• review • February 28, 2019

    Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev

    Partway through Sophia Shalmiyev’s new memoir, Mother Winter, the author returns to Russia in an attempt to find her mother, a woman who has been absent most of her life. Shalmiyev imagines that the journey will be beautiful: “I would book the trip during the famous white nights in June, when the bridges part over the canals and it is dusk at four in the morning, the city actually not being able to sleep so people become possessed; they make out on every corner and leave their spouses for anyone who winks at them. I wanted my three-note, sleepy, leveled and depressed but loyal boyfriend to wake

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  • review • February 12, 2019

    Mothers by Chris Power

    The fiction writer who is also a critic is cursed with the predicament of having strewn about the very tools for his own dismemberment. Hold up the analytic knives to a purely creative output, and the fruits of artistic labor too readily slacken and yield. Susan Sontag has often been castigated for writing novels that fail to meet her own exacting critical standards, but author-critics such as Edmund White, Lionel Trilling, Iris Murdoch, A. S. Byatt, and, more recently, James Wood have also been the subject of this particular jibe. How then, to court success when the stakes of one’s own making

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  • review • February 05, 2019

    Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria by Donatella Della Ratta

    Not long before the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East and Northern Africa in 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt trumpeted a “coalition of the connected” as the antidote to authoritarianism. Schmidt claimed that “governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority.” Soon after, the idea of the smartphone-equipped rebel gripped the imagination of both the State Department and Silicon Valley, and institutional support and funding soon followed. Schmidt didn’t say then

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Licensed to Spill

    Few acts in pop-music history have a reputation quite as lenticular as that of the Beastie Boys. As such, their new memoir Beastie Boys Book (Spiegel & Grau, $50) seems to pinball from one reputational-perspective tug-of-war to the next. Are Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA innovators or carpetbaggers? Serious musicians or stumblers onto greatness? Agents of positive cross-racial understanding or flimsy bridges between cultures? Curious creative-class kids or schmucks?

    All of the above, according to the stories told, and some merely hinted at, in this enjoyable but carefully circumscribed book, which

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Stardust Reveries

    Ashes to Ashes, the second volume of Chris O’Leary’s song-by-song chronicle of David Bowie’s work, reaches its title track around page 155. Of 1980’s “Ashes to Ashes,” which was Bowie’s second-ever No. 1 single in the UK—the first had been “Space Oddity,” to which “Ashes to Ashes” was the mischievous sequel (We know Major Tom’s a junkie)—O’Leary remarks that it is, “in a way, his last song, the closing chapter that comes midway through the book. Bowie sings himself off-stage with a children’s rhyme: eternally falling, eternally young.”

    In mundane truth, at that point the reader is about

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    A Reminder of Possibilities

    Twenty years ago, Nigella Lawson, at the time a freelance op-ed columnist and sometime book reviewer, sat down for a revelatory working lunch. Her husband had suggested that Lawson, a former London restaurant critic, write a food book, but even as she discussed her enthusiasm for the subject with her agent, she expressed vehement opposition to putting it between covers. She felt she would be “looked down on” and seen as “the little woman,” as she recently put it in an interview. Whereupon her agent, as great agents have been known to do, pronounced his certainty about this marriage of author

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    After the Flood

    BENJAMIN KUNKEL: The scenario of your book is different from our own world, although our present is increasingly resembling the future of The Wall (Norton, $26). Could you outline the world of the novel?

    JOHN LANCHESTER: It’s about an island nation where climate change and massive displacement of population mean that the whole island is surrounded by a five-meter-high concrete wall. Everybody in the country, every citizen, has to spend a two-year period standing guard on the wall to prevent what they call the Others, displaced people from other parts of the world, from getting into the country.

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Artful Volumes

    The entry of Vivian Maier—a Chicago nanny who died in 2009, leaving an enormous trove of unpublished and often unprinted images—into the first rank of American postwar photographers has proved as revelatory as it was precipitous. During her lifetime, she refrained from bringing her photos to venues where they might have been judged, perhaps fearing that they would have been dismissed as the work of an amateur. But the several volumes of photographs that have been published since her death evidence a remarkable artistry and consciousness of craft. Vivian Maier: The Color Work (Harper Design, $

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    The Anxiety of Affluence

    There is little to recommend the rich, except of course their money. After all, the greater a fortune, the more likely it was ill-gotten. (No one ever hit pay dirt performing a good deed.) Until the revolution comes, we still have taste as the great leveler, evidence of democracy in action. What distinguishes good taste from bad, however, matters less than the fact of its presence at all. The worst plight is having no taste whatsoever, of being boring. Far better to vigorously exercise the right to get it all very, very wrong.

    A delectable distraction from these bleak and crooked times,

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Nice for What

    Like stereotypical versions of the people the book maligns, the title of Blythe Roberson’s How to Date Men When You Hate Men makes promises it can’t keep: This is not a how-to, she doesn’t hate men, and though she sleeps around and has maintained perplexing romantic friendships, she’s not totally sure if she’s ever been on a date. The book, she explains in the introduction, is more of a political meditation on what Roberson insists is not a personal problem but a structural one. It’s a “comedy philosophy book about what dating and loving are like now, in an era that we thought was the end of

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Etel Adnan by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

    Etel Adnan has two desks. One for writing, the other for painting, they face opposite walls of the quietest room in her Paris home. When she finishes a painting she hangs it over her writing desk to dry. For half a century, Adnan has been revered as a titan of Middle Eastern literature and a beacon of avant-garde poetry. As a writer Adnan is beyond categorization, equal parts philosopher and journalist (she toiled for years as the culture editor of a leading French-language daily in Lebanon); her two dozen books of poetry and prose plumb subjects such as war, exile, terror, love, divinity, and

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Jason Moran Edited by Adrienne Edwards. Foreword by Olga Viso. Text by Philip Bither, Okwui Enwezor, et al.

    The roster of musicians—Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, and many others—who played the Three Deuces nightclub on Manhattan’s 52nd Street from the 1940s through the ’50s nearly encompasses the whole of modern jazz history. Yet any trace of that iconic locale, as well as all the other jazz venues that once lined the block, has long been obliterated by office towers. Some redress for this cultural disregard can be found in Jason Moran’s installation STAGED: Three Deuces, which was featured at the 2015 Venice Biennale. A pianist, composer, and visual artist, Moran demonstrates

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