In the News, November 2015
Posted 11.30.15: "Many readers thought the last word on Frank Sinatra went to tell-all biographer Kitty Kelley, who gave us His Way in 1986. But now, poet (and Sinatra fan) David Lehman gives us a more nuanced study—Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World. Bookstores will display Lehman's richly illustrated work in the biography section. But actually, it's a collection of musings about Sinatra's life.... Lehman sprinkles anecdotal gems throughout the book…. Let this book cast its spell." — Harry Levins, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Posted 11.30.15: Kate Tuttle in The Boston Globe on Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E. B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of The New Yorker: "Fresh and invigorating. Begun as a biography of theater critic and longtime staff writer Wolcott Gibbs, Thomas Vinciguerra's account covers the lives and work of Gibbs and colleagues James Thurber, E.B. White, John O'Hara, St. Clair McKelway, Charles Addams, and others—led by Harold Ross and Katharine White—as they created the magazine…. Where Vinciguerra excels is in figuring out how the dysfunctional workplace of the early New Yorker turned out such sparkling, electric prose. It all seems very glamorous to us now, but the author doesn't shy from the uglier side of New Yorker history—alcoholism, sexual indiscretion, petty feuds…. It's to Vinciguerra's great credit that he manages to avoid both condescension and hagiography in writing about the flawed, brilliant people behind it."
Posted 11.22.15: The New York Times' Sam Roberts on Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E. B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of The New Yorker by Thomas Vinciguerra: "An exuberant reunion of the magazine's eccentric inner circle…. Likening his approach to Eileen Simpson's Poets in Their Youth, Mr. Vinciguerra (whose cast of characters is simply more fun) elegantly conjures an evocative group dynamic embellished by figures like Harold Ross, Katharine White, Dorothy Parker, St. Clair McKelway and, of course, the underappreciated Gibbs."
Posted 11.03.15: “Mr. Lehman holds the reader by ferreting out of the voluminous files lots of choice quotes and anecdotes that reanimate Sinatra's gamy lost world…. Mr. Lehman's book is an artful miniature portrait.”—Ed Kosner in The Wall Street Journal's "Weekend Review" on Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World. And Ted Gioia in Bookforum writes, “He will hold your interest with his smart and passionate views. The book is the literary equivalent of a late-night session among Sinatra devotees sharing their favorite recordings over drinks, calling attention to the finer nuances of beloved tracks. Even an old Sinatra fan like me learned new things from Lehman.”
Posted 10.29.15: "David Lehman's Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World is a much shorter but more intimate portrait [than James Kaplan's Sinatra: The Chairman]. Many of the same anecdotes used by Kaplan can be found here, too, but Lehman, an established poet, widens the frame of reference, thereby expanding the emotional resonance of the songs.... Whereas Kaplan accumulates facts, Lehman tells us what those facts mean. For example: 'There are two reasons that male resistance to Sinatra turned completely around.... His voice deepened...and he was able to sing so convincingly of loss, failure, and despair unto death.' But when a fact is needed, Lehman comes through: In a 2014 commercial for Jack Daniels, a voiceover tells us what Sinatra's recipe was: 'three rocks, two fingers, and a splash.' There it is, a Sinatra haiku, and, boy, what a splash he made."—Sibbie O'Sullivan, The Washington Post
Posted 10.26.15: "His 100 glowing and gleaming fragments on Sinatra's life and meaning are filled with wildly entertaining quotation, anecdote and insightful critical judgment."—Jeff Simon in The Buffalo News on Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World by David Lehman
Posted 06.04.15: "Akhil Reed Amar holds a distinctive position in the world of constitutional scholarship. For many years he has been called the leading 'liberal originalist.' The tag rests on the strength of his historical analysis of the U.S. Constitution. That analysis is formidable—among his many achievements…. His love for the Constitution—the language of the document, its global significance, its implications for advancing a free and democratic society—is deep and infectious…. The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic, reflects both his devotion and his creativity. The essays here are civic lessons, artfully blending the conventional with the controversial. The prose is graceful and enlivened by an easy sense of humor…. We can all learn from following him on his travels across the continent."—Keith E. Whittington, The Wall Street Journal
Posted 06.04.15: Shadi Bartsch in the London Review of Books on Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm: "Romm admits that his mission to make a convincing single personality out of the courtier and the philosophe may be impossible, but his attempt to keep in sight at all times both the writer and the courtier, 'despite their non-acknowledgment of each other', yields an interesting and sympathetic Seneca, whose good intentions–and high profile–led to his entrapment in Nero's self-serving net…. The titles of Romm's chapters emphasize Nero's successive crimes–fratricide, regicide, matricide, maritocide, mass murder–and highlight what it was with which Seneca had to be complicit. The doubleness of Seneca's idealism and failure is caught in the title. Seneca himself wrote that 'cotidie morimur'–'we die every day.' The obvious literal sense is that every day brings us closer to death; the phrase is also a reference to the Stoic self-preparation for death, the daily meditatio mortis which is supposed to ensure that you are constantly ready for death: 'Death does not enter a great soul so much as return to it.' But dying every day is also the way Romm portrays Seneca's frame of mind under Nero: the concept plays double duty as political truth and philosophical ideal."
