literature

Author David Downie Unravels the Mysteries of Paris

Gabriella Tutino

Ask anyone about the most romantic cities to visit, and Paris will undoubtedly be on the list. The city seems to be in everyone’s subconscious; Paris screams ‘romantic.’ But what is it about the City of Light--with its turbulent yet mesmerizing history of politics, violence, art and sex--that attracts thousands of visitors? What is that special essence of Paris that deems it so romantic? These are a few of the questions David Downie sets out to answer in his latest book A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light.

Taming 30 Ounces of Death in Helen Macdonald’s ‘H is for Hawk’

Lee Polevoi

When her father died unexpectedly several years ago, the British naturalist, historian and academic Helen Macdonald was devastated. Unhinged by grief, she sought relief in an unusual activity--training a captive-bred goshawk from infancy to maturity. The result is H is for Hawk, one of the most striking memoirs to appear in recent years. Macdonald, an experienced falconer, had never before taken on training a goshawk. 

 

Ian McEwan’s Lackluster ‘The Children Act’ Focuses on Intense Legal Complexities

Lee Polevoi

For all the potential drama presaged in the opening pages, The Children Act stubbornly refuses for the longest time to engage the reader. McEwan demonstrates his ample knowledge of the British legal system, no surprise since he’s done such a similarly impressive job with cardiovascular medicine, environmental science, World War II, etc. But laying the groundwork to establish such credibility takes up many of the early pages, undercutting the dramatic premise and robbing the novel of forward motion.

Sandip Roy’s Debut Novel Delves into Inner Turmoils of South Asian Family

Regina Bediako

In this unassuming way, through the lens of life-altering events that, as in the real world, just seem to happen, Sandip Roy’s debut novel Don’t Let Him Know gradually explores the arc of one South Asian family’s experience through a collection of sparkling vignettes. There’s Avinash, the man in that dusty Calcutta room who got married instead of getting away; Romola, his wife, who knows about Avinash’s ill-fated romance and hides one of her own; and Amit, their son, in the dark about his parents’ secrets and struggling to find his place between India, where he was born, and America, where he has chosen to build his life. 

Life by the Pen: Portrayals and Perceptions of Writers in American and British Pop Culture

Sophia Dorval

Unlike Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, an exploration of a literary figure as flawed as Twain is a tough sell to both social media-centric, smartphone-owning Millenials and Baby Boomers brought up during the Civil Rights era.   On both sides of the spectrum, there will be Americans who could care less about his groundbreaking use of American vernacular in literature, who would wince at his minstrel-style portrayal of slaves,  who need to believe that the words and thoughts of Twain belong to an America that is no more.   

Joshua Ferris Examines the Life of a Cyberstalking Victim in New Book

Lee Polevoi

The plot, such as it is, kicks in when Paul discovers that someone, perhaps a former patient, has begun to impersonate him online. First, a new company website appears (not of Paul’s doing), with more or less accurate staff bios for everyone but him (which instead of facts about his life promulgates strange notions about religion). Then there’s a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Wikipedia entry—every upsetting development reported to Paul by Connie or Mrs. Convoy while he’s hard at work deep inside the mouths of his patients.

The Story of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses: From Contraband to Masterpiece

Lee Polevoi

Modern-day readers of a novel published in 1922 and banned as “obscene” in Europe and America might legitimately wonder what all the fuss was about. Almost a century later, in a culture saturated by explicit references to sex, masturbation and everything in between, the international uproar over references to sex and bodily functions in James Joyce’s Ulysses seems hard to imagine. But, as Kevin Birmingham illustrates in his engagingly written “biography of a book,” the 720-page, epoch-defining work changed both the way novels are written and the way novels are read. 

Covert Attempts at Mideast Peace Detailed in ‘The Good Spy’

Lee Polevoi

That long intelligence war is the focus of the book, which goes into considerable detail about Ames’ comings and goings throughout the Middle East (and in the Washington, D.C. area). Bird writes at great length about many clandestine meetings Ames arranged and conducted with PLO members at that time, an account that comes to have, for the reader, gradually diminishing returns. The fact that he had so many unauthorized encounters with the PLO is significant for the time, but is not in itself terribly interesting. 

The Life and Times of Paul Bowles: The Man Inside the Cage

Sandra Bertrand

It seems in many ways that Paul Bowles led a charmed life.  The new sounds of jazz had been forbidden in an inordinately strict household—though his mother’s reading of Edgar Allen Poe became an inspiration for his later stories.  A closeted homosexual and a fatalist at heart, he had tossed a coin:  heads he would take his own life, tails he would head for the City of Light.  His early musical talents caught the ear of composer Aaron Copland, his traveling companion for his first trip to Tangier.  But it was in Paris that Gertrude Stein discovered her “Freddie.”  

‘Resistance Man’ Is Latest Addition to Martin Walker’s ‘Bruno’ Series

Lee Polevoi

The story is set in motion by the death of a former World War II resistance fighter. In rapid succession, Bruno is called on to investigate a rash of summer home burglaries, as well as the murder of a gay British antiques dealer. As these investigations unfold, we meet several important people in Bruno’s personal life, including Pamela, his on-and-off-again lover, an old flame named Isabelle and a forensic specialist, Fabriola, who assists him in his police work. It’s a large, not to say unwieldy, cast of characters, especially for those of us new to the Bruno series.

 

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