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.
We’re going to skipping this feature next week because of the holidays, but we’ll be back with more in 2011.]
Autobiography of Mark Twain, by Mark Twain, reviewed by Garrison Keillor (New York Times)
Garrison Keillor takes Mark Twain behind the woodshed, and returns alone and covered in blood. For almost 3000 words, Keillor savages Twain’s autobiography, calling it “hard, dusty ground” and saying Twain “can be just as tedious as anybody else when he is under the burden of his own reputation”—Keillor even takes a backhand shot at Huck Finn along the way. While it’s not undeserved (judging by the passages Keillor quotes), it is a bit tedious itself. But it’s worth skimming, just so you’ll be entirely unable to hide your disappointment when your aunt gives you this book for Christmas.
Selected Stories, by William Trevor, reviewed by Lionel Shriver (Wall Street Journal)
This review of a compendium of Trevor stories is delightful to read for the descriptions of the work itself— “Mr. Trevor’s craft is now so refined that the writing itself vanishes, as if his stories were composed in disappearing ink” —but also, perhaps moreso, for the portrait of a writer who eschews such portraits. Shriver gives him the somewhat conditional title of “the greatest living short-story writer in English” and repeatedly tries to find his voice and personality in the collection, even as she says “the author of these stories himself could be anybody.” It’s a very good piece.
Daniel, by Henning Mankell, reviewed by Clea Simon (Boston Globe)
The latest Henning Mankell novel takes place in 1878, and follows a young African boy whose parents are murdered and who is subsequently taken to Sweden by a well-meaning but foolish white man. I couldn’t finish the only Mankell novel I’ve tried (a mystery) because his characters were so flatly uninterested in their case that their apathy became contagious. Simon says, of that last one, that Mankell had “too many underdeveloped characters” but claims this latest focuses more narrowly and succeeds.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, reviewed by Adam Roberts (Guardian)
I used The Windup Girl’s awesome cover for a JABBIC this summer, but didn’t actually read much about the book itself. That’s one reason I like the Guardian’s books section: the U.S./U.K. publishing lag time means I often catch books there that I missed in American papers. If you like noirish, stylish sci-fi peppered with bursts of violent action, sounds like this book is for you.
In brief: The Guardian reviews a 105-year-old novel, apropos of nothing; I’m assuming somebody cashed in a favor—a crappy favor. The L.A. Times gathers its favorite book review illustrations of the year; my favorite (which didn’t make the list) is still this one, which I noted in a previous Best Book Reviews. Anne Rice is crazy. A book on genius and inspiration. A nice-sounding but possibly oversold detective novel. And the BN Review’s “Postcards from a Year in Reading” are pretty cool.