Posted 06.02.15: The #2 New York Times Best Seller is The Road to Character by David Brooks. The #6 New York Times Best Seller is Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich by Peter Schweizer. (June 7th)
Posted 05.28.15: Allen Mendenhall on The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime by Harold Bloom: "The Yale professor is a controversial visionary, a polarizing seer who has been recycling and reformulating parallel theories of creativity and influence, with slightly different foci and inflections, for his entire career, never seeming tiresome or repetitive. He demonstrates what is manifestly true about the best literary critics: they are as much artists as the subjects they undertake. Bloom's criticism is characterized by sonorous, cadenced, almost haunting prose, by an exacting judgment and expansive imagination, and by a painful, sagacious sensitivity to the complexities of human behavior and psychology. He is a discerning Romantic in an age of banality and distraction, in a culture of proud illiteracy and historical unawareness. Bloom reminds us that to be faithful to tradition is to rework it, to keep it alive, and that tradition and innovation are yoked pairs, necessarily dependent on one another. Bloom has been cultivating the image and reputation of a prophet or mystic for decades. His stalwart defense of the Western canon is well known but widely misunderstood. His descriptive account is that the canon is fluid, not fixed—open, not closed. It might be stable, but it's not unchangeable. The literary canon is the product of evolution, a collection of the fittest works that have been selectively retained, surviving the onslaught of relentless competition. Bloom's prescriptive position is that, because human agency is a controllable factor in this agnostic filtering process, serious readers can and should ensure that masterpieces, those stirring products of original, even genius minds, are retained, and that the latest works are held to the highest aesthetic standards, which are themselves established and proven by revisionary struggle. The merit of a work is not found in the identity of its author—his or her race, gender, or sexuality—but in the text proper, in the forms and qualities of the work itself." — Allen Mendenhall, The American Conservative
Posted 05.28.15: “In the introduction to his new book, The Road to Character, David Brooks breaks the columnist's fourth wall with a startling confession: “I was born with a natural disposition towards shallowness.” Brooks, who established a reputation for sometimes glib but often insightful cultural commentary with Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, his 2000 best-seller, has more recently specialized in applying the latest in brain science and social psychology to larger questions of morality on the op-ed pages of the Times. He continues, “I'm paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am. I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality. The Road to Character is an account of Brooks's effort to find his way out of shallow punditry—or, as he puts it, to “cultivate character.” … There is something affecting in the diligence with which Brooks seeks a cure for his self-diagnosed shallowness by plumbing the depths of others…. Brooks's instinct that there is wisdom to be found in literature that cannot be found in the pages of the latest social science journals is well-advised, and the possibility that his book may bring the likes of Eliot or Samuel Johnson—another literary figure about whom he writes with engaging sympathy—to a wider readership is a heartening thought.”—Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker
Posted 05.27.15: "The capstone to a lifetime of thinking, writing and teaching. Bloom's project is ostensibly to trace the idea of the daemonic sublime, defined as 'the god within who generates poetic power,' through the work of 12 canonical American writers. His real agenda, however, appears to be twofold: to enter into complex meditations on the literature he loves, and to delineate the subtle web of interconnected allusion and influence among the writers who matter to him…. The primary strength of The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime is the brilliance and penetration of the connections Bloom makes among the great writers of the past, the shrewd sketching of intellectual feuds or oppositions that he calls agons…. Bloom's books are like a splendid map of literature, a majestic aerial view that clarifies what we cannot see from the ground."—Michael Lindgren, The Washington Post
Posted 05.20.15: The #3 New York Times Best Seller is Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich by Peter Schweizer; the #5 New York Times Best Seller is The Road to Character by David Brooks (June 7th).
