PositiveThe Boston GlobeHis history of American philosophy is lucid and compelling. He writes with refreshing clarity, humility, and a welcome absence of jargon. We learn a lot about the human beings behind the famous tomes ... Kaag is delightfully self-probing, radically honest about his own flaws, and insightful in linking his intellectual interests to his personal history ... strangely in a book designed to put people first, none of the other individuals — not Kaag’s late father, his mother, his first wife, the Hocking granddaughters, not even Hay — really comes alive as distinctive and memorable ... Overall, however, American Philosophy, still manages to be a lovely, intelligent, edifying, and admirable book.
Critics Monsters FanaticsCynthia Ozick
RaveThe Boston Globe[Critics, Monsters, Fanatics] is bristling with energy, pulsing with electricity, vibrantly alive ... both a testament to her inimitable brilliance and a clarion call for the indispensability of the critical enterprise ... Reading her, we watch a mind stroll about, hungry, fearless, supple, in unrelenting search of truth, beauty, meaning ... Throughout, Ozick emphasizes how once towering figures in the literary firmament have been reduced to minor deities or cast out of the heavens altogether; others hover on the brink of oblivion.
The Little Red ChairsEdna O'Brien
MixedThe Boston GlobeBut there aren’t a lot of perspective-changing insights here. O’Brien doesn’t really illuminate the nature of evil in a book that seems badly to want to. This is owing in part to Vlad and Fidelma’s being the least interesting characters in the novel ... These objections aside, The Little Red Chairs has much to recommend it: beautiful writing, immense ambition, a vivid cast of supporting characters, and a rigorous humanitarian ethos. But we want to have been better beguiled, more intricately and subtly seduced by the author’s imaginative power.
Homesick For Another WorldOttessa Moshfegh
RaveThe Boston Globe...startling and impressive ... collectively they reveal Moshfegh’s pervasive preoccupations: ugliness, depravity, wackos and weirdos, the sordid and the morbid, the perverse and the profane ... Despite her unsparing dissection of their paranoias, fetishes, and failings, Moshfegh doesn’t condescend to her characters; she is both gimlet-eyed and compassionate. These are 'sad. . . lonely and troubled' people, but many are improbably appealing; even the most twisted and tortured have recognizably human qualities ... The stories, quite frankly, are not just grotesque; they are gross. Reading them is an uncomfortable experience. The squeamish and the Pollyannaish will likely find life inside Moshfegh’s world harsh, painful, torturous. But if you can stomach the discomfort, there is both piercing wit and unexpected poignancy to be found in Moshfegh’s original and resonant collection.
The Idiot.Elif Batuman
PositiveThe Boston GlobeVery tall, with an unusual face, a Turkish-American girl who grew up in New Jersey, attends Harvard, and aspires to be a writer, Selin is clearly a stand-in for Batuman. Moreover, parts of The Idiot replicate almost verbatim sections from essays in The Possessed ... Batuman nails the details of mid-1990s college life. Albert Einstein, REM, and Ansel Adams posters, Edward Gorey and Klimt prints abound. We have snoring roommates, fajita night in the cafeteria, meet-ups for frozen yogurt, CARE packages from parents, halogen lamps, black Jersey clothes from the Gap, fake IDs ... The Idiot is told in short, largely self-contained segments, a tactic that makes for sharp, well-defined scenes but sometimes undermines the novel’s flow, coherence, and elegance. It also peters out rather unsatisfactorily. But Selin is such good company that we easily forgive any formal lapses. At once a cutting satire of academia, a fresh take on the epistolary novel, a poignant bildungsroman, and compelling travel literature, The Idiot is also a touching and spirited portrait of the artist as a hugely appealing young woman.
Men Without WomenHaruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen
RaveThe Boston GlobeMany of the stories hover between realism and surreal dreamscape. And Murakami’s voice — cool, poised, witty, characterized by a peculiar blend of whimsy and poignancy, wit and profundity — hasn’t lost its power to unsettle even as it amuses ... Even the married men exist in their own private bubbles of disquiet and despair. Deep isolation pervades each story ... The men of these stories are trying to have it both ways. It is not surprising therefore that they find themselves caught in the middle of nowhere. Murakami’s imagination is the luminous half-light of that common, contradictory country.