Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet AgeSven Birkets
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewChanging the Subject is not only a diagnosis of distraction but a prescription for it — an absorbing narrative to get lost in for a time, even as our inboxes and Twitter feeds beg for our attention.
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des MartyrsElaine Sciolino
MixedThe Wall Street JournalWhile deft at evoking the pleasures of 'a fine Burgundy, a Mont d’Or cheese so creamy it is best eaten with a spoon,' Ms. Sciolino is less persuasive at defining the dark hand of globalization and explaining to what degree—if any—the rue des Martyrs should be protected from competition.
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More CreativeFlorence Williams
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMs. Williams resists the tendency of so much nature writing towards easy epiphanies, adopting a tone that is, instead, pleasingly puckish. After a day of discerning the desert wonders outside Moab, she mentions with a wink that the science team she’s chronicling retreats not to a cave but a hotel, 'albeit with a fire pit on a roof deck' ... skeptical commentators compel Ms. Williams to weigh the evidence of her case carefully. Is a trip to the woods any better than listening to music or going to a museum? Does nature itself soothe people, or are they simply more relaxed because they’re out of the office? In other words, is 'the nature fix' actually about nature, or is it more broadly about our general hunger to escape from the monotony of our daily lives? Ms. Williams puzzles out the pros and cons, concluding, on balance, that there’s a good case for connecting with nature to extend both the quantity and quality of life. But she cautions against false choices.
This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic BiographerRichard Holmes
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...history haunts Holmes at every turn, creating a book in which the past persistently peers over the present’s shoulder, collapsing the distance between then and now ... In the tradition of most successful historians and biographers, Holmes seems to achieve this intimacy with the past by immersing himself, trance-like, within a given terrain, with every brick or rock or tree a talisman tugging him deeper and deeper into the immense well of human experience. Holmes’s closeness with his surroundings sometimes invites the reader in, yet occasionally shuts him out.
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand ForDavid McCullough
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorHappily, the same qualities that inform McCullough’s histories and biographies also shape his speeches. He is, whether at his desk or a lectern, a consummate storyteller ... one sometimes wishes, in reading these pages, for a more declarative and specific call to mend what’s broken in the national psyche. The abiding appeal – and the abiding complication – of McCullough’s vision is that he’s a triumphalist at heart, more interested in celebrating the better angels of American history than in discerning what could be learned from diagnosing its darker impulses.
Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering MercyAnne Lamott
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorThis is trademark Lamott – theological speculation, hippie slang and domestic comedy, C.S. Lewis by way of Janis Joplin by way of Erma Bombeck. It’s an idiosyncratic voice inflected by the bohemian culture of Lamott’s native San Francisco – a self-deprecating, confessional style that’s endeared Lamott to a loyal following of fans ... Lamott’s philosophical speculations unfold like a friendly conversation, but there are times when the breeziness of her tone seems to reflect a breeziness of thought ... What one misses here is the simple clarity of Help, Thanks, Wow, which had an obvious beginning, middle, and end. Hallelujah Anyway often reads more like a brainstorm for a book than a finished draft.
Henry David Thoreau: A LifeLaura Dassow Walls
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIn lieu of a definitive account of America’s most enigmatic man of letters, Walls offers 'a reading of Thoreau’s life as a writer – for, remarkably, he made of his life an extended form of composition, a kind of open, living book.' A noble aim, to be sure, though Thoreau’s writing life can’t neatly be separated from the many other lives he led. Some of Walls’s most vivid insights, in fact, concern Thoreau’s interest in science of all kinds, including mechanical engineering ... Walls portrays Thoreau as perhaps warmer than he really was, downplaying the considerable evidence of what a cold fish he could be. But for those of us who first endured Walden as assigned reading, the sheer pleasure that Walls takes in Thoreau’s writings is a timely reminder, on the bicentennial of his birth, that he’s an author not simply to be respected, but enjoyed.
Upstream: Selected EssaysMary Oliver
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...conveys a sense of valediction for a writer in the final phase of her life and work ... Upstream is a testament to a lifetime of paying attention, and an invitation to readers to do the same.
Leonardo da VinciWalter Isaacson
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIsaacson calls his subject Leonardo throughout the book, creating a tone of intimacy with a man who, despite the biographer’s best efforts, retains an air of enigma ... By necessity, significant parts of Leonardo da Vinci must be speculative. In lieu of strict chronology, Isaacson uses paintings and other works of Leonardo as windows into his heart and mind ... Isaacson’s roots as a journalist serve him well. He writes simply and clearly, and even though his principal character hails from antiquity, the narrative hums like a headline from the morning paper, alert to topical parallels between then and now ... Isaacson sometimes lapses into the homiletic. Not quite confident that readers can draw their own conclusions about Leonardo’s life, he ends Leonardo da Vinci with a small tutorial listing the lessons we should learn.
The Wine Lover's DaughterAnne Fadiman
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe Wine Lover’s Daughter is alert to the complications of cultural assimilation—in this case, her father’s tortured struggle to outrun his childhood as the son of poor immigrant Jews...The elder Fadiman’s alienation from his ancestry, a recurring theme of the book, is painful to read about ... The Wine Lover’s Daughter emerges as an elegy not only for Fadiman but also for a way of life.