Posted 05.19.15: "A concentrated, high-caliber, and exhilarating overview of the intensity and artistry that have made American poetry so splendidly varied and vital since 1988.... This is an anthology of broad scope, serious pleasure, and invaluable illumination." — Booklist, the magazine of the American Library Association, on David Lehman's The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014
Posted 05.18.15: “Harold Bloom, who bestrides our literary world like a willfully idiosyncratic colossus, belongs to the party of rapture. He is himself no Whitman or Melville, no Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens, no Hart Crane or Emerson. And yet he seems at times almost as large as any of these, so vital and particularized is his presence. If, as Emerson claims, the true ship is the shipbuilder, then is the true poem the critic who maps and parses and inhabits it? Can poet and critic be equal seers? Read Bloom, and you may be led to suppose it so. The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, the enigmatic title of Bloom's newest work of oracular criticism, is strangely intransitive. What is it that the daemon knows? We are meant to understand that the daemon is an incarnation of an intuition beyond ordinary apperception, and that this knowing lies in the halo of feeling that glows out of the language of poetry. ‘To ask the question concerning the daemon is to seek an origin of inspiration,' Bloom asserts…. Well, never mind—at least while Bloom's enrapturing book is radiant in your hand. The daemon knows, and Bloom knows too.”—Cynthia Ozick, The New York Times Book Review, front page, May 24th
Posted 05.13.15: The #2 New York Times Best Seller is Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich by Peter Schweizer. The #3 New York Times Best Seller is The Road to Character by David Brooks. (May 31st)
Posted 05.12.15: A starred review from Kirkus for Michael Dirda: "Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books is as much about living with books, about serendipitous discovery, as about the boundless pleasures of reading…. Dirda's comradely essays are unfailingly informative and amusing, punctuated with poignant asides on the aging artist and paeans to great literary scholars. His almost single-minded passion, the exhilaration of a life in literature, glows on every page."
Posted 05.07.15: "Based on the evidence marshalled by Peter Schweizer, the new Clinton Doctrine seems to hold that wherever freedom and the rule of law are threatened, wherever corruption reigns and individual liberties are denied—there is money to be made. In such places, big windfalls can accrue to Clinton friends, who are nothing if not grateful and shower donations upon the Clinton Foundation and speaking fees upon the Clintons themselves. Almost every page of the fascinating Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich will be excruciating reading for partisans on both sides of the aisle. Mr. Schweizer, a former speechwriting consultant for George W. Bush, will have conservatives trying to imagine a Republican appearing to do so many favors for business allies and getting away with it. Liberals will wonder why they have to nominate someone whose friends and associates are getting rich in some of the world's poorest countries.... He takes us on a world tour of business magnates writing large checks to the Clintons or their foundation and receiving favorable treatment from various governmental bodies—including the U.S. Department of State where Mrs. Clinton served from 2009 to 2013."—James Freeman, The Wall Street Journal
Posted 05.01.15: The #1 New York Times Best Seller is The Road to Character by David Brooks.
Posted 04.30.15: The American Library Association's Booklist magazine on Harold Bloom's forthcoming The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime: "For five decades, eminent and contentious literary critic Bloom has energetically explicated the Bible, Shakespeare, and other giants in the Western canon, tracing the bond between spirituality and art. In his thirty-sixth book of erudite and passionate exegesis, Bloom illuminates the 'daemonic' or sublime aspect of American literature as expressed in the writing of twelve seminal American geniuses…. These Bloom analyzes at length with vigor and pleasure, quoting clarion passages and, moving forward in time, mapping influences and variations. His buoyancy and intrepidity as he navigates the grand river of myth, archetype, theology, and humanism; his unabashed gratitude for the beauty and power of the works he parses so meaningfully; and his unalloyed joy in the discipline and discovery of criticism charges his latest inquiry with inspiriting radiance."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (The book will be published May 12th.)