Banville) has taken over Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe character, and this book’s title is even something bequeathed by the late mystery great. I’d probably like Black/Banville’s Marlowe books if I had the time to read them. Maslin certainly seems enamored with the Irish writer’s sensibility for noir Americanese, and I appreciate that she shares very little of the plot–a rich girl hires a private dick to find somebody who’s mixed up in something he shouldn’t be and is now missing. Mostly, though, I want to know how the hell Candice Bergen warranted mentioning in a review of a mystery novel set in the 40′s written by an Irish author…

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Black Moon, by Kenneth Calhoun. Reviewed by Jeff Vandermeer (Los Angeles Times).

Take this book about a worldwide insomnia epidemic or leave it (I’m inclined toward the latter), but make sure to give a glance at this dude’s author picture and tell me it’s not right near the top of the list of douchiest author pics ever. Something about Calhoun’s smarmy, half-sneering expression in that photo makes me want to hate the book and anyone involved in its publication for reasons I can’t even place. (The review is worthwhile though, and I quite like Vandermeer, whose excellent Wonderbook I’ll be talking about on the next podcast.)

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Quickly: I quite liked this Atlantic article about how (not) to teach grammar. Bukowski has been dead 20 years this week, so LA is having a party. Mardi Gras is right up there near the top on the list of things that don’t interest me at all, but if it’s your style, here’s a list of related reading. David Ulin actually describes something Denis Johnson wrote as “one of the signal achievements of contemporary American literature, a book so spare and beautiful and knowing that it makes my eyes weep blood.” Woah.

reviews in haiku: January/February 2014

Skipped a month, now we’re back.

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Fur People

by “Queen of Noir”

violent folks; bleak settings

book stars a hoarder

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All The Heat We Could Carry

fresh poetry book

a meditation on war

about gay soldiers

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The Way of Kings

new occupation:

long audiobooks for N

good for what it is

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Harvest

not Crace’s best book

wholly enjoyable still

read Being Dead first

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Imperial

part sad, part funny

Baby Boomer poetry

must suck to get old

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The Alloway Files

not without its flaws

Roller writes the absurd well

eager for his next

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Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy

what a great title

obsession-obsessed poems

Rammelkamp rolling

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Dominion

yet another meh

alternate history tale

merits, but it bores

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The White Rail

great writing lauded

Hariss saw and sent her own

read her review soon

The Week’s Best Book Reviews 2/19/14

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

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A Burnable Book, by Bruce Holsinger. Reviewed by Ron Charles (Washington Post).

Oh man, just read this opener by Charles:

Forget Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa tower; the hot new super-agent is 14th-century writer Geoffrey Chaucer. Thrill to his daring Middle English rimes! Gasp at his mighty scansion! Here in the pages of Bruce Holsinger’s medieval adventure, that randy old poet finally gets the “Mission Impossible” cameo he deserves.

Sounds dumb, but also kinda awesome. Charles seems to actually have enjoyed the book quite a bit, though it’s hard to tell sometimes whether he is being sincere or derisive. There’s more summary here than we usually get from WaPo, but it’s still worth a read.

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barkBark, by Lorrie Moore. Reviewed by Charles McGrath (New York Times).

McGrath doesn’t really say much about the book, which is Moore’s first story collection in 16 years, instead focusing more on the author herself. Whatever, though, Moore is a really good writer, and at least some of the stories in here are sure to be strong.

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Afrofuturism, by Ytasha L. Womack. Reviewed by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons Reviews).

I like perusing the Strange Horizons site for two things: learning of good sci-fi books I might want to read, and indulging in the occasional teardown. This time, I found something closer to the former in a pretty decent piece of literary criticism about an art aesthetic I’d never even heard of before. I don’t know when I’ll have the time to read Afrofuturism, but I totally want to learn more.

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Quickly: Murakami fans can look forward to his latest in English this summer. Describe a book as “a Mexican family’s comic woes vibrantly recall Greek mythology and the young James Joyce” and I’m sold.

The Week’s Best Book Reviews 2/12/14

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

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parthenonThe Parthenon Enigma, by Joan Bretton Connelly. Reviewed by Nick Curley (Barnes & Noble Review).

This isn’t actually a review, but an excerpt with an editor’s preface–and it’s fascinating. I wish I had the time to invest in this book, which explores the millennia-old mysteries of one of the West’s most recognizable pieces of architecture, but also its monumental (sorry) impact on the Western thought since the Enlightenment. Give the excerpt a shot, because I’m not doing a very good job of expressing Connelly’s premise. 

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H R C,  by Amie Parnes and Johnathan Howell. Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani (New York Times).

I love Hillary and can’t wait for her to be our next president. However, I can’t really stomach contemporary political books though–they either serve a masturbatory role for supporters or an antagonistic one for the opposition, neither of which is worth my time–so I’ll be passing on this, but fans of this sort of thing should enjoy what’s on offer here, which is essentially a start to the 2016 hype machine. Really though, my main hope for this book is that somewhere out there there is a conservative leaning book blog that has a jovial editor (or maybe grumpy in this Bizarro fantasy) that’s gonna get drunk on a podcast and review this book with escalating rage.

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Alena, by Rachel Pastan. Reviewed by Carolyn Parkhurst (Washington Post).

