Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville My rating: 4 of 5 stars This 1857 novel, Melville's last, aside from the unfinished and posthumously published Billy Budd, takes place in a single setting—a Mississippi steamboat called the Fidèle—over the course of one day, April 1, All Fools' Day. It begins most mysteriously— At sunrise on a first of … Continue reading Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison My rating: 5 of 5 stars In her memorial remembrance of her late friend Toni Morrison, Fran Lebowitz observed that "Toni would always take into account the problems that the person you were angry at had." She was speaking of how Morrison behaved as a friend, but a great … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Jayinee Basu, The City of Folding Faces

The City of Folding Faces by Jayinee Basu My rating: 4 of 5 stars A phenomenology of contemporary reading: Oscar Wilde said that only shallow people do not judge by appearances. In the library I plucked a strange little book from the "new" shelf. It's glossy, white, and almost hand-sized. It has a strange bluish, … Continue reading Jayinee Basu, The City of Folding Faces

Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal My rating: 3 of 5 stars When last we left Gore Vidal, we were worried about his politics. He was long considered a lion of the left for his sexual dissidence and his resistance to the religious right and to neoconservative imperialism; but worldwide events since his death in 2012 … Continue reading Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge

Franco Moretti, Far Country: Scenes from American Culture

Far Country: Scenes from American Culture by Franco Moretti My rating: 2 of 5 stars This short book is a selection of lectures from a course in literary history that Franco Moretti, now retired, used to teach at Stanford University. Moretti is best known for advocating computational approaches to the humanities—for his paradigm of "distant … Continue reading Franco Moretti, Far Country: Scenes from American Culture

Renata Adler, Speedboat

Speedboat by Renata Adler My rating: 4 of 5 stars Almost every member of American literature's last unambiguously major generation, the giants passing from the scene, was born in the 1930s: Carver (b. 1938), DeLillo (b. 1936), Didion (b. 1934), McCarthy (b. 1933), Morrison (b. 1931), Oates (b. 1938), Pynchon (b. 1937), Roth (b. 1933), … Continue reading Renata Adler, Speedboat

Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays

Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion My rating: 5 of 5 stars She had announced her willingness to cause her subjects pain in Slouching towards Bethlehem, but at the heart of Didion's sense of morality and her sense of style, which cannot be separated, hurting the reader's feelings is also part of the … Continue reading Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays

Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli My rating: 4 of 5 stars Intellectuals played at crusaders and revolutionaries only to discover they were still patricians and liberals. [...] "Liberalism" seems a vast, obscure, swampy territory one never emerges from, no matter how one tries—and perhaps one never should. —Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, … Continue reading Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive

Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple My rating: 4 of 5 stars What is the good of literary biography? I am not a great reader of the genre, possibly because every example I've ever read has had a passage like this in it, from Brenda Wineapple's popular and absorbing 2003 life of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Like … Continue reading Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen My rating: 3 of 5 stars The ambition and audacity of this Pulitzer-prize-winning 2015 novel can't be denied. Synthesizing postcolonial theory with the tradition of the Great American Novel, Nguyen retells the story of the Vietnam War and its aftermath from the perspective of—not quite one of its victims, … Continue reading Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer