BY NICO VREELAND
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Half Empty, by David Rakoff, reviewed by Bill Scheft (New York Times)
David Rakoff is a quietly excellent writer, and every bit as funny as he is insightful and poetic. His new collection of wittily pessimistic essays includes one titled “The Satisfying Crunch of Dreams Underfoot,” which makes me want to buy the book immediately. This review also brings its share of phrase-turns, such as: “The inherent problem with most collections is that the reader can’t help comparing entries, like a track handicapper setting the morning line.”
The Small Hand, by Susan Hill, reviewed by Jeremy Dyson (Guardian)
I’m not much for ghost stories, but Dyson’s review first compares them to poetry, then compares Hill’s first novel to Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” because it has “entered into the popular imagination in a way no other piece of its genre has since A Christmas Carol.” The review of Hill’s latest (her fourth ghost story) is both a recommendation and a sharp dissection of the ghost story genre, all in 700 words.
Your Republic Is Calling You, by Young-ha Kims, reviewed by Maureen Corrigan (Washington Post)
It’s never a good sign when I have to flip to the back cover of a novel I’ve just finished to find out what it was supposed to be about.
The War for the New York Waterfront, by Nathan Ward, reviewed by Jonathan Eig (New York Times)
In 1949, Malcolm Johnson won a Pulitzer for his 24-part series about crime and corruption in New York City’s waterfront, which inspired the Marlon Brando movie On the Waterfront. In this story about getting the story, Ward’s style of reportage seems to echo Johnson’s in the original series. It makes for an interesting review, even if it doesn’t make the book itself sound all that appealing.
Even Silence Has an End, by Ingrid Betancourt, reviewed by Janine di Giovanni (Guardian)
I’m of the opinion that, if you want to write a memoir, you should have a damn good reason. If you wash your hands too often, or you can’t get over your vague resentment of your mother, I don’t really care. I want to read the stories of people who’ve lived epic lives. Well, Betancourt has epic in spades. I’d never heard of her before, but di Giovanni had, and hated her to boot. This review both samples Betancourt’s memoir—about her “soul-destroying” captivity at the hands of Colombian guerillas—and contains a microcosmic account of the hollowness of public opinion.