I’m a sucker for retellings. I don’t know why, since they are far more often bad than good. But it sounds like Pastan’s modern day Cape Cod retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca might actually be worth a read. Of course, I’ve got to read du Maurier’s original first…

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Quickly: Here’s some cute, heart-filled children’s books. I’m by no means a religious person, but I love the new pope, whose latest awesome deed (endorsing the new Ms. Marvel, which sports a Muslim, Pakistani-American female protagonist) caught a lot of people’s attention. This gallery of famous authors’ houses is a nice curio. Maybe BJ Novak’s stories are funny, or maybe they’re terrible.

The February Page Count Podcast is Live

c4-podcast-logoWe’re still sorry you only got six-ish Podcasts of Christmas, but now that 2014 is in full effect we’ll try and keep the episodes rolling as regularly as possible. This month, we revisit this whole aversion to negative book reviews thing (look for Eric’s follow up series running all week), the best audiobooks for your bucks, Korean monster movies, the uncensored 4th Lord of the Rings book “Boner Party: There and Back Again,” sensory books that you have to wear a vest to experience, and Caligula.

No Drunk Review this month; we’ll have one in March though so stay tuned for that. If you want to suggest a book for us to subject whoever is next to, be sure to let us know.

Books touched on: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy; Best American Short Stories 2013; The Stories of John Cheever; The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson; Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson; The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau; Dominion, by CJ Sansom; Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat; The Secret History, by Donna Tartt; The Conductor, by Jean Ferry; Marvel Comics: The Untold Stories, by Sean Howe; Snowpiercer, by Jacque Lob; Miracle Man #1, by Mick Anglo. Recommendations: In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote; Lost Girls, by Alan Moore; The Girl Who Was Plugged In, by James Tiptree Jr.; The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson.

Subscribe on iTunes here. If you’d rather the direct RSS feed, here you go. You can also stream the episodes below.

Have any topic or reading suggestions, or comments about the show? Please email them to info@chamberfour.com or shoot us a tweet.

REVIEW: Harvest

harvestAuthor: Jim Crace

2013, Nan A. Talese

Filed Under: Literary, Historical, Thriller

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 5

I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple of months now. That’s in part because I’ve been crazy busy, and in part because I really don’t have much to say about this book. I don’t mean that as a knock, Harvest is a quick and pleasurable read, a historical fiction quasi-thriller by a very talented author. It’s a good book, but in the end a pretty unremarkable one. So apologies ahead of time that this review is as much summary as anything.

Crace’s novel is set in a post-Medieval English barley-farming village, in the days immediately following the yearly harvest. Some youths get a little carried away in the festivities celebrating the occasion, and what was intended as a minor prank ends up burning down the barn of the property’s lord.

Their lord, however, is in the process of losing his rights to the land to an in-law’s inheritance claim, and the new guy is a Sheriff of Nottingham type, who wants to leave his impression upon the peasants swiftly and forcibly. So some drifters found on the outskirts of town are scapegoated, and punished for the boys’ crime.
Continue reading »

The Week’s Best Book Reviews 1/16/14

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

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the-conductor-and-other-tales-3The Conductor and Other Tales, by Jean Ferry. Reviewed by Michael Dirda (Washington Post).

When Dirda says a set of stories “may remind you of Italo Calvino or Steven Millhauser at their most beguiling,” I don’t need to read anymore. I’m sold. I did read on though, and then promptly ordered a copy of the book–which is not new, by the way, but in re-release. If you like short fiction and the fantastic, this sounds like a winner.

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The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, by Olivia Laing. Interviewed by Jasmine Elist (Los Angeles Times).

Speaking as someone who unabashedly drank his way through an MFA program, the romance (with all the highs and lows that entails) between writers and alcohol is a fascinating one. Elist’s puffball interview questions aside, some of the insight Laing dug up for this book sounds pretty fascinating. It runs the risk of being a preachy or didactic screed of course, but could just as easily be an interesting exploration into the creative process of six beloved authors.

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Brown Dog, by Jim Harrison. Reviewed by Heller McAlpin (Barnes & Noble Review).

This “rollicking” collection of five previously published novellas (and one new one) about a eccentric woodsman sounds brimming with character and charm. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to read a book featuring this guy: “There’s something hapless but never hopeless about Brown Dog, who constantly gets caught up in harebrained schemes to protect what’s sacred to him, including the Anishinabe burial grounds, whose location he’s stupidly divulged to a seductive anthropology graduate student during a ‘pussy trance.’” McAplin is a lucid reviewer, so the review is worth reading in it’s own right.

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Quickly: This romance novelist just landed an 8-figure advance; I hope it puts St. Martin’s out of business. Semi-related, this guy should totally be running HarperCollins for real. Instead they are doing the same tired, old stuff. (Also, the origin of that YA book “by” Frey is beyond grimy, and NYT should know better.)

reviews in haiku: December 2013

So long 2013, good riddance. 

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Marada the She-Wolf

sword and sorcery

blood and sex imitations

line work steals the show

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For the Living Dead

greatest hits chapbook

delivers surrealist verse

there’s a bunch of clowns

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Saguaro

schadenfreude reigns here

washed up rocker’s life story

dig the